10. Super Mario Maker may look like the standard Mario games that we've been inundated with since the mid-eighties, but underneath that familiar exterior is a Mario game in a class of its own. In fact it's much more than just a game, it's a creation tool with which players can unleash their imagination and create their own levels and challenges featuring the iconic Italian plumber. Much like Little Big Planet, Super Mario Maker invites players to make and share their creations with others. With the levels already included on the disk and the vast building options available to create and customise your own levels there's a lot of potential game to be enjoyed here. Add to that the availability of levels made by the community and Super Mario Maker provides a widely dynamic experience and excellent value for money considering how much content you have access to.
Super Mario Maker is not only a fun game, but an important one in terms of game appreciation. The freedom on offer presents players with an insight into the creative process of game development that educates as well as entertains. Although it may seem overwhelming at first you slowly gain an understanding of level design and game mechanics and with a little imagination creating levels becomes as rewarding as playing them. The unique capabilities of the Wii U and its second touch screen are undoubtedly underused, but thankfully this is one of the few titles to truly showcase what the console can do. A fitting tribute to thirty years of gaming gold and a stand-out title in terms of depth and diversity; Super Mario Maker gets a gold star and a place in our top ten games of 2015.
9. Rather than just run through a list of features to tick off the list, it was awesome to see Treyarch come on like gangbusters with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Every aspect of the new COD entry shows the studio's hunger to entertain and remain credible for at least another solid year. The campaign encourages new strategies that take veteran players out of their comfort zones, pointing to seriously smart level design amid the hammy 'COD moment' set-pieces.
Above all, Treyarch shows how much it understands its highly attentive community with practical aspects to profile customisation that include tailoring your favourite weapons. Black Ops 3 almost feels like an augmented-soldier academy of excellence, where the hardest working students graduate with the greatest rewards. The scope to improve your game is vast, but the most vital ingredient is the huge sense of fun in evidence at all times across its impressive selection of modes.
8. It was to be Kojima's last game in the series, and so it was fitting that it was suitably epic and bigger in scope than anything we'd already seen from the iconic creator. The Phantom Pain was wholeheartedly teased when Konami released Ground Zeroes last year, thus we had an idea as to what to expect from the finished article - mechanically solid, tactically deep, violent, engaging - and so it proved.
There were lashings of over the top set-pieces to move the action along, and we were entertained for the majority of the time. However, for a game with this sort of profile, its depiction of women will have been troubling for some. Also our long standing criticism of Kojima remains - his storytelling could do with some extra time in the cutting room. On top of that perhaps there was a touch too much recycling towards the end. Still, these flaws aren't enough to hold Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain away from our top ten. The new open-world setting works, and Kojima's unflinching narrative dragged us kicking and screaming through the adventure. It's a flawed masterpiece, but a fitting sign off for Kojima from the series he's nurtured all these years.
7. The story of the friendship between Max and Chloe really struck a chord with us. A very well crafted and thoroughly thought out narrative that not only offered the rare perspective of a normal teenager (well, perhaps not entirely normal) and a female one at that.
Dontnod managed to balance what is largely a story-focused game with some interesting gameplay mechanics. Not just the ability to rewind time, but they also made sure there was enough small decisions and optional content there to truly ground the experience.
As we compile this end of the year list placement has less to do with frame-rate and textures and more to do with what experiences stand out as memorable, and Life is Strange certainly fits this bill. Great characters, an engaging multi-layered plot, unusual themes and some of the strongest climaxes and cliffhangers we've encountered in episodic adventures to date.
6. Expectations for Batman: Arkham Knight were high. This would be the third and final game of the Arkham trilogy created by Rocksteady Studios, and the first one created from scratch for the new generation of consoles. On top of all this, a 'cherry' on four wheels, with a rough look and a huge cannon on top. The Batmobile was the biggest new feature in Batman: Arkham Knight, allowing players to drive the iconic Dark Knight vehicle for the first time in series history.
Its introduction was fantastic, with excellent controls and several mechanics merged into the overall gaming experience... a bit too much actually. We loved driving the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight, and we even enjoyed fighting the AI-controlled tanks, but Rocksteady clearly abused the use of the vehicle. This is one of the weakest points of Batman: Arkham Knight, a design choice that forced the Batmobile onto players way more then it should have been, almost ruining what was otherwise a great addition.
Luckily, Batman: Arkham Knight is not a full driving game. The gameplay and combat are more refined than ever, graphics are among the best we've seen on a console, and the script includes some delightful surprises - although the identity of Arkham Knight should be obvious to anyone that knows the background of Batman and his colleagues. Batman: Arkham Knight is not a perfect game, and it's hardly the best chapter on the series, but it is an excellent action game you should play, and that recommendation goes to both Batman enthusiasts and casual fans alike.
5. Wii U-exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles X has been praised for a variety of different reasons, most notably how it grows on you as player, teaching you how to play experientially and over time. But that's just the start, and the vastness of the experience (which easily shadowed titles such as Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 with its sheer scale) and the level of detail that the game ventures into at various points had us truly impressed.
Mechs (referred to in the game as Skells) also play a vital role within Xenoblade, and once unlocked they allow the player to traverse the alien planet of Mira far more safely. They're also fully customisable, allowing you to fine tune them in any way you want. Customisation aspects also come into play with your character, clothing and gear. There's so much tinkering on hand, if you like that aspect.
Xenoblade also has unique elements when it comes to its combat system, to any new player the combat UI may be daunting at first glance, but as you progress you soon learn to work with it and use various attacks, different equipment, and even partners you pick up along the way, using all to your advantage during battle. These segments play out in real-time but require strategy to defeat bigger bosses, adding a dynamic element to combat throughout the game and keeping it from turning stale or repetitive too quickly.
Xenoblade Chronicles X is a great addition to the Wii U line up, and it's a game that should be on ever Wii U-owner's wish list. From veteran players of the Xeno series, to those who want to take a first step into the world of JRPGs, this is almost certainly the game for them. This is one of the best role-playing games to have ever emerged from Japan; Monolith has crafted an incredible game.
4. Retro combines with roguelike in this effervescing sci-fi shooter with a Japanese anime vibe. The road to becoming the galaxy's most celebrated fighter pilot is made far from easy with a one-life-only approach to missions - mess it up and it's back to the very beginning with you! However, the many gradual and hard-earned improvements to hero A-Tak's slick spaceship make the investment of time worthwhile as you aim to complete all five 'seasons' in style.
At the heart of the game is the versatility of the GALAK-Z ship itself, combining elements of old-school shooters that include Defender and Asteroids, or more recently Geometry Wars and Super Stardust. In any case, the zero-gravity manoeuvrability feels terrific and requires meticulous, trance-like handling to survive unscathed. Galak-Z: The Dimensional plays unashamed hardball, but the purity of the gameplay is such a treat that you'll find it hard to resist the challenge.
On top of that the whole thing's wrapped up with brilliant presentation. There's referential nods galore, quips that show how well the developers understand their audience. It's beautifully realised, the procedural generation of the levels does a fine job of keeping things fresh, and while the progression system takes the edge off of the game's roguelike sensibilities, there's still a challenge there that's so perfectly balanced that it'll keep you coming back for more. Simply put, this is a stunning video game.
3. Oh how we were nervous. We needn't have been. 343 teased us with potential greatness in Halo 4, but hindsight revealed a flawed game that didn't go the distance in a way that Bungie crafted series entries before it had managed. Perhaps you could argue that the decline had started before the studio took the reins, but the success of Halo 5: Guardians somewhat negates that theory: there's life in the old Spartan yet.
The story campaign was perhaps the most divisive part of the package. Short and succinct it most certainly was, we enjoyed the story beats and look forward to seeing how the events witnessed therein unfold in the inevitable Halo 6. Some people were less enamoured, and even fans have to admit that the story is not the main course of this particular meal. With Guardians more than any Halo game before it, the campaign plays second fiddle to the multiplayer.
This could have meant disaster, but happily that's not the case, and with Halo 5: Guardians we think 343i has crafted the best multiplayer game of the year. This is a stunning return to form for the series, and the studio has rediscovered the elegantly balanced competitive play that the franchise hasn't enjoyed since Halo 3. Every player goes into battle with the same set of tools, and once again skill and experience are now the defining factors that dictate individual success, which is exactly how it should be.
There's a healthy selection of new and returning modes for players to enjoy, and while the game launched short a couple of maps, there's Forge-created levels being added all the time, and more arenas promised down the line in future - free - DLC drops.
This franchise has long defined Xbox, and Master Chief is the platform's most iconic character. Halo 4 was good, but not great, and the launch of The Master Chief Collection was nothing short of a debacle; as such Guardians had to deliver for Microsoft and 343i. Happily for everyone concerned, Halo 5: Guardians is the best Halo for years, and our third favourite game of 2015.
2. We knew it was going to be good. Bethesda Game Studios rarely, if ever, fumbles. Sure, there were bugs. Quite a few to be honest. But they did nothing to overshadow what is a wonderfully written, massive, and highly entertaining and immersive role-playing game.
As usual it is the side content that shines brightest. There is just so much to do, so many paths to take. Some of us spent tens of hours building settlements, searching for materials, and making our population happy. Others went off on our own and explored the Commonwealth taking on whatever mission we happened upon. Some actually stay on the narrow path to the best of our abilities, searching out the Institute and our missing Shaun. Some took the time and care to develop relationships with our companions. Some jumped on every Fusion Core they saw and spent considerable time in a Power Armour. Others were sneaking in the bushes with a muzzle on their sniper rifle. Some carried around a Fatman. Others swung a Sledgehammer. The odd fellow employed the Junk Jet. One or two tried to charm their way out of every fight. Most of us became addicted to Buffouts, Jets and Mentats.
Some criticism has been directed at Fallout 4 for not adding enough to the formula and pretty much just emulating what was there in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, but we don't think that this is entirely fair. The real-time combat has certainly been improved. The new level and perk system makes the game even more interesting for players of the min/max persuasion. We imagine a ridiculous amount of work has gone into the voice work as it feels a natural fit. And the aforementioned system for settlements is really well made.
Fallout 4 was released in early November and we still feel like there is lots left to do in the Commonwealth. What really impresses us is the high level of quality found throughout. While there is some repetition to be found, there seems to have been care and thought behind every little shack, every tool box, every little note, every line written on every terminal. This wasn't the best video game of 2015, but with a bit more innovation and a few less bugs it might well have been. We're not complaining though, Fallout 4 is a remarkable game and an essential experience.
1. Given that Dragon Age: Inquisition was our Game of the Year for 2014, you might conclude that we're biased towards sweeping fantasy RPGs, but that's not the case, and in fact CD Projekt Red's grand adventure gets the nod this year for the sole reason that it was the best title released in the last twelve months. Last year Dragon Age and Alien: Isolation went toe-to-toe for the honour of GOTY, and while we didn't go as far as settling it on a coin toss, it was a close run thing. There was no such debate amongst the editorial team this year, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was the obvious choice for this year's prestigious award.
Why then did we like this game above all others? There's a multitude of reasons, so let's start from the top and work our way through. First and foremost we admire what CDPR managed to achieve, and the huge step forward that they took when considering their third game against their previous work in Assassins of Kings. You can chart and compare the studio's progression to that of Bioware and their own work within the realm of fantasy, but for our money in 2015 the apprentice outdid the master, and CD Projekt Red came of age with a thunderous and triumphant role-playing game.
The world of the The Witcher is rich and vibrant, and thanks to its literary roots is comes blessed with deep and compelling lore. This manifests itself in a superbly realised game-world that is overflowing with interesting side content. There's a moral ambiguity to everything that differentiates this series from its peers, and where some games give you a choice between black and white, right and wrong, The Witcher serves you up several shades of grey and asks you to choose from a variety of unappealing alternatives.
The characters that you meet along the way add so much to the experience, and the writing is great. There's so much nuance to their composition and execution, and as a result our interactions with these characters are incomparably memorable. Even more compelling than the people you encounter are the monsters that you hunt throughout your adventure, their various designs are wonderfully done. Wild Hunts throws you up against some supremely terrifying beasts.
When it comes to fighting the creatures of this world, there's a rich combat system that gives the player plenty of options, fusing magical attacks with agile movement, and the system is layered with customisable character builds that offer opportunity for specialisation. The combat, however, might not be for everyone, and with such a rich narrative experience running alongside it, there'll be plenty who sign up because they want to sample the story and atmosphere. With that in mind there'll be plenty who take the difficulty down a notch and play the game very differently to their combat-focused peers. One of The Witcher 3's strengths is that it caters for all sorts of players, and there's so many different experiences that can be taken away.
On top of a rich and diverse world we've also been given a handsome game, with the vistas (of which there are many) continuously impressing thanks to stunning views that come with a watercolour feel. The animations, for the most part, are great, and they breathe life into your enemies - both human and monster - all of which are beautifully realised. On top of great character and world design, and the fantastic visuals, there's a superb soundtrack playing in the background. The whole thing has been carefully and expertly pulled together, and thanks to post-launch updates it's now in better shape than ever before.
If you haven't already sampled the delights of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, there's never been a better time to do so. CD Projekt Red has meticulously crafted an action-filled story-driven role-playing game that stands head and shoulders above all others. This huge game has so much to offer so many people, and as far as we're concerned, it was 2015's finest video game.