There’s no question that 2016 was an off-year for Nintendo. It seems that the majority of its development resources have made an early jump toward the upcoming Nintendo Switch, leaving both the Wii U and 3DS with a shorter list of game of the year contenders than usual. To say that the year was uneventful, though, wouldn’t exactly be fair, either. 2016 saw the arrival of some long-awaited localizations, interesting series mash-ups, and a slew of great indie releases. Not to mention the biggest Pokémon release to date and Nintendo’s curious and fascinating first steps into the mobile market.
With the shadow of Switch towering ahead, and hopefully a stockpile of amazing software along with it; we probably won’t look back on Wii U’s twilight year all that fondly. Before the next chapter begins, though, we want to take the time to recognize a few fantastic Nintendo experiences that 2016 brought us.
5. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE
Written by Ricky Berg
When first announced as Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, this game seemed like it would be some kind of crossover event starring characters from across both game universes. That would have been fine, but after a very long quiet period the game was shown again with a whole new identity and focus. Now it embraced contemporary Japanese entertainment industry staples such as idols while introducing a new cast of characters who fought with Mirage partners as Fire Emblem character shoutouts. That said, it’s the original cast that really sells this one as far as plot goes, with sidequests that flesh out their motivations being a real highlight of the experience.
These performers need a stage, and TMS’s battle system is a venue that brings out the best this Atlus developed title has to offer. Retaining the weapon triangle of Fire Emblem as well as the elemental weaknesses of Shin Megami Tensei, these pair with musical motifs to allow your party members to assist you, chaining compatible attacks and leading into show-stopping specials that clear enemies quickly. Mastering this is important, as the game can be as refreshingly difficult as its pedigree would suggest. Even though it pulls from existing beats, the original songs and animations paired with the combat and characters make this a must play for Wii U owning fans of JRPGs and one of my favorites of the whole year.
4. Paper Mario: Color Splash
Written by Logan Plant
The brunt of countless jokes here at Nintendo Wire since its announcement, Paper Mario: Color Splash actually turned out to be a fun, charming new entry in the Mario spinoff series. After the bad taste that Paper Mario: Sticker Star left behind, fans were worried that Color Splash would only continue the decline of this once great franchise, but after playing through the new game I think it’s safe to say that Color Splash is a step back in the right direction for Paper Mario. In this tale, Mario is sent to Port Prisma, a world that has lost all of its color. To remedy this, Mario and his new paint can friend Huey must gather the six big paint stars to restore vibrancy to the land. What follows is a charming adventure through detailed, varied landscapes filled with… Toads. If you play through Color Splash, you’ll find that nearly every friendly NPC is a Toad, while almost every enemy NPC is a Shy Guy. Even though the lack of varied characters is an unfortunate problem bleeding over from Sticker Star, the writing more than makes up for it.
Paper Mario: Color Splash features countless jokes from the opening cutscene all the way to the end credits. From gags about the way Toads react to breaking the 4th wall, enemies venting to Mario about wanting to leave villainy behind and so much more, there’s no shortage of humor here. This makes it less significant that Mario only interacts with Toads, because each Toad at least has something distinctly funny to say that differentiated it from the others. The best Toads are the two that cheer every time Mario walks over the bridge they worked so hard to fix (or react in horror if he happens to slam it with his hammer.) While the battle system leaves something to be desired, and the lack of unique characters is noticeable, Paper Mario: Color Splash recaptures some of the charm that made the first two games so entrancing, which definitely makes this crafty adventure one of the best titles of 2016.
3. Super Mario Run
Written by Brittin Shauers
After a rocky start on mobile with Miitomo early in the year, Nintendo’s future on the platform seemed uncertain, to say the least. Prospects seemed a bit brighter after the arrival of Pokémon GO in July, but being only tangentially Nintendo-affiliated, we still didn’t know what a proper Nintendo mobile game might look like. It wasn’t until December that Mario finally delivered the answer to that question personally.
Super Mario Run is as much a proof of concept as it is a game. It showed us how Nintendo could craft a fun, simple experience that could satisfy both seasoned Super Mario players and beginners alike; while carefully distinguishing itself from the standard Mario platformer. Though its value proposition and pricing have been called into question, after the hours and hours of enjoyment we’ve gotten out of its two diverse gameplay modes, there’s no doubt in our minds that Run was one of Nintendo’s best offerings of the year.
2. Rhythm Heaven Megamix
Written by Matthew Weidner
In a year dominated by 20th anniversary PokéParties and rampant Switch speculation, I never expected the Nintendo game I’d be gushing over most would involve interviewing sweaty wrestlers and high-fiving mischievous monkeys. A cross between the minigame madness of WarioWare and rhythmic tappings of Elite Beat Agents, Rhythm Heaven Megamix proved a very strong, albeit unexpected contender for Nintendo Wire’s Game of the Year. In fact, few games in 2016 can rival the addictive gameplay, colorful humor and infectious tunes of this incredibly offbeat title.
A celebratory compilation of the franchise’s finest, Megamix’s nearly 100 new and updated rhythm games quite literally propelled the series to cosmic new heights, captivating players with its accessible controls, simplistic art style and zany cast of characters. Every inch of this lovingly crafted showstopper oozes with charm, amazingly more so with the 3D effect cranked up high. The immense care given to localization efforts also deserves a shout-out, injecting its newly added narrative with a healthy dose of witty wordplay and boisterous banter. In the end, Megamix is a must-have experience for gamers of all ages: a fantastic entry point for newcomers to the genre with plenty of nostalgia, challenge and replayability to please both completionists and longtime fans for years to come. Let’s we go, amigo!
1. Pokémon Sun & Moon
Written by Jaxson Tapp
As someone who has loved Pokémon his entire life, I feel confident in saying that 2016 was the absolute best year to be a Pokémon fan. With the 20th anniversary celebration lasting all year long, different areas of the Pokémon franchise took part in their own ways. Game Freak and the Pokémon Company brought things full circle by bringing Pokémon Red, Blue & Yellow to the 3DS via Virtual Console, but they also took a new step with Pokémon Sun & Moon by changing up so many of the series’ mainstays, giving long time Pokémon fans a fresh experience.
This fresh experience led to the game that many, including us here at Nintendo Wire, are naming their game of the year. Pokémon Sun & Moon blew us away with it’s fresh locale and interesting characters and mechanic changes. Gone are the Gyms and Gym Leaders of past generations, and in their place are Island Trials, Trial Captains, and Kahunas. Not once playing through Sun & Moon did I feel like the game was missing anything major, and the experience was actually more enjoyable than a lot of other entries in the series. I’m excited to see what Pokémon has in store for us in the years to come but for 2016, I’m proud to name Pokémon Sun & Moon Nintendo Wire’s Game of the Year.