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2014 in review: the year that sucked for everyone but Nintendo

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If I had to throw my stones on one side of the pond, I'd be inclined to agree with some of my colleagues: 2014 was a real armpit of a year.

But we're not here to dwell on game failures, or studio closures, or toxic culture, or any of the other negatives — no, none of that, not again. Instead, I'd like to earnestly clasp my fingers together, tilt my head and pleasantly inquire, "Have you heard the good news about Nintendo?"

Nintendo killed it in 2014. To the depth and breadth and height Mario's soul can reach, let me count the ways.

Climbing the charts

Early 2014 started off with tepid numbers from Nintendo. The company was still reporting losses from 2013, even with strong figures from killer titles such as Super Mario 3D World and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Others took note of weak Wii U sales; companies like Ubisoft even sat on finished Wii U games because they felt the market wasn't big enough to support releasing them.

Nintendo, to its credit, was aware of its biggest problem: a lack of compelling titles. "Software sells hardware," Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Polygon at E3 2014. "It is the truism of this industry."

Stare

In May, Nintendo released Mario Kart 8 for Wii U. It was noted for pulling in the "strongest review scores in the franchise's history" and became the console's fastest-selling game, topping 1.2 million units worldwide following its release. As of October, Wii U sales topped 7 million units; half of those who owned a Wii U were also said to have Mario Kart 8.

When Super Smash Bros. for Wii U launched in November, it dethroned Mario Kart 8 as the console's fastest-selling game. Smash Bros. on Nintendo 3DS was nothing to shake a finger at, either; the game sold more than 2.8 million copies globally.

If Nintendo was hoping to turn around its dismal sales figures with good games, I'd say their plan is working.

The games (and glam) of 2014

It's taken almost two years to get there, but both the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U are systems you need to own. In core properties alone — the Marios, the Legend of Zeldas and so forth of Nintendo's collection — 2014 saw the release of games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Kirby Triple Deluxe, Mario Golf: World Tour, Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. and Yoshi's New Island. Together, these eight titles (we're counting Super Smash Bros. as a double dose) were all critical successes.

It's no secret that Nintendo is hurting for big third-party games, but there are some quirky gems here to be found. Think Fantasy Life and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, or even higher-profile games such as Bravely Default or Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call. And, of course, there's always more Pokémon; this year we got Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.

Captain Toad THrow

And then there were surprises like Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors. Bayonetta 2 isn't just exclusive to the Wii U; without Nintendo, Platinum Games has previously said, the game wouldn't exist at all. Hyrule Warriors, a mashup of Dynasty Warriors and The Legend of Zelda, is the first of its kind that marks a growing trend of Nintendo branching out in unexpected ways. Just think of Link's unprecedented appearance in Mario Kart 8. This too was the year of amiibo. Nintendo's physical toys, which react with different games much like Skylanders figures, were released only a month ago.

What really nails this collection for Nintendo is that these titles — some of the best available this year — are only available on Wii U or 3DS. Compare this to the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, where games are widely shared between the two. It's an offer neither system can match in terms of exclusive content, ultimately making it easy to shelve one or the other.

Onward and upward

As much as I love to see a finished product, there's something really special about announcements. They bring promise and excitement of the "can hardly wait" kind that I remember from my childhood. They remind me why I love sitting on the outskirts of the game industry as a silent spectator eager to dig up every possible tidbit.

2014 may be over, but Nintendo's bread crumbs scattered over the past year lead to a bright 2015. There's a new Star Fox heading to Wii U, along with Yoshi's Woolly WorldKirby and the Rainbow Curse and a new, gorgeous The Legend of Zelda, which we finally got to see this year. Then there's Mario Maker, the level editor that allows you to create your own Mario levels, Mario vs. Donkey KongMario Party 10, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Nintendo's revival of Devil's Third — which previously belonged to the now-defunct THQ — that will launch as a Wii U exclusive.

yoshi's wooly world

The remake of The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is heading to Nintendo 3DS, along with Code Name: STEAM, and oh — did I mention that we're getting a new Nintendo 3DS, too?

I'll be the first to admit that following Wii U's launch, I found so few reasons to get excited about its games. Wallet in hand, I wandered away to more interesting avenues of gaming.

2014 is the year that changed my perspective of Nintendo. With a little time, the Wii U and 3DS are finally maturing into the consoles we were promised — and to not own either system is to miss out on some of the greatest titles you can get today.

Nintendo once again has our attention. Now, let's hope they've learned how to keep it.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.