If 2015 is only remembered for one thing, it will be amiibo. Released at the end of last year, no-one predicted the phenomenon that Nintendo’s first foray into the toys-to-life market would end up being, or the sheer magnitude of the shortfall of stock that this success would cause. Not since the early days of the Wii have Nintendo been under such an incredible production demand, with blood, sweat and tears being shed in order to secure the increasingly scarce figures during pre-order windows – I personally will never forget being in Edinburgh, standing in the rain, trying (and failing) to secure a King Dedede amiibo on my phone. The final months of 2015 would see an end to the stock shortages (replaced with almost too much stock), and from starting with a meagre 5 amiibo as the year started, and the promise that I’ll “only buy what I really want”, my collection has now reached 31 figures (and counting!).
Beneath this sea of plastic, there were also some games released this year. Wii U and 3DS struggled to maintain a consistent schedule, with sporadic releases signalling the approaching end of each platform. Instead, we were treated to a robust amount of DLC for existing games, with Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros benefitting hugely from this approach. Meanwhile, I finally upgraded to the next-gen with the purchase of a PS4 – let’s just hope 2016 sees NX storm into the market and recapture some of the lost momentum from the last year.
Before we get down to the business of my top 10 games, a special mention must go to Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. In the Wii U’s darkest hour, with every major release delayed, this game taught us one key fact about gaming – it’s better to have nothing than it is to have a game where one of its three modes is a single point rally.
10) Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
What better way to celebrate 30 years of Mario than by opening up its creation toolset to fans worldwide? Super Mario Maker is at heart, a simple concept, but one that has bred an incredibly diverse range of results from the Nintendo community. Utilising the full range of 2D Mario elements has provided limitless potential, yet a difficult sharing platform means that the very best levels are often hard to find. Despite this, the ease at which levels can be created cannot be matched, and the current free expansions (and amiibo usage) means that this is getting better and better.
9) Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U)
What would a Mario game be like if you couldn’t jump? Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker seeks to answer that question by taking its titular through a series of puzzle cubes; the result is an action-puzzle game like no other, with puzzles requiring you to think around problems, rather than leaping at them. Oozing charm in every level, Captain Toad is an adorable, yet surprisingly challenging adventure which is sure to make every Mario fan smile. Like the titular hero though, it’s just a little short.
8) BOXBOY! (3DS)
As one of Nintendo’s premiere development teams, HAL Laboratories have a rich history of creating exciting new concepts, and BOXBOY! is no different. Presented in a wonderfully minimalist style, BOXBOY! introduces Qbby, a walking box that must make his way through a series of puzzle rooms. Solved using boxes, each world introduces a clever new concept, ensuring that you are always learning. While ideas are too often discarded after each world, the concept of BOXBOY! is so engaging that it’s hard to see why the concept has never been done before. An underappreciated gem.
7) Star Wars Battlefront (PS4)
It’s been a long time since Star Wars fans have had anything noteworthy to play on consoles, but that was finally put right this year with the long-awaited follow-up to 2005’s Battlefront 2. With DICE at the helm, everything has changed, but what is clear is that this is the finest Star Wars simulation to date – frankly, it looks and feels just like the original trilogy, with an incredible attention to detail in both the audio and visual departments. The problem is, brush away the phenomenal production values, and this is just another online shooter, and one with almost no single player content. A sign of how future Star Wars games could evolve perhaps, but for now, this is the best way to experience Star Wars outside of the movies.
6) Runbow (Wii U)
Take the core idea of an endless runner, add in a crazy colour mechanic, a handful of power-ups, and finish with 9-player simultaneous gameplay – the result is Runbow, an absolutely manic and hugely entertaining platformer. With the background colour changes hiding certain platforms and your opponents seeking to reach the goal first, Runbow quickly becomes chaotic, but in the best way possible. Snappy rounds keep everyone involved, and hilarious on-screen put-downs after every death, everyone is kept entertained. A great example of how Wii U brings everyone together.
5) The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes (3DS)
One sword less than Four Swords, but two swords more than a classic Zelda game, Triforce Heroes puts teamwork at the forefront, something that is both its greatest achievement, but also its greatest failing. Set to one of the series stranger stories, Triforce Heroes sets you and 2 others off into the world of Hytopia, solving short dungeon-style areas as a team and crafting new costumes to power-up your heroes. In local play the game is superb, and a real credit to the 3DS library, but with connection issues and uncooperative players online, the game can quickly become frustrating. And the less said about single player the better.
4) Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS)
The cynic would say that this is merely making use of the assets already available from both franchises, but that aside, this first crossover between the Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario franchises works surprisingly well. Mining each series’ humour and gameplay, Paper Jam is a return to form for both franchises, correcting recent missteps that each has made on 3DS. With far less dialogue than its predecessor, and a focus on turn-based battles, Paper Jam is a brilliant adventure that constantly delights, making full use of the Mario franchise to deliver a funny, and engaging RPG.
3) LEGO Dimensions (Wii U)
Making use of The LEGO Group’s countless franchise deals, LEGO Dimensions brings 14 different franchises together for the crossover game to end all crossover games. While this is still a LEGO game of the same vein as the others, there’s an undeniable joy seeing The Simpsons, Dr Who, Ghostbusters and even Portal all in the same game. But LEGO Dimensions real trick is the Toy Pad – taking the basic concept of Skylanders, minifigures can be scanned into the game through this pad. However, going one step further, the pad becomes a crucial part of the game, and can be used to solve puzzles and progress through areas. While it’s disappointing that so many minifigures are required to 100% the game, the concept is so much fun, and the franchise crossovers so exciting, it’s easy to get drawn in.
2) Yoshi’s Woolly World (Wii U)
There’s one word that can be used to describe this game – adorable. A real return to form for the Yoshi franchise, Yoshi’s Woolly World sticks close to the tried and tested formula of old, but is reinvigorated by a superb art direction that lends itself to creative puzzles. Set in a world made entirely of wool, the attention to detail is unrivalled, with plush enemies and scenery deforming as Yoshi walks over it. The woollen world adds new puzzle elements, freshening up a franchise that was quickly becoming stale, with loose threads hiding secrets, adding a new challenge to the game. A real technical achievement, Yoshi’s Woolly World is a brilliant example of Nintendo finding a creative way to reinvigorate a stalling series.
1) Splatoon (Wii U)
Since Xbox Live and Call of Duty took the gaming world by storm, it’s been said that to keep up, Nintendo would need to replicate that experience on their own console. For years Nintendo ignored that call, until at E3 2014, they answered it. With paintballs and squids. In 2015, Splatoon launched, and it was well worth the wait.
I’m not a fan of shooters, and I can’t pretend to be any good at them, but with Splatoon, I was instantly captivated. Everything about this game is very clearly a Nintendo product; the concept itself taps into that playful Nintendo energy – rather than killing, it’s all about covering cartoon maps with ink, with the winning team being the team to cover the most ground in their ink. Other modes such as Rainmaker and Tower Control add a playful element to traditional modes, while an increasing array of stages keeps things fresh. And did I mention you play as squids?
Perhaps Splatoon’s greatest achievement is the creation of the Inkling, a character that instantly feels a part of the Nintendo family. A wonderfully designed squid/kid hybrid, Inklings can be customised with different gear, allowing you to create unique designs. Add to that an instantly memorable roster of supporting players (the Squid Sisters in particular), and you’ve got a game that is very much Nintendo at its best. People laughed when Nintendo announced an online shooter, yet the result is the best game of the year, and maybe even the best on Wii U.