Well, can you play Wii U games on Switch? The real answer to this question is both yes and no.
In other words, it’s complicated, so what we’re going to do for this article is to walk through both responses and explain them in more detail.
But there’s not much point to dallying here in the intro for too long, so let’s get right to it.
The Short Answer
To be clear, this is the answer to whether the Nintendo Switch console is backwards compatible with the Wii U.
If you’re relatively new to the world of gaming, backwards compatibility refers to the ability of one console to play (physical) games from older consoles belonging to the same company.
In that regard, no, the Nintendo Switch can’t play Wii U game discs, and that’s entirely due to the change of physical game formats between the Wii U and Switch.
The Wii U was designed to read game discs, which have the same form factor as CDs and DVDs. Incidentally, the last several generations of consoles from Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all used this form factor for their physical games.
The Switch, due to its hybrid/handheld nature, instead uses small cartridges about the same size as a standard SD card.
So if you’re trying to fit a Wii U game disc into your Switch, it’s just not going to happen.
However, you can technically play quite a few of the biggest Wii U games on the Switch, provided you’re willing to fork over some cash to buy a Switch copy, and that’s what we’d like to talk about next.
Major Wii U Ports on Switch
Yes, you can play some Wii U games on the Switch, but only the games which have been ported to Switch, i.e. converted to run natively on the Switch console, via either a physical game cartridge or download game.
So while you can’t play the entire Wii U library on Switch (not even close), some of the most popular games from the Wii U era can indeed be found on the Switch today.
Usually, when older games are made available for sale on a newer system, whether console or PC, they are priced lower than their original list prices.
The major exception to this practice is when a great deal of new upgrades and/or features have been added for the new release, in which case the newer version of the game will be priced just below the original retail price or even at the current AAA game price of $60.
In a somewhat controversial move, many of the Wii U Switch ports found below have been listed at the full $60, leading more critical gamers to question whether each port is actually worth that amount.
If you don’t want to pay this amount for a Wii U port, we recommend searching for physical versions of each game on resale websites like eBay and Amazon, where you’ll often find copies at substantially lower prices.
[Quick note: the game titles listed below are the original game titles when released on Wii U. The Switch ports of these games tend to have an extra descriptor tacked on, often “Deluxe” or “HD.”]
Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8, renamed Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on Switch, was already a great game, following in the very long tradition of excellent karting fun the Mario Kart series has become known for.
The Deluxe version for Switch wasn’t just a lazy port, either, with some hefty new features like a full battle mode, extensive multiplayer options including online play, and the additional courses and karts which were originally sold separately as DLC for the base game on Wii U.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Since Breath of the Wild served as the official first-party Nintendo launch game for the Switch, it’s easy to forget that the game was originally being developed for the Wii U and was only made the Switch launch title relatively late in the development process.
Still, it’s a Wii U game that can be played on Switch, and we would argue that it’s much, much better on Switch, given the portability of the system and the flexibility offered by the detachable Joy-Cons (until they start to drift, that is).
Pikmin 3 Deluxe
Pikmin 3 struggled to hit high sales numbers on the Wii U, its original platform, and it seems that, so far, the Deluxe version for Switch is also having a hard time putting up big numbers on the immensely popular console.
Even so, Pikmin 3 is an excellent game and serves as a great entrypoint for newcomers to the series.
Super Mario 3D World
The major 3D Mario game for Wii U finally made its way to Switch at the start of 2021, and not only did character speeds get a pretty big tweak, but Nintendo decided to add an entirely new standalone gameplay section (gameplay mode? mini-storyline?) called Bowser’s Fury, which functions as a mix of linear level design and the open-world sandbox design found in Super Mario Odyssey.
If you haven’t played the game before, it’s definitely a good value.
One of the Wii U’s most compelling exclusives was Bayonetta 2, and while the Switch port eliminated that exclusivity, it is still Nintendo-exclusive, which counts for a lot when the company has so few exclusives outside of first-party IPs like Mario and Zelda.
Bayonetta 2 is beloved, and the release generated further interest in the upcoming third game in the series, which has not yet been given a release date, at least not at the time of publication.
New Super Mario Bros. U
A fairly basic side scrolling Mario platformer game, New Super Mario Bros. U (one of the worst titles in the Mario series) added a Deluxe and hopped onto the Switch, where it’s done quite well.
Overall, this is not one you need to rush out and buy.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
A far superior platformer to New Super Mario Bros. U, Tropical Freeze delivers immense amounts of variety and creative gameplay in the context of one of Nintendo’s most underserved series.
Very little was added to the Switch version, and what was added, namely a “New Funky Mode” has become the butt of jokes across the internet.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Expanding on the Captain Toad minigames from Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a delightful puzzle game with quite a bit of content, and its full price is only $40 compared to the standard $60.
A wild mashup of Zelda characters and settings, Hyrule Warriors is part of the Dynasty Warriors franchise, and it features a style of gameplay that won’t appeal to everyone.
Also, the Switch would later get its own Hyrule Warriors entry by way of Age of Calamity.
Virtual Console/Retro Games
We couldn’t finish up the article without addressing the retro gaming capabilities of both the Wii U and the Switch.
After all, the Wii U wasn’t just great for playing brand new releases using a weird, large gamepad; it was also one of the best systems on which to shop for and play classic games, provided via the Nintendo Virtual Console.
This allowed access to many games from the NES, Super NES, N64, and Game Boy Advance.
So can the Switch at least play these games, too? Well, again, yes and no.
The Switch is perfectly capable of running classic games from previous Nintendo eras, and Nintendo itself is free to add those games to the Switch, but they just haven’t done much of this at all.
Instead of offering a virtual console, the Switch offers a number of classic games if you subscribe to the Nintendo Switch Online service, which costs $20 US a year for an individual subscriber.
This gives access to NES and Super NES console emulation on Switch, but only for a few dozen games on each.
Sadly, at this point, any PC is a better platform for playing retro games than the Switch or even the Wii U.