Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo, 2014)
A fairly easy decision for my favourite game of the year this year, Mario Kart 8 is responsible for completely rejuvenating public interest in the Nintendo Wii U. Before it was released, the writing was on the wall – purchases had slowed, there were no good games on the horizon and all the good games had been played to death and had limited replayability value (apart from maybe Super Mario 3D World).
When Mario Kart 8 was released, it came with an offer of a free downloaded game from the Nintendo store, allowing everyone to access one of 10 games on top of the physical release of Mario Kart 8. This included New Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD, Nintendoland, Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101, all of which are amongst the best on the platform. For £40 it was a no-brainer. I know quite a few people who took Nintendo up on this offer, and are now some of the most avid Wii U players I know. For those already on board, it was a nice thank for for sticking with them whilst they got the first must-have game ready.
Quite simply, the game itself is excellent. Nintendo have taken everything that was great about the series so far (fast paced action, brilliant courses, screwing over your friends), got rid of all the things we don’t like (two drivers in a kart, difficult controls on the Wii), added in one critically much-wanted new feature (online support) and pulled it together perfectly to make one of the best games of the last five years.
Coming out just as we approached summer, it was the perfect game to play when you had loads of friends over and wanted a way to take the fun into the evening. People were digging out their old Wii remotes and hooking them up. What people were seeing was sublimely animated and mind-bending course designs, excellent control responses, some highly detailed replays and fast paced action focused on fun.
Moreover, there has been an additional DLC pack with three extra playable characters (Link, Tanooki Mario and Cat Peach) and eight additional courses (including the as-annoying-as-you-remember SNES Rainbow Road). This has further extended the replayability and given everyone a few more options to prevent getting bored. There will be a similar DLC pack in May, centred on the perhaps less popular Animal Crossing game, but I’ve already pre-ordered it so I’ll be enjoying it either way!
It’s a pick-up-and-play classic and it so far hasn’t grown old, and with online support the popularity promises to carry on for years to come.
Runner up: Bayonetta 2 (Sega, 2014)
This game really annoyed me. Set for release in the “launch window”, the delays kept coming and we’ve eventually received it two years after originally planned. Having expected to be playing this and Rayman Origins (which was also delayed for over a year) on my new launch day Wii U, I was a little underwhelmed with how much use I was getting from my console for the first year or so.
Two years have gone by since the expected release. Was it worth the wait? Well, just about. The package was great and we got the first game included (though most of us already had it), and it wasn’t as expensive as I expected.
Crucially, the game – which I’m yet to finish – plays like a dream. It’s much easier than the first, probably to help new people into what was quite a tricky series, especially for the average Wii U gamer (which I think we’re supposed to assume is a casual gamer who, in this case, has bought Bayonetta 2 by mistake instead of Nintendogs). Much like the first, the graphics are stunning. They’ve really gone to town on the intricate designs, especially with the main protagonists and end-of-level bosses. My 360 Bayonetta looks decidedly plain in comparison.
As expected, it’s a game on an epic scale and it genuinely is a lot of fun to get stuck into. Couple this with Mario Kart 8 (and Super Smash Bros.) and you have three fantastic reasons to go for the Wii U over Xbox One or the PS4, which are still struggling to find their feet.