We're not so far past Christmas that you've got through all the Boxing Day-discounted cheese and booze giftsets just yet, but that new console you received, or treated yourself to, or "borrowed" from a friend while he was wiped out on the stairs on New Year's Eve, is probably beginning to feel lonely. You got that boxed-in game, sure, and that's been fun these past couple of weeks; or perhaps you picked up one of many attractive bundles with two or three titles. But now, it's time to look at what's next. So here I am, ready to help.
It's easy to be blinded by lengthy lists documenting the so-called "best" games for each of today's three main (under-the-TV) consoles – the Nintendo Wii U, Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's market-leading PlayStation 4. So many out-of-tens to consider; and how best to balance the cost of any one game against the "value" it offers in terms of depth, replay value and campaign longevity? It's utterly baffling, I know. So, rather than put together my own Goodness Me What Are You Doing Not Playing These Dozen Games What Are You Some Sort Of Noob list that you're never likely to get through (let alone afford), I've taken a look at attachment rates for each console – in other words, how many games the average person has for each console purchase, on average, averagely – and come up with your next purchases for the Wii U, Xbone and PS4, giving you options from six, three and four releases respectively.
And look, if you just want to sit about in your underwear and play Fallout 4 with the curtains closed, that's absolutely fine, too.
I'm going to (pretty much) skip right past the thrilling arcade racer Mario Kart 8 and streamlined multiplayer shooter (with squids instead of squaddies) Splatoon, here, as they were both included in the most attractive Wii U bundle on sale this Christmas. If you don't have those games, perhaps because you bought the Super Mario Maker pack, they're the first two you should be looking to pick up now. Or, if you don't have Super Mario Maker, that's where your money needs to go ASAP, as Nintendo's build-your-own-Mario-levels toolkit is just the most glorious combination of creativity, experimentation and nostalgia. Even if you're utterly shite at designing your own stages (hi there, me too), there are millions of them online to try out.
With Mario being synonymous with all things Nintendo since next-to-forever, you're quite possibly considering another game featuring the famous plumber's fantastically moustachioed mug as an imminent acquisition. So, what's it going to be? Mario Party 10? New Super Mario Bros. U? Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash? No, nope, and definitely not. Back on the shelf with all of those – and Yoshi's Woolly World while you're at it – and direct your gaze instead to Super Mario 3D World and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The former is a sumptuous three-dimensional platformer, all design ingenuity plastered in a rainbow palette, that's best played with a pal beside you – you know what to expect, granted, but it really does deliver the smiles. The latter, meanwhile, turns 3D World's bonus-stage puzzles into a full-scale video game of their own, with no jumping allowed and plenty of cross-screen features – remember that the Wii U's GamePad controller has its own screen, not that every developer remembers to use it.
'Bayonetta 2', launch trailer
Three down, all of which are Nintendo-made affairs, so let's have three more that aren't first-party productions, because despite the Wii U's reputation of having very few third-party titles, a ropey port of Watch Dogs and old FIFAs aside, there are independently made games aplenty to fall in love with on the system. One of the most spectacular, and downright silly, is Bayonetta 2, made by Osaka's PlatinumGames and probably the only non-Nintendo-made Wii U exclusive that continuously attracts demands for ports to other consoles. Which is never going to happen – the game's published by Nintendo, after all. And besides, Bayonetta 2 – the sequel to 2009's leggy-witch-kicking-angel-arses action classic – is one of the reasons to get a Wii U, which makes Nintendo giving up its exclusivity a little like Real Madrid loaning Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United, with no appearance restrictions, right before the two teams meet in the Champion's League Final.
KnapNok's Affordable Space Adventures is probably the most celebrated indie release for the Wii U, and while it looks fairly cutesy on a first impression, play it a while and its exacting demands become painfully apparent. You will crash, and crash, and crash again, and this is A Good Thing. (Well, at least a normal thing.) And that's especially true when playing with friends, as the controls of your craft, which is viewed and steered on a 2D plane, can be split between crewmembers. One person can be the pilot, another operate the scanner and a third the various on-board systems. It quite brilliantly turns the GamePad screen into heads-down display, allowing for quick access to the ship's multitude of functions, from the boost controls to operation of the landing gear.
'ZombiU', launch trailer
And pick six of six is another game that uses the Wii U's unique controller excellently, namely the cheap-as-chips-these-days ZombiU. A launch title for the console, Ubisoft Montpellier's horror is as far away from the stress-free cartoon funnies of your average Mario game as the Wii U gets. You are a survivor, charged by an off-screen character called The Prepper to go out onto the streets of a zombie-infested London in search of supplies, before the narrative shifts to one of cure rather than containment, culminating in one of three endings. The GamePad is your backpack, essentially, full of whatever sustenance and useful items you've managed to scavenge, and its touch-screen functionality is also used for picking locks and scanning around the environment from a third-person perspective. And when your eyes are on the pad, that leaves you vulnerable on the telly – always check your surroundings for danger before diving into your collectibles, else you're liable to soil yourself. It picked up mixed reviews on release, but ZombiU is a game that makes the most of its parent hardware better than the majority of Wii U games, and will only cost you the price of a couple of pints in most places.
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You can buy an Xbox One, in the UK at least, in a few different packs. There's one with kicking simulator FIFA 16, another with crashing-at-high-speeds simulator Forza 6, and Amazon will sell you a new console bundled with the latest Just Dance. Because why not, I suppose. Better than those options, though, is one that comes with both the gorgeous Metroidvania-y indie platformer Ori and the Blind Forest and the loads-of-old-games-in-one Rare Replay set. (Which we wrote about over here.) If you've just got an Xbox One, those both need to be pretty high up your next-purchase priority list.
But let's say you chose wisely and already have Ori and Rare Replay – what next? Halo 5 was a big deal, obviously, and it's an entirely accomplished modern shooter that does all the modern shooter stuff to an entirely accomplished level. Obviously. But it's a bit, well, dull, for want of a better word. You've played it all before, on the 360 – it just looks and sounds a lot nicer now. And you might say the same about Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, given it's simply a remaster of a game from almost ten years ago. But here's the thing: Gears of War, the 2006 Xbox 360 game that sold however million systems by itself, is the definitive third-person shooter, inarguably never bettered, and its Ultimate Edition is absolutely an Xbox One essential. Buy it, relive your memories of meatheads sawing enemy faces off in glorious HD, and get excited for Gears 4 – the Xbone-exclusive series comeback is apparently out later in 2016.
'Gears of War: Ultimate Edition', launch trailer
Regardless of whether you own an Xbox One or PlayStation 4, last year's award-season-dominating duo of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (open-world stealth adventuring as seen through the lens of a David Bowie megafan) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (open-world stuffed unicorn bonking with a side-order of monster slaying, aka the Game of Thrones video game you've been waiting for) are pretty much must-haves, and I hate that expression but in this situation it's entirely appropriate. Basically: Buy These Games. But close behind them amongst the 2015 greats is a game that's currently an Xbox One exclusive, Rise of the Tomb Raider. It's Lara Croft, a shit-load of machine guns and seemingly endless mercenaries to murder; but while its plotline wheels come off long before its climax, Rise remains a thrill throughout, and is simply stunning as an exhibition of the graphical power the Xbox One is capable of.
If Affordable Space Adventures piqued your interest, but you're not picking up a Wii U any time soon given your Xbone is still box-fresh, why not take a chance on Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime? Asteroid Base's collaborative exploration game plays much like Affordable, with the objective to steer a ship through maps of increasing complexity; but it offers more flexibility, as players can switch between roles and responsibilities on the fly without trading pads. Its cute array of space-bunnies and -ducks that need rescuing, and heart-shaped exit portals, won't suit tastes accustomed to gory shooters, but appearances can be deceptive: there's a deeply enveloping game here once the colourful exterior's peeled away.
PlayStation 4 – attachment rate of four games per console, as of January 2015
And this is where I begin making sense to most of you. With sales of the PS4 breaking all records at Sony – it's outpacing the PS2, which went on to become the best-selling console of all time – this is the system to pick if you can only choose one and can't be bothered with putting together a decent gaming PC (just to slip that in before the so-called "master race" gets angsty again). It's not so much that the PS4 has the best exclusives – it doesn't. It's more because all of your mates have one, and that means you can play with and against them online, as cross-platform play remains one of gaming's rare commodities.
PS4 bundles available in the UK pair the console and a controller with (deep breath) Star Wars: Battlefront, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, God of War III, Killzone Shadow Fall, the Uncharted collection, Grand Theft Auto V, Tearaway Unfolded and Until Dawn, amongst however many other local deals might be available (that list being drawn from Amazon). Out of that not-so-little lot, Until Dawn stands out as my absolutely-no-seriously-you-need-to-play-this pick.
'Until Dawn', launch trailer
The Supermassive-developed teens-in-peril-up-a-mountain game came out of nowhere in 2015 to become a critical darling well worth the modest amount of money new copies are currently trading for. If you've ever dreamed of directing your own slasher movie, sending a glut of "teenagers" their grisly deaths while maybe saving just a couple, this is absolutely the game for you. It's great for pad-swapping play on the sofa, too, collaborating with a friend or partner to best keep everyone alive and/or kill everyone horribly. Nobody needs to survive for Until Dawn to be a satisfying experience – and such are its branching plotline paths that replays can lead to entirely fresh story beats.
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Another PS4 exclusive, Bloodborne, is tough as chromium nails coated in the leathery skin of Iggy Pop, but FromSoftware's gothic departure from their Dark Souls games not only looks and sounds grotesquely beautiful, but it plays exquisitely. While it's a massive challenge unless you've got plenty of free hours to put into perfecting your boss battle tactics, Bloodborne's responsive controls and tight environments never put the player at an unfair disadvantage. You are always responsible for your failures. As reddit users across the world might put it: git gud, or give up. Except, don't, because Bloodborne is a remarkable piece of work that will chill you to the core while heating up that pad in your hands like no other game on Sony's system.
'The Last of Us Remastered', launch trailer
Until it makes the move to Xbox One in February, Rocket League is a PS4 console exclusive and, really, even if you hate sports games, you need this one in your life. Its elevator pitch is deliriously simple: it's football (soccer style), with jet-powered cars. And nothing more needs saying, save for: Rocket League is the best online multiplayer game on the PS4, and anyone who says otherwise simply hasn't played it yet.
Finally, with plenty of PS4 owners having upgraded from the 360 rather than the PS3, there's a decent chance that The Last of Us never crossed their TV during the outgoing console generation. The PS4's remastered version of Naughty Dog's stealth-shooter-cum-survival-horror adventure across a ruined America, shattered by a humanity-ravaging outbreak, is a video gaming masterpiece. And I immediately feel like a dick for writing that, but there you go: I paused to let the right word find its way to my fingertips, and that's what came out. "Masterpiece". Packaged with its DLC "Left Behind" chapter, The Last of Us Remastered is gaming like your parents could never have dreamed. And a game that you'll likely end up having dreams about.
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