Wii U - Super Mario Maker
Despite its relatively poor sales, the Wii U has inspired fabulous games and some of the best came out over the last year. These include the joyously messy Splatoon and Yoshi's Woolly World (more on that below). Yet, for my top title of 2015 I've chosen Super Mario Maker.
There are several things that make this game great: it brings back one of Nintendo's most beloved characters along with his iconic friends and foes; it allows you to create your own platformers and share them with the world; it offers a de facto lesson in the history of platform gaming graphics and it gets the best out of the console that it was designed for.
At first sight, Super Mario Maker might appear overwhelming because of the multitude of options it offers for elements to include in the courses you create and for their aesthetics. If you start out with sensible ambitions, though, you can quickly master the basics. It helps that Nintendo has made it easy to experiment with design elements using the Wii U GamePad's touch screen and stylus. These allow you to move elements around and test how well they work as you progress.
Making sure your game is beatable is key because you won't be able to share it online if it isn't. Once you've proven that a player can get past every hurdle, however, you can offer your game to the world and search through a world's worth of creations by other players. One thing this means is that rather than just being one game, Super Mario Maker can literally be 1000s.
It is amazing to see what clever players have come up with and there is plenty of variety. Thankfully, Nintendo have made it easy to find something you might like by collating submissions in a virtual access portal called Course World that can be searched by various criteria. If you don't fancy taking the time to do this, though, you can try a Mario Challenge, which will randomly select courses for you.
Another neat thing about Super Mario Maker is that you are not restricted to Mario as the central character. If you have a collection of Nintendo's amiibo characters, you can use them in the game - albeit in pixelated 2D form - by tapping the physical toy in the right spot on the GamePad. Over 50 amiibo are compatible with Super Mario Maker, including Yarn Yoshi, which brings us to our next recommendation.
Nintendo has attempted to do something different with its toys-to-life creations by not tying them to a specific game like Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Instead, each one can be used with one or more compatible games that don't require toys but give players additional abilities if they bring an amiibo into the game.
Yarn Yoshi was designed primarily for Yoshi's Woolly World but it is also compatible with other games, including Super Mario Maker, Super Smash Bros., Mario Party 10 and Mario Kart 8. His appeal, however, isn't so much his versatility as his adorable charm. Unlike other amiibos, which are the typical plastic that you find with toys-to-life games, Yarn Yoshi is knitted, making him the nearest thing to an amiibo stuffie.
You can buy Yarn Yoshi in pink, green or blue in line with the color options offered in the game. Using it in Yoshi's Woolly World gives the player a second Yoshi in a single-player game and, accordingly, some of the benefits that come from having a companion in local co-op mode. The chances are, though, that anyone who receives a Yarn Yoshi as a gift is just as likely to put it by their bedside as on their console.
Nintendo 3DS - Yo-Kai Watch
This year has also been a good one for Nintendo 3DS releases. Highlights have included The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer and Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. The game that might ultimately make the biggest splash, though, is Yo-Kai Watch.
Already a big hit in Japan before it was released in North America this year, Yo-Kai Watch has all the hallmarks of a Pokemon-inspired game. This includes tie-in toys and a TV series that give its young target audience more to sink their teeth into.
The player appears in the game as a young boy called Nate who is teased by his school friends for not having prepared a bug collection for his school project. After going into the woods to find some rare insects, Nate unintentionally summons up a friendly Yo-Kai Whisperer who introduces him to the Yo-Kai Watch, a special device that lets Nate see mischievous creatures that would be invisible to most humans.
With the advice from the Whisperer and assistance from other helpful Yo-Kai that he befriends along the way, the player, a.k.a. Nate, must capture trouble-making Yo-Kai and collect Yo-Kai Medals. Over time the player builds up a collection of Yo-Kai with special powers that he can select from to battle the hostile Yo-Kai that he finds in his town town.
The animation in Yo-Kai Watch is colorful and smooth and pleasant to look at even though it's not highly detailed. The location of Yo-Kai is indicated on a map that shows the street layout and an indicator that shows whether Yo-Kai are close. Achievements are easy to accumulate at the start of the game but get harder as more Yo-Kai are captured. The difficulty level is generally suitable for children over the age of 6 and Yo-Kai Watch will also be a fun distraction for anyone who likes tame anime-style animation.