Best of 2015: Top 5 Game Consoles

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Here we go again with my opinion on how the big videogame consoles stacked up against one another over the calendar year. It was a hell of a year for console gaming, and as someone who has access to them all these days, I’ve got to say it was tough at times to choose where I wanted to spend my time playing.

This is a difficult list to explain, as it largely comes down to how I feel about what each console offered to consumers that was unique from its contemporaries. That said, the main quantifiable factors that usually go into this list are volume and quality of console-exclusive games (read: Steam not counted), major console-exclusive features in multi-platform games and any relevant improvements to the experience of using the console made year over year. There’s a lot to say, so let’s go.

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VR BEST OF 2015 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s weird. Cool, but definitely weird. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Playstation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 5th)

In a year that saw Sony admit its first-party support for the PlayStation Vita was all but dead, the company’s third-party relationships really came through for the beautiful console in a big way. If you’re a fan of high-profile indie games and/or interesting Japanese fare, the Vita had you covered in spades throughout 2015. A PlayStation Plus subscription was just about enough to keep Vita owners covered for fun and intriguing experiences over the course of the year, as exclusive or not, there are few digital games I can bring to mind that don’t improve just by being on Sony’s magnificent handheld. I played Broken Age, Grim Fandango Remastered, Lost Dimension, Hatoful Boyfriend and Stein’s Gate on Vita in 2015 and couldn’t imagine playing them any other way.

Of course the bona fide exclusives were few and far between – pretty much just Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls and Persona 4: Dancing All Night in terms of exclusives that made any waves whatsoever – and the Vita-playing experience didn’t really change in a meaningful way. So unfortunately I can’t match my enthusiasm for the handheld in 2015 with a high position on this list. It sucks that the Vita also suffered a discouraging number of delays this year, both in the port and original game categories. I just want Severed to come out, already!

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4. PlayStation 4

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

The state of affairs in the “console war” at the end of 2015 largely resembled that at the end of 2014. The PlayStation 4 is unquestionably the market leader, but no matter how you slice it, the console just does not have anywhere near the exclusive title volume of its closest competitors – at least at the “triple A” retail level. Much hope was placed on the very, very pretty steampunk shooter The Order: 1886 to alleviate this back in February, but suffice to say that didn’t turn out too well. Tearaway Unfolded and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection were quality releases, but didn’t offer too much in the way of new features over their original versions.

What’s more, the PS4’s strong early indie developer relationships didn’t quite look as impressive as they once had in the light of Microsoft and Nintendo’s noticeable strides forward in that sector this past year, and its serviceable operating system/online infrastructure hardly made big improvements. In the case of Bloodborne and Until Dawn, however, the PS4 had a pair of genuinely exciting exclusives that got the internet buzzing and thoroughly surpassed sales expectations as a result. Japan also finally came to the PS4 party in 2015 thanks to quality time sinks like Tales of Zestiria, Disgaea 5 and to a lesser extent Dragon Quest Heroes. The PS4 didn’t need to do much in the way of innovation to have a killer 2015, and it didn’t, yet it still dominated the market. The competition should be very scared for the moment the big exclusives do hit next year.
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3. Wii U

(LAST YEAR: 1st)

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Sadly, even I have to admit the Wii U is now probably on its last legs following a dismal suite of delays and next to nothing on the new announcement front as 2015 rolled on. And yet despite this twofold problem, when you look at the lineup of exclusive games that hit the console over the course of this past year, there’s no doubting the Wii U still made a very strong showing. Behind the triple threat of must-play hits Super Mario Maker, Splatoon and Xenoblade Chronicles X, the Wii U brought out adorable games like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Yoshi’s Wooly World and Kirby and the Rainbow Paintbrush in 2015, all of which backed up their diabetes-inducing visuals with solid gameplay foundations.

And yet if you ask me, this year the Wii U was ultimately defined by its much-improved digital content presence – as I’ve already mentioned this week. From constant – and very good – DLC support for Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, Hyrule Warriors, Super Mario Maker and of course Super Smash Bros, to the long-awaited debut of DS and N64 support on the Wii U Virtual Console, to genuinely inventive and unique indie games like Affordable Space Adventures, Typoman and Runbow – not to mention FAST Racing Neo, the F-Zero game that fans have longed for in all but name – Nintendo in 2015 went a long way towards reversing its past reputation for ineffective baby steps in the post-internet age. May the trend continue towards whatever is coming next.
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2. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

Unfortunately for the luckless Wii U, 2015 saw the return of the 3DS as the leading Nintendo platform for exciting new game announcements, despite the fact that it’s almost two years older than its home console brother. And even though it lacked a new Pokémon game this year – somewhat surprisingly – it still delivered some truly amazing portable gaming experiences to bolster an already stellar library.

The exemplary Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate led the charge on this front, while a simply stellar remake of Majora’s Mask partnered with the chaotic multiplayer goodness of Triforce Heroes in the Legend of Zelda corner. Strategy fans got a stylish and challenging Intelligent Systems title to sink their teeth into in the form of Code Name S.T.E.A.M, while JRPG lovers were – as ever on this wonderful handheld – spoilt for choice with a refreshingly diverse line-up including Etrian Mystery Dungeon, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam Bros, Inazuma Eleven GO, Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros Edition, Yo-Kai Watch and the gigantic New 3DS-exclusive Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. 

The ever-popular StreetPass Mii Plaza received another substantial upgrade in 2015, keeping people’s consoles in their bags, while Nintendo’s tentative forays into the free-to-play market left me hopelessly addicted to Pokémon Shuffle for way longer than I care to admit. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer somehow managed to draw an entire, well-polished game out of one tiny aspect of the popular series and the 3DS eShop went from strength to strength with games like BoxBoy, Azure Striker Gunvolt and Fullblox. Despite the system’s age really starting to show in the visual department, the 3DS looked far from dead in 2015, and the first half of next year sure looks mighty impressive for it too.
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1. Xbox One

(LAST YEAR: 2nd)

My oh my, did Microsoft bring the goods with its lead gaming console in 2015. There was just no contest this year as to which games machine would top this list. The Xbox One had a pretty strong finish to 2014, as I noted on last year’s list. And yet 2015 just blew it away. The Xbox One is now a stronger, faster and much more attractive proposition to prospective console owners than ever before, thanks to a much-improved, more direct UI, a tweaked controller that is now definitively superior to its competition, new remote access capability to match Nintendo and Sony thanks to Windows 10, a growing library of Xbox 360 backwards compatible titles and, of course, some wonderful console-exclusive games.

2015 alone gave Xbox owners the challenging, heartfelt Ori and the Blind Forest, the excellent, layered Rise of the Tomb Raider, the balls-to-the-wall insanity of #IDARB, the genre-leading Forza Motorsport 6, the surprising Scream Ride, and the painstakingly retouched Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Then there was Rare Replay, which quite simply set a new standard for videogame compilations with its above-and-beyond attitude to presentation quality, and finally the dead-set phenomenal multiplayer of Halo 5: Guardians. I’ve appreciated my Xbox One and its multimedia capabilities ever since I bought it on launch day just over two years ago, but I’ve never really been able to say I truly loved playing it. Now, definitively, I can. Take a bow, Phil Spencer.

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Honorable Mentions
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Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3
There was no real point separating the two primary last-gen consoles this year, as they largely had the same dearth of new releases. While both consoles enjoyed a shockingly good port of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and continued to bask in quality sporting releases, the last-gen version of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 was infamously missing a campaign and as for the rest of the big 2015 titles, the shelves were pretty bare. The 360 arguably had the slightest of edges in big-name retail fare, boasting a decent version of Rise of the Tomb Raider, while the PS3 continued to trickle out the usual supply of Japanese RPGs and visual novels – although this year, it was rare to find one that didn’t also come to PS4, PS Vita, or both. This is the last year I’ll be featuring them on this list. You’ve had a good run, fellas.

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