The two Zeldas: Skyward Sword and Twilight Princess
Two of the best Zelda games ever made have both graced the Wii. Skyward Sword, the most recent of the two, is a no-brainer holiday buy. Twilight Princess was one of the Wii's launch games in 2006, and it remains an equally excellent adventure. You can't go wrong with either.
The Wii has an unusual--even by Nintendo standards--abundance of Mario games, but Super Mario Galaxy represents the pinnacle of them all. The depth of challenges and the game's ceaselessly mind-bending level design make this a game you'll play over and over again. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is even better than the original, but they're both phenomenal experiences.
The original pack-in game, Wii Sports, was one of the most influential video games of all time--but it's no longer packed in with many new Wiis. The slightly more diverse island-based sequel, Wii Sports Resort, has more to do and more accurate MotionPlus controls, but focuses on physical activities like jogging and cycling that almost seem like they would belong in Wii Fit. Some might prefer the less expensive original Wii Sports for its simpler and somehow purer collection of games. Both versions have bowling.
Nintendo has a knack for making excellent side-scrolling platform games. Donkey Kong Country Returns is the best of that genre on the Wii, and if gotten at the right holiday sales price, it's a steal. Credit this one an extra point for not featuring Mario or Zelda.
Take every Nintendo character and throw them together into an absurd all-out fight, and you have the compelling oddity that is Super Smash Bros. The Wii version in this long-standing series has a ton of characters, online play, and enough four-controller chaos to keep a room of kids satisfied for hours, days, or perhaps months. And, hey, you can watch Princess Peach beat down on Samus.
The Nintendo GameCube saw the release of the first Metroid Prime, a 3D version of Metroid that expertly mixed platforming and shooter action. The limited-edition Metroid Prime Trilogy is worth tracking down--all three games in the series are included, with remastered and Wii Remote-friendly versions of the first two GameCube games. If your search comes up empty, just buy the Wii-native Metroid Prime 3 instead.
Quick-reflex, ridiculous, retro-absurdist minigames comprise the meat of WarioWare. This game came out early in the Wii's life cycle, helping inspire the "minigame-collection" trend that briefly overwhelmed Wii game development. Two-player competition and theoretically endless challenges make WarioWare feel like a motion-controlled Japanese game show.
Mario Kart fans have put the Wii's version of the venerable franchise somewhere in the middle of the pack, but even if you're not a fan of the series, it's still one of the best multiplayer racing games on the Wii, and is compatible with a cute but unnecessary plastic wheel housing for the Wii Remote. Online racing adds additional appeal--it's one of the few Wii games you're guaranteed to find online opponents in. Depending on what hardware bundle you buy, this game may already be included with your system--in which case we'd recommend New Super Mario Bros. in its place.
Yes, it's yet another Mario game, with a twist: 2009's New Super Mario Bros. is a four-player game, adding some same-screen mayhem reminiscent of Super Smash Bros. For newcomers to Mario and fans of the old NES games, this is the game to get. Fans of single-player experiences and 3D gaming should look at Super Mario Galaxy. Or, get both. This is a pack-in game with some Wii bundles, so you may already own it.
Fans of weird, obscure art games, look no further: Suda 51's bizarre mess of a game feels like the love child of Tarantino and Scott Pilgrim. Your quest to dispatch of the world's most over-the-top hitmen is bloody and most definitely not for children, but it's one of the most notable of the Wii's deep stable of independent, exclusive third-party oddities.
Knocking over blocks? Taunting cartoon animals? Sounds like Angry Birds, huh? Actually, the Steven Spielberg-produced Boom Blox may have inspired Angry Birds in some fashion. The 3D Boom Blox Bash Party, a sequel to the original Boom Blox, uses the Wii Remote to aim and knock down structures over hundreds of levels and game modes, adding up to a creative and addictive party game. We've seen it sold used for as low as $17.
My wife loves Mario Party 8, a Mario-themed board game with minigame challenges. The more recent Wii Party is a similar idea, although it also has other clever game modes, including a "hide the controller" game that uses the Wii Remote's speaker in a truly unique way. Games can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to play, perfect for a party--hence the name.
Last fall's hypnotizing, beautifully-rendered Kirby game is better for young children--it's a little bit too easy--but the worlds that unfold, made of yarn, paper, and other craft materials, are wonderful to watch. Much like LittleBigPlanet for the PlayStation 3, Epic Yarn feels handcrafted.
Easily lost amid the landslide of other Mario games on the Wii, Super Paper Mario came out in 2007 before Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros., and remains one of those most unique experiences on the Wii console. An odd hybrid of platforming game and role-playing, the game flips back and forth between 2D and 3D views depending on how you point the Wii Remote. The perspective shifts and puzzles, along with the irreverent storylines and dialogue throughout, make for an adventure that hasn't aged at all.
Besides the substantial--and often quirky--back catalog of disc-based games, the Wii's downloadable game library is underrated and often overlooked. Indie hits like the Bit.Trip saga (pictured) and World of Goo are affordable downloads, and hundreds of retro NES, SNES, N64, and Genesis games offer at least a few buried treasures (Zelda: Majora's Mask is just one of them).