Let's go to Nintendo Land!
Here we are at the start of a brand new console era for Nintendo, and once again, they have delivered a pack-in game to showcase the features of their brand new system, the Wii U. Wii Sports is the single best-selling game of all time, so Nintendo Land has a LOT to live up to commercially.
There are two things that make Nintendo Land distinct from Wii Sports, and these will probably hurt Nintendo Land's commercial success in the long run. For starters, the game is only packed-in with the premium edition of the Wii U, meaning that people who buy the Basic model will have to pay an additional $60 on top of the Basic Model's price for their trip to Nintendo Land, with none of the amenities of the Premium Model (such as the extra storage space) offered to them. The second is the emphasis on arcade-style games as opposed to simulations of recognizable real-world sports.
That latter element comes into play as Nintendo Land is set inside of a virtual theme park dedicated to all things Nintendo. Each of the 12 games, or "attractions" is either based on or themed after classic Nintendo franchises, both classic and obscure. Sure, everyone's at least heard of Mario and Zelda, but have you ever played Nazo no Murasame Jō or Octopus? The range of Nintendo's history is well represented here, with some series
not having seen releases for entire console generations. The 12 games cover just about every type of arcade staple imaginable. You've got shooters, racing games, platformers, puzzle games, rhythm games, maze games and beat-em-ups all represented by something in this package.
The only way to properly review Nintendo Land is to talk about each of the twelve games, so here we go:
Zelda Battle Quest- This game plays like a mixture of Wii Sports Resort's Swordplay Showdown mode and The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword. The person on the gamepad moves the gamepad in the space around them to aim and shoot arrows while the other players (up to four) fight up close and personal with swords. The only way to win is for everyone to work together. Hearts are shared between all players and are few and far between, so the archer must be on the lookout for pots and owls to shoot, which contain hearts. As with Skyward Sword, enemies will do their best to block your attacks, and all of them require specific techniques in order to dispatch them. This game can be very challenging if one person is weak at it, but it's very rewarding when it all comes together.
Pikmin Adventure. This is a beat-em-up set in the Pikmin universe. The person on the gamepad plays as Captain Olimar, while the other players run around as Pikmin. The goal is to destroy all of the enemies as quickly as possible while avoiding damage. As with Battle Quest, hearts are shared between all players, so having a weak link in the bunch won't get you too far. Pikmin also has a bit of a competitive element to it in the form of nectar. Collecting nectar allows you to level up your character, which leads to strongerr attacks. Everyone can pitch in to break question boxes which contain nectar, but once it's released, you can either try to share it equally among everyone, or be the one person who hogs it all.
Metroid Blast- A third person shooter, this one has the most complicated controls of any game in the set and is aimed the most at hardcore gamers out of all games in Nintendo Land. The person on the GamePad takes control of Samus' gunship while four other players battle on the ground. The controls for the gunship are very tricky, but very fun to learn. It's really amazing during the tutorial as the person on the GamePad is doing one thing while the people playing on the ground are doing another thing, yet everyone comes together in the same world at the end of training. The game offers cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, making it arguably the most complete game of the entire package.
Mario Chase- The first of three games that cannot be played by a single player, Mario Chase is a sort of tag-like game set in a colorful Mario-styled arena. The person on the GamePad plays as Mario, and can survey the entire arena with a map on the GamePad;s screen. The other players, Toadstools, must work together to find and catch Mario. The arena is color-coded, so when the Toads spot mario in a specific region, they must shout out the color of that region to alert the other players of a sighting. Very fun if everyone is good at it.
Animal Crossing Sweet Day- Not a Nintendo franchise I care for, but thankfully the gameplay has very little to actually do with Animal Crossing. The person with the GamePad controls two gate keepers, one with each separate analog stick. They must catch the other players, who are trying to store as much candy in their craniums as they can collect. Storing more candy slows down the thieves, so splitting up and working together is a must if this side wants to win.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion- The most original of the three competitive games is one that might even scare the pants off of the more sensitive players not holding the GamePad. In this game, up to four players search Luigi's mansion for the Ghost, which is controlled by the GamePad. The ghost is invisible on the TV, and only the person playing as the ghost can see it. The ghost hunters have to shine a light on the ghost long enough to whittle its health down to zero. Meanwhile, the ghost must capture all of the ghost hunters before time runs out. The game offers plenty of hidden nuances, such as the fact that the flashlights cone gradually decreases as the batteries run out.
The rest of the games in the package are strictly for solo players, though there is one way to play them in multi (which I'll get to later).
First up is Yoshi's Fruit Cart, a puzzle game that tasks the player with drawing a line so that Yoshi can collect all of the fruit on-screen. But there's a catch. All hazards and fruit is visible on the touchscreen, but invisible on the GamePad screen where you draw the line. You have to use spatial and visual reasoning to figure out the best way for Yoshi to get to where he needs to go. Fail enough times, and its game over.
Next is Octopus Dance, Nintendo Land's rhythm game. The goal is to copy the moves of the instructor in a Simon says like fashion. You use the analog sticks to control your arms, and use the GamePad to jump and lean. You have to switch between looking at the GamePad and the screen for the correct moves.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle is a rail shooter where you throw ninja stars at cardboard cutout ninjas. You tilt the gamepad to move the reticule and swipe up to throw. If a ninja gets close, you can also swipe to use your sword. Very challenging game to play all the way through. The best way to get high scores is to use the combo system of hitting multiple ninjas in a row without missing a shot.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course is genius. It's been a long time since I encountered such a simple yet perfect slice of gaming bliss as this. The goal of the game is to tilt the GamePad to get a cart to the finish line in the fastest time possible. Two things make this difficult. First is all of the bells and whistles that the player must manipulate with the gamepad's buttons, sticks, and microphone. The second is that the cart is extremely fragile and will break at even the slightest bump. It will have you laughing, crying, and dying to play it over and over again until you beat it. But be warned, it's not for the faint of heart.
Captain Falcon's Twister Race is up next. The goal is to tilt the GamePad to control your F-Zero vehicle and get to the end of the course. The Gamepad offers an overhead view of the course, making it much easier to navigate the many twists and turns. There are obstacles to avoid and you risk falling off, making this one of the most challenging games in the collection.
Last but certainly not least, we have Balloon Trip Breeze. The goal of this game is to fly as far as you can while collecting balloons. The controls are simple- drag the touchscreen to control the wind and move the character to the spot where you need him to be. It feels great and very natural.
The whole look and feel of the game is top-notch, having one foot in the past and one in the modern era. The graphics of Nintendo Land blow any and all Wii titles out of the water, combining the pixel shading and high resolution textures that only more powerful hardware can afford with Nintendo's lovable and colorful artistic design. The entire game takes place in a theme park, and the graphics truly feel like it. Everything seems to be made out of plastic, cloth, toys, and other household materials, giving the game a phony and artificial look that's part of the charm of visiting parks such as Disneyland.
The music is top-notch, providing a variety of classic Nintendo themes performed in both classic and modern styles. The cherry on top of the audio is Monita, an absolutely hilarious computer guide, that in a striking move for Nintendo, is almost entirely voiced. Her deadpan delivery is absolutely spot on and kind of reminds me of a non-sarcastic and family friendly Glados. The moment when she endeared herself to me was when she acted as a damsel in distress princess in Takamaru's Ninja Castle. While many will find her to be annoying, I think she is a wonderful addition to an already wonderful game, and she's one of my favorite Nintendo characters ever.
The games biggest fault is the hardware. As with Guitar Hero World Tour, not everything needed to enjoy Nintendo Land comes out of the box unless you already have it. The multiplayer games require Wii remotes, nunchuks, and motion pluses for each and every player. While there's a good chance you'll already have much of the necessary equipment lying around if you owned Nintendo's previous console, a person jumping in cold with no prior Wii ownership experience whatsoever is going to have a tough time purchasing Nintendo Land due to the prohibitive cost of the material involved. What makes this even worse is that there are three games that you can't even play unless you have the necessary hardware for multiple players.
The other major problem is with the Attraction Tour mode. In theory, this mode is supposed to allow players to quickly experience many attractions in a short amount of time, and serves as the only official way to allow for multiplayer on the solo attractions. However, it doesn't feel balanced since you can keep picking the same opponents to compete against, leaving someone out of earning points. You're better off just playing the attractions individually rather than using this mode.
The Bottom Line
Overall, Nintendo Land is arguably one of the most impressive titles that the Wii U currently offers. Like the best theme parks, it provides something for everyone in the family to enjoy. Kids will love the colorful graphics and music, adults will love the depth, variety, and challenge of the games, and longtime Nintendo fans will be pleased with the fan service. Everyone who plays this game and enjoys it will undoubtedly long for a park like this to exist in the real world. It does an equally good job as Wii Sports in catering to players of all ages and tastes while serving as an introduction to the GamePad. The game also offers much more content than either Wii Sports title, so if for some reason you have a Wii U and not this game, then it is definitely worth investing into.