This year’s Nintendo E3 presentation was seen as something of a disappointment by many gamers. Eager to see what the company had planned for the Wii U, a surprising amount of time was spent showcasing a title known as Nintendo Land. Given the success of Wii Sports on the original Wii six years ago, the assumption was made that the game would be little more than another tech demo showcasing the various applications of the Wii U’s GamePad controller. Suspicions were that the title would offer little by way of depth, and instead focus on getting players to grips with the capabilities of the system. Those suspicions were only half right.
Surprisingly, Nintendo Land is actually a great little title, and it certainly does showcase, with some aplomb, the abilities of the GamePad, as suspected, however it also boasts a completely unexpected level of depth across its twelve attractions. While some don’t quite hit the spot, the bulk of the games on offer here are genuinely enjoyable, both in single player mode and with friends in multiplayer.
Rather than being a selection of disparate sub-games, everything is tied together by virtue of the titular Nintendo Land amusement park. With the help of your computerized guide Monita you’ll be shown the ropes in terms of navigation around the park, adding new scenery and how to play each of the included games. As you play, you’ll unlock more and more items with which to decorate your park, but that’s really only a tiny portion of what’s on offer here, so if it doesn’t sound like your bag you needn’t worry!
Nintendo Land is being labelled a mini-game collection by pretty much everyone, but given the negative connotations that the term carries, we can’t help feeling it’s a little unfair. Mini-games don’t tend to offer quite as much as is on show in some of the attractions here, while those that do fall comfortably under that blanket term offer plenty of replayability for players who are continually seeking to clock up increasingly impressive high scores.
The attractions are each based around Nintendo franchises from the incredibly popular to the slightly more cult offerings, so we’ve got the likes of Pikmin Adventure, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, Mario Chase and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion on one hand, and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, Captain Falcon’s twister Race, Octopus Dance and balloon Trip Breeze on the other. There are a few franchises conspicuous in their absence, like Kid Icarus and Kirby, but for the most part it’s a very well rounded package that long-time Nintendo fans will get a real kick out of.
Giving you the option of playing through Quest mode with up to four players (with Wii Remote players taking control of swordsmen and the GamePad player acting as an archer), or the single player only Time Attack mode, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest has a lot more to it than you might have expected off the bat. When playing as the archer, the game is essentially an on-the-rails first person shooter, with your viewpoint controlled via the GamePad’s gyroscope function and the right analog stick. For something that could well have proven to be a bit of a mess, it’s surprisingly well executed and goes a long way to showing what the controller can do without feeling like a watered down demo. Wii Remote players get to go all Skyward Sword on their enemies by slashing their way through the hordes using motion control.
This attraction is best played in teams, as it allows the swordsmen to tackle the close enemies while the archer picks off those in the distance or solves basic puzzles by hitting switches with arrows. Despite being relatively gimmicky, it works a charm, and there are plenty of visual and audio cues that’ll keep Zelda fans smiling. For us it’s one of the strongest attractions in the game.
Another strong entry, Yoshi’s Fruit Cart is also one of the most novel implementations of the touch screen we’ve seen to date. The TV displays a top down view of the map of each level, containing a starting point, exit point, environmental hazards and fruit. It’s the latter that’s the most important, as your Yoshi cart needs to collect all the fruit in each level before the exit door opens. The catch is that the GamePad’s display only shows the entrance and exit, tasking you with drawing your route to the exit via each piece of fruit, without being able to see its actual location. It’s really very clever, and it works a charm.
To make things a little more difficult for those of us with passable spatial awareness, your cart only has a finite amount of fuel, and if you run out before you get to the next piece of fruit, or to the exit, you lose a life. It probably shouldn’t be quite as addictive as it is, but everything comes together beautifully to create a hell of a time waster. Those who find the early levels a little too easy will definitely find a challenge from the later levels, when the fruit is no longer stationary, requiring you to factor in your starting time, the direction and pattern of travel for each fruit piece, and even the order in which the fruit must be connected. It might look and sound basic as hell, but it’s really going to tax the grey matter!
Sadly, the F-Zero based attraction, Captain Falcon’s Twister Race, doesn’t quite prove as successful as the others we’ve mentioned so far. We were chomping at the bit for some breakneck motion controlled racing madness, but instead found a distinctly pedestrian affair that requires you to do little more than twist the GamePad in the direction you’d like your vehicle to steer. Speedup pads offer fleeting moments of excitement, but there aren’t enough of them and once you’ve slowed down again things feel even slower than they did to begin with.
To compound our frustration with this attraction, it’s exceptionally awkward to play with the GamePad plugged in if you’re right handed, due to the fact that you need to hold it vertically, meaning the AC input to the device gets in the way, making the whole thing needlessly uncomfortable. Definitely an opportunity lost, wethinks.
If you were disappointed that Pikmin 3 didn’t make the launch lineup, then Pikmin Adventure should at least go some of the way to getting you your fix. Taking control of Olimar, you and up to four others are tasked with completing a series of 5-10 minute long levels in order to get safely off the Pikmin’s planet and escape the clutches of Dark Monita, who has sworn to make your life as difficult as possible. She’ll be unleashing hordes of enemies and even of level bosses to ensure you don’t make it to your goal, but with a little bit of teamwork she’s not so bad!
Like The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Pikmin Adventure is best played with multiple players. Cooperating as both Olimar and the Pikmin is the surest way to successes in your quest and take your enemies down, but even in single player mode there’s an abundance of fun to be had here, and there are enough levels to keep you going for longer than you might think.
Billed as being for the expert players, Metroid Blast is one of the more complicated attractions in Nintendo Land, letting players take control of series stalwart Samus, or a gunship pilot. At first it’s a little clunky – particularly if you’re coming at it after playing some of the more intuitive titles – but the mix of motion control, analog sticks and triggers starts to feel a lot more fluid after a couple of efforts. It doesn’t quite hit the heights of the likes of Pikmin Adventure or Yoshi’s Fruit Cart, but there’s still enough here to keep players going for a while.
One that’ll really appeal to fans of classic high-score chasing gameplay is Balloon Trip Breeze, arguably the most basic of all the attractions, but also one of the most addictive for us. You’ll send your balloon wearing Mii gliding through the air by creating gusts of wind, the direction and strength of which is determined by how you swipe your finger/stylus across the screen. Collecting balloons will increase your score, while ensuring you miss as few as possible will see your combo meter increase, offering more points for each successfully collected item.
Venture too close to the water below and you’ll become fish food, while an assortment of environmental and enemy nasties are out to ensure you don’t make it through to the end of day three. Because it’s so straight forward, you’ll find yourself obsessing over tactics and approaches to ensure you get the highest scores possible, and there’s always going to be the desire to go back for just one more game. It’s worse than crack, but we still love it!
Other attractions include rhythm game Octopus Dance, the incredibly challenging Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, Takamura’s Ninja Castle (which you’ll remember from the 2011 E3 Wii U tech demo that saw players chucking ninja stars around like nobody’s business), the simply brilliant Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day and obligatory Mario attraction, Mario Chase.
While not every game is available in both single and multi-player flavours, we were impressed with the way the game goes about balancing up the gameplay when less than the full complement of players are present. Adding in AI controlled characters, which actually do behave quite intelligently for the most part, to address potential advantages for one player or another in multiplayer attractions makes a huge difference to the way the game plays.
It’s obvious that a huge amount of time and effort has gone into Nintendo Land, from the impressive range of attractions to the presentation and different play modes, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to get written off as just another mini-games pack. It masterfully straddles that fine line between accessible and easy, while still offering bucket loads of replayability, as well as challenging moments for more experienced players.
As a method to show off what the Wii U GamePad can do, it’s fantastic, but as a game in its own right it’s definitely going to surprise a lot of people. For us it’s one of the stars of the launch lineup!