Runner-up: Jetpack Joyride
Format iOS Publisher Halfbrick Developer In-house
There’s a beautiful immediacy to Halfbrick’s Jetpack Joyride. Tap the screen to begin and everyman Barry Steakfries crashes through the wall of a secret laboratory, heists an experimental jetpack, and then tries to log as much distance as he can before crashing. It’s amazing how robust the experience feels given that navigation involves nothing more than a simple touch anywhere on the screen.
Runner-up: Super Mario 3D Land
Format 3DS Publisher Nintendo Developer In-house
Super Mario 3D Land’s first hours might be a prologue, but what a prologue they are – dismantling the components of 2D Mario and remaking them with the short, sweet and varied Galaxy spirit. But 3D Land isn’t overwhelmed by any of its influences, old or new. It stands confidently as a new type of Mario for still-new hardware, and proves that space wasn’t the only place left to go, after all.
Winner: Mario Kart 7
Format 3DS Publisher Nintendo Developer Nintendo EAD/Retro Studios
Of Nintendo’s three Q4 big-hitters, our most modest expectations were reserved for Mario Kart 7, a natural consequence of Nintendo spending the best part of 20 years iterating the series into the doldrums, diluting the original’s balance and focus with each new item or gimmicky mechanic. Yet what we have here are the most intricately designed tracks in the series, filled with multiple routes over air, land and the sea floor somehow woven into a coherent whole, and power-ups that favour the slow yet still feel fair.
Online, the community feature deftly sidesteps the Friend Code system, with item filters meaning you can do away with the blue shell entirely, while rock-solid netcode means a stable 60fps even when playing those from across the globe.
It’s a long-overdue return to form for the Mario Kart series and a ringing endorsement of its host platform. The 3D effect is subtle but startles, has no impact on framerate, and you’ll miss it when it’s turned off. It’s everything the pre-release hype promised, and the launch lineup failed to deliver. Nintendo has taken a critical look into Mario Kart’s past, identified the faults and fixed them all, and in doing so has revitalised not just a flagging franchise but a handheld. If it applies the same methodology to its business as a whole, then its annual loss will surely be a one-off.