When I started “The Nintendo Resolution” about a year ago, my stated goal was to clear out my video game backlog – the games that I’d purchased, started playing, and then completely abandoned for one reason or another.
Mission accomplished! Of the 36 games I beat this year (see the original hub page for the full list, as well as links to my write-ups on each one), 12 were games that had been on my backlog for some amount of time. And although you can see a clear point where I refocused my attention to newly-released games, I think playing them with this “resolution” in mind kept me determined to see them through to the end. On any other year, many of those games would have just become fresh new additions to the backlog (especially goddamned Earthbound Beginnings).
Another thing that surprised me was that, aside from the 45 minutes I spent playing Emily is Away at the tail end of the year, every game I finished this year was on either the Wii U or the 3DS. Of course, fanboy that I am, I’ve always leaned heavily towards Nintendo, but usually I play through at least a couple of games on other systems. But in 2015, aside from playing through the first five chapters of Telltale’s Game of Thrones with a friend, and my continued obsession with The Simpsons: Tapped Out, it was pretty much all Nintendo all the time.
So keep that in mind when you read my weird-ass Top 10 list, okay? Since I spent such a significant amount of time playing “older” games, it felt weird to have to narrow that down to just games that were actually released this year. Here’s what I came up with:
10 – Pokémon Picross
Released just a month ago, this downloadable title is the latest product of Nintendo’s newfound interest in the free-to-play model. And on the surface, Pokémon Picross seems to wallow in all the greediest and most cynical excesses of the shitty-ass mobile games from which it drew its inspiration.
You might think, then, that this is a weird choice for my Top Ten list – but man, you have no idea how obsessed I am with Picross. I physically ruined my old 3DS by playing Picross games so much that the stylus permanently scratched a grid formation onto the touch screen. So if you take my inherent love of these puzzles, and combine them with goal-oriented Pokémon-themed challenges – well, that’s pretty much my Kryptonite.
Besides, once you dig a little deeper into the game, you’ll discover that Nintendo are significantly less shady than most publishers who release these free-to-play apps. This one has the same pay-to-play set-up as other similar games, but once you pay a certain amount (around $26 by my math) – either cumulatively through several microtransactions, or all at once – you gain access to the game’s full content without ever having to pay a cent again. So, if you so desire, you can treat this like a traditional pay-one-price video game purchase right off the bat. As of now, I’m still enjoying the challenges posed by the limitations of the “free” mode, so I haven’t taken that plunge yet. But you can bet your ass that I eventually will.
9 – Yoshi’s Woolly World
This was the last game I beat in 2015, and while my write-up of it might seem a tad negative at points, that’s mostly due to my state of mind when playing it rather than the game itself.
The fact is, Yoshi’s Woolly World is excellent and in fact is the best damn Yoshi game since the original. It’s cute, it’s creative, it looks unbelievably beautiful. And most importantly it has the stellar level design which, like all of Nintendo’s best platformers, manages to be both challenging and breezy at the same time. If it wasn’t for the unfortunate timing of this game’s release – almost immediately following Super Mario Maker – it surely would have been higher on my list.
8 – Human Resource Machine
The creators of World of Goo and Little Inferno bring their melancholic style and criticism of corporate culture to what is essentially a computer-programming tutorial, and somehow it really, really works.
This is a short one – I plowed through it in just a few days. But as I said in my write-up, Human Resource Machine is engaging, charming, addictive, and – when you manage to finally solve one of its mind-fucking puzzles – immensely satisfying.
7 – Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones is an episodic adventure by Telltale Games. Rather than playing like more traditional point-and-click adventures, it follows the pattern set by Telltale’s hugely successful Walking Dead game. What this means is that the experience is largely cinematic, with the player’s input limited to choosing conversational options and occasionally plodding through quick-time “action” sequences. It’s a testament to Telltale’s skill and attention to detail that these games – which could easily be mind-numbing in another developer’s hands – are so wholly captivating. It doesn’t hurt that they are also able to snag up such great licenses to build these experiences around, ones to which so many people are already emotionally attached. Like, for instance, Game of Thrones.
I am not going to say much more about this, because very soon it will likely be the subject of its own blog post. I have been playing the game together with a friend, and we haven’t had a chance to play the final episode yet. We will be doing so shortly, and therefore Game of Thrones will probably be the first game I beat in 2016. Stay tuned.
6 – Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.
I have never been a fan of turn-based strategy games, mostly because I completely suck at them. It’s the reason I didn’t end up sticking with Heroclix. I couldn’t even compete with my moronic friends while moving little toys around a table, so navigating the baffling mechanics of shit like Fire Emblem was way out of reach for me.
Code Name S.T.E.A.M. converted me though. Admittedly, I showed up mainly for its amazingly berserk story, but I stayed because the game is just so much fun to play. Challenging as hell for a guy like me, but still really, really fun!
5 – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D
If it feels like a bit of a cheat to include this 15-year-old game on a Top Ten list of 2015, well that’s because it kind of is. But, in my defense: (a) this remake was released this year, and (b) I’ve never made it through the game before, so it’s completely new to me!
It was also the very first game I played on my new New 3DS, and I was still in awe of the system’s enormous screen and improved 3D effects. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful game world to serve as the setting for that experience, and for that alone Majora’s Mask 3D has a special place in my heart. And also for a million other reasons.
4 – Splatoon
I am generally not a fan of online multiplayer. It triggers my fear of commitment for one thing, but mostly I just think video games should either be a solitary pursuit, or a fun party with a bunch of your friends on the same couch. So I was a bit nervous about Splatoon at first, but it quickly won me over with its short matches, exhilarating gameplay and user-friendly pick-up-and-play mechanics. Sadly, I’ve been neglecting Splatoon a bit lately (I haven’t even played on the last few maps Nintendo has introduced into the game), but for a while there it completely consumed my life.
In addition the multiplayer main course, the game also has a surprisingly robust single-player campaign, my impressions of which you can read about here.
3 – Disney Infinity 3.0
From the moment the first Disney Infinity game was announced, I knew I was in deep, deep trouble. I tried to resist for about two seconds, but the lure of collecting little Disney figurines which you could use to play video games was too much for me, finances and free time be damned.
Disney Infinity 3.0, which is largely focused on Star Wars, is easily the franchise’s best entry yet. After the second edition‘s gameplay left me a little bit disappointed, developer Avalanche Software really stepped up their game for this one, correcting nearly everything that was lackluster last time around. But what really surprised me was how engaged I became in the game’s Minecraft-esque Toybox Mode, after all but ignoring it the first two times. Oh, the worlds I created!
Eventually I will show you those worlds (or, at least, screenshots of them) when I do a write-up for Disney Infinity 3.o. I can’t – and won’t – consider the game “beaten” until its final playset is released this March, so let’s reconnect then, okay?
2 – Xenoblade Chronicles 3D / Xenoblade Chronicles X
This one’s kind of another cheat since, y’know, it’s actually two different games. Also, the first is a remake of a Wii title from 2010, while the second is a game I’ve really only just started playing. Still, I think the Xenoblade series deserves this spot because they represent the most intensely immersive video game experience I’ve had this year, and probably in a great many years.
You can read my thoughts on the first game here. This was my first toe-dip into the phenomenon known as “modern JRPGs” and it sucked me right the fuck in, not only taking up almost 107 goddamn hours of my time, but connecting with me in a way I never expected. I haven’t gotten extremely far in the sequel yet, but so far it seems like an even deeper experience. Xenoblade Chronicles X, for the Wii U this time, somehow evokes all the best elements of its predecessor, while at the same time feeling entirely new and different. I’ll get back to you once I finish it, in the year 2025.
1 – Super Mario Maker
Of course this is #1. What else could possibly be?
Not only is Mario Maker the best game of 2015, but it is the best piece of software available for the Wii U, period. And even though I anticipated the fuck out of this game, I didn’t think that would be the case. Why not? Because I didn’t think I could be a Mario Maker.
You see, I’ve tried different level-creator modes before, in a number of different games. I even made a healthy – but ultimately futile – effort to create shit in LittleBigPlanet. I could never really do it. Even if I’d had the germ of an idea – which was rarely the case – I didn’t have the patience or the level-design skills to sculpt it into a finished product. So I figured Mario Maker, for me, would serve as an endless smorgasbord of Mario levels created by other, better people, and little else.
Then I got the game. And yes, there were so many creative people making so many incredible levels, and I played hundreds of them. But then, almost without even thinking about it, I started making my own levels. And they were, at least in my own opinion, good levels. You see, there’s one huge difference between stuff like LittleBigPlanet and Mario Maker that hadn’t occurred to me before I got my hands on it myself. Namely: this is Mario. From the moment I started mucking around with the level design mode, I realized that everything about Mario games – the logic, the physics, the “rules” of level design – were so well-known to me as to feel almost instinctual. It doesn’t hurt that the game’s UI is so user-friendly and easy-peasy – never once did I say “I want to do such-and-such, but I’m not sure how.” Any idea I had, I was just a quick tap-and-drag away from bringing it to life.
Ultimately, Mario Maker is special not just because it provided me with a fun gameplay experience. It also gave me the opportunity to actually insert my own creative energy into a thing that has provided me with joy since I was 5 years old. The pride I feel when strangers star my levels and leave complimentary comments is overwhelming, but even greater is the pride I feel when I play my own levels. It’s corny I know, but fuck you, it’s true.
If you have the game (and you really, really should) and want to try some of my levels, check out my Super Mario Maker profile. And let me know yours!!
So there you have it, my top games of 2015. For all the doom and gloom about the failure of the Wii U (not to mention the untimely death of Satoru Iwata), I think that if you judge by content alone, this is one of the best years Nintendo has had in a while. They’ve introduced new franchises like Code Name S.T.E.A.M. and Splatoon (the latter of which was a bona-fide crossover hit), experimented with distribution and payment models in an unprecedented way, and did something truly magical with Super Mario Maker. Speculation states that the company will likely release their next console in 2016, and while I will lament the brief lifespan of the Wii U, I will pretty much follow Nintendo wherever they go.
And you’ll be able to read about it here, because I plan on continuing the Nintendo Resolution into 2016. I probably won’t play 36 goddamn games again this year, but whatever I do play (and beat) will be posted on these pages. Happy new year!