We ran our list of the best games of 2015 earlier this month, but we’ll break it down by console for you. We’re not just looking at console exclusives, but at the full range of releases for the year, excluding collections, reissues and remasters. So a game like Guitar Hero Live could pop up on multiple lists, whereas compilations like Rare Replay will be getting their own separate list. We’ve already done our Xbox One list, and now it’s time for the Wii U.
Nintendo’s weird little system continues to struggle both with sales and respect, which is a shame: some of the best games of the last few years have only been available for the Wii U. It has the best line-up of exclusive games of any console this decade, but offers almost nothing beyond that, so it languishes far behind the competition. This year was no different, with two of our favorite games of the year coming out only for the Wii U. Even if you don’t feel like making any Marios, though, the Wii U brought something you’d like this year. Here are the best games that came out for the system in 2015.
Lego’s foray into the “toys-to-life” genre corralled a number of beloved movies and TV shows into one game. With characters and scenarios from The Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons, The Wizard of Oz, Doctor Who and more, Lego Dimensions tosses some of the most iconic pillars of pop culture into a blender and shoots out a fun action game where you can literally build your own character in the real world. It possesses all the recognizable hallmarks of a Lego game—it’s legitimately funny, and nails the spirit of what it adapts, although playing it can grow a little repetitive. Still, it’s a charming game that can be enjoyed by all ages.—Garrett Martin
The latest Disney Infinity finally adds Star Wars to the mix. That’s another powerful draw in a game that heavily relies on our familiarity with its characters and settings. Nostalgia only takes you so far, though, and Disney’s great blender of a game crams as many different game types as possible into its various play sets and toy box expansions. It’s a third-person platformer, an open-world game, a side-scroller, a dungeon crawler, a kart racer, and whatever else you want it to be, thanks to the deeper-than-ever toy-box mode. It’s basically our childhood imprinted on a disc and dispersed across a line of beautifully designed toys, and then sold back to backwards glancing adults and excited children alike.—GM
Guitar Hero Live, with its streaming music video channels, is now as much of a music delivery service as it is a game, and that ensures its livelihood, at least in my household. As long as they’re running and updating Guitar Hero TV, I’ll carve out time for this game. It offers something that no other game, and really, no other TV station, currently does: a powerful combo of play, nostalgia and discovery. I mean, I’d never buy a Darwin Deez record, but I’m glad I’ve seen that video, you know?—GM
Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is meant to be played with style. To trudge through each level, your movement dictated by an impatient ever-forward swiping of your magic paintbrush, is to completely miss the point (and hundreds of shiny baubles hidden off the main path). On the very first stage, you can draw a line and send Kirby toward the goal. Or: Draw a curving line upward, sending Kirby up off the screen. You’ll find a sky filled with stars, the game’s currency and arbiter of special attacks, granted after collecting one hundred. Go high enough and the world goes black-and-white, the story conceit providing player a challenge along with simple animus.—Jon Irwin
It’s easy to lose track of what’s happening in Runbow, at least when you have a full nine players logged in (or even half of that). Imagine if Mario Kart was somehow crossed with Smash Bros., and then allowed up to nine players to compete. Depending on what mode you play, it can be a violent, headline scramble towards the finish line, or a comical game of king of the hill, or a relatively traditional single-player platformer. With a great score, vibrant colors and multiple variations on elementary gaming concepts, Runbow might be the most overlooked gem on the Wii U this year.—GM
Yoshi’s Woolly World looks old fashioned. At first it’s deeply familiar, recalling Kirby’s Epic Yarn specifically and countless other Nintendo games more broadly, but it has its own specific rhythms and techniques. It doesn’t feel like any of the games you might want to compare it to while you’re playing it, even as it openly lifts various aspects of the Super Mario universe. It pulls in these familiar strands and spins it into something new and exciting.
Japanese role-playing game Xenoblade Chronicles X proudly boasts all the indulgent genre trappings you’d expect: a sprawling cast and story, a massive world to explore, hours of optional business to distract you from that story, a combat system that is barely explained and makes no sense at first but becomes incredibly satisfying once you figure out its systems and tap into its unique rhythm. It will remind you why you once loved this kind of game, back when you were young and had nothing else to do. Xenoblade Chronicles X also surpasses the gorgeous visuals of its predecessor, presenting us with interactive Roger Dean album covers to jaunt through while slaughtering alien dinosaurs.—GM
Okay, maybe this is cheating a little bit. Year Walk is a few years old, and came in second in our list of 2013’s best mobile games. It had never been on a console before it came to the Wii U in September, though. It’s still the only console it’s on. Simogo’s unsettling classic doesn’t lose any of its obtuse or creepy allure, and actually gains some additional power on TV.—GM
Splatoon is not trying to corral unearned cool points with obscenity. Splatoon does not push us to accept its weirdness. Splatoon merely opens its suction-cupped palms to the sky and says, “Here,” and we graciously accept, parched by the years of dusty, war-torn, bone-dry purveyors of damage masquerading as games. Each waterfall was in fact an oasis. Instead, Splatoon showers us with a heavy goop that feels amniotic. We emerge, new and refreshed. We are all squids now.—JI
For many players Super Mario or one of its many sequels is the ur-videogame, the first brush with a controller, the most elemental building block in an entire multi-billion dollar industry. The ability to muck about with our most powerful memories and experiences is bewitching and almost unthinkable, but that’s the core of Super Mario Maker. It’s exactly as good and as bad as you think a Super Mario level editor would be, and that’s entirely subjective upon your own thoughts and opinions.—GM