In a year of huge, hardcore blockbuster games, you’d be forgiven for thinking about the Wii U and letting out a little scoff. But the Wii U has given us some of this year’s best video game surprises, games which have appeased hardcore devotees and turned skeptical heads at the same time.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was released after the close off for our 2014 Game of the Year Awards, which makes it eligible for honors this year (plus, it was released in European and Oceanic regions in 2015). Taking the enjoyable Captain Toad stages from Super Mario 3D World and expanding them to create large, rich puzzle worlds has been--despite early fears--a wonderful success. The undeniably adorable Toad and Toadette are a key part of game’s appeal of course, but so are the increasingly clever and challenging puzzles-- design ideas that flourish both from and within Treasure Tracker’s mechanical simplicity.
The first time Splatoon was revealed, we were surprised Nintendo was creating a post-apocalyptic third-person team-based online-multiplayer shooter. When it released, we were surprised it was so damn fun to play. Putting the focus on mobility and controlling territory, Splatoon involves controlling half-kid half-squid characters and painting arenas in your team’s colour. Having turf in your favour allows significant tactical advantages, the most enjoyable of which is the ability to swim around in squid form at speed. Filled with bright colours, an upbeat Japanese rock soundtrack, and fashionable accessories for your character, Splatoon is a shooter with an overwhelmingly positive feel, and with the game’s steady stream of free post-release content, those feelings have lasted all year.
When it comes to post-release content though, Super Mario Maker is king. The creation tool allows you to design 2D platformer levels using the toolsets of the iconic Super Mario Bros. games, which hold fond memories for so many video game lovers. The level maker is both efficiently intuitive and charming, making it a joy to use for building and sharing stages with the wider community. But even if making levels is unappealing to you, Mario Maker also acts an extremely valuable portal to an infinite bounty of unique platformer creations. From simple but surprising stages to sadistic, jaw-dropping gauntlets, Super Mario Maker and its bustling community ensure there’s always something new and special waiting each time you turn on the console.
There’s no denying that the Wii U attracts a slightly younger audience, and so do toys-to-life games. This year, Lego Dimensions entered the scene, bringing with it a host of iconic pop culture characters, causing the wallets of parents and members of various fandoms to tremble anxiously. Characters from Back to the Future, Portal 2, Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, the DC Comics universe and more not only got physical Lego sets, but were fully realised and voiced in-game and could interact with their unlikely allies. Lego Dimensions bridges the gap between different entertainment franchises, between toy and game, between young and old, and it succeeds on all those fronts.
But in a year of huge, hardcore blockbuster games in 2015, you should think of the Wii U because Xenoblade Chronicles X exists, and its sci-fi open-world is enormous and filled with great experiences. Xenoblade is not a game for the impatient. It’s filled with confusing, complex systems and token stylistic trappings of Japanese RPGs, but the sense of wonder that comes from exploring its vast world, the empowerment that comes from piloting its transforming, bipedal mechs, and the satisfaction of fighting its large, impressive creatures makes it one of the best experiences of 2015 on any platform. And when you think about the Wii U this year, “the best experiences of 2015” should be the first thing that comes to mind.