Nintendo Land Review: The Happiest Virtual Space on Earth


 

In 2007, the Wii launched with Wii Sports as a pack in game. That series of mini-games became ubiquitous to the Wii and defined motion control gaming for a generation. With the Wii U, Nintendo changed their controller drastically and Nintendo Land is their attempt at defining what this controller means to a new generation. I decided the best way to really understand what Nintendo hoped to achieve with Nintendo Land was to gather my family together and spend an entire day playing the various “attractions” of Nintendo Land. What followed was the most fun my family has had playing video games with me since Wii Sports, and that is exactly what Nintendo was hoping for.

Since there are twelve Nintendo Land attractions of various complexities, I decided to break this review into impressions of each individual mini-game, followed by an evaluation of the overall product.

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest

This odd mini-game takes players through a Zelda quest on rails. Wii Remote users take control of a sword-wielding Link. Walking is automated, so the only control given to the players is the swinging of the sword and the ability to block attacks with a shield. Since the Wii U only works with Motion Plus controllers, the sword movements are reminiscent of Skyward Sword. The player using the Wii U GamePad controls a Link that wields a powerful bow. Moving the GamePad physically in the direction you wish to fire controls aiming, and flicking the right analog stick with varying degrees of force controls the speed and power of your shot.

This is one of the easier games for casual players and parents because there’s no real thought or skill involved. Link’s sword chews through enemies at a brisk pace and rarely the enemies need to be taken out with a precise motion. As the adventure continues, the difficulty ramps up significantly. Teams that cannot coordinate and work together will have significant problems at stage three and beyond.

Pikmin Adventure

In the single player adventure, players control Olimar and move through stages while throwing Pikmin at obstacles and enemies. Along the way you find power ups to give your Pikmin special abilities like the hammer flower that changes the Pikmin attack to a shorter range dive-bomb maneuver. It’s a standard and shallow progression through various stages with the same environments.

The multiplayer component of Pikmin Adventure is much more standard compaired to the other modes. The GamePad player still controls Olimar and his merry band of Pikmin, while the Wii Remote players control Miis in Pikmin suits. The object of the game is to collect as many candy pieces as possible in the time limit. These pieces are obtained by defeating enemies or by hitting the opposing team and stealing their candy pieces. A tug-of-war over the candy pieces devolves into colorful chaos as Olimar tosses his Pikmin at the other players, and they in turn run at Olimar to hit him.

At the end of the matches I played, I never knew who would come out on top until the last ten seconds or so. It’s confusing when so many things happen on the screen at one time, but beating up your friends to steal their candy is pretty fun.

Metroid Blast

Sadly, the one attraction involving Samus Aran might be my least favorite of the bunch. In the single player, the GamePad is used to fly the ship around and shoot enemies that spawn in the level. The controls themselves are a mess of different things you need to do to keep your ship in the air. The left stick controls movement speed and horizontal direction, the right stick controls the vertical movement. However, physically moving the GamePad is the only way to target enemies. Unruly movement completely breaks the momentum and I found myself not wanting to play more of this attraction after about ten minutes.

In the multiplayer the GamePad user controls the ship, while Wii Remote users control grounded space marines trying to shoot down the ship. None of my family members could grasp the control scheme for either controller and thus never wanted to play. I can’t say I blame them.

Mario Chase

Mario Chase might be my favorite multiplayer game in the Nintendo Land package. Through one match, being chased by my mom and my sister, I experienced a whirlwind of emotions. Excitement, followed by fear, followed by elation at escaping some incredibly close calls, to tension as I completely forget I have a map on the GamePad where I can see everyone at anytime, followed by sadness as I got caught, followed by excitement to play again.

When playing as one of the chasers the game takes on a whole different feel. Suddenly I found myself shouting out sightings in different colored areas and rushing after Mario as fast as I could. Player strategy can make or break a group of chasers. If you shout out that you’re going to try and cut Mario off at the next corner, the person actually playing Mario can quickly adapt and change course.

Of all the Nintendo Land mini games my family played that day, the one they wanted to come back to the most was Mario Chase.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is arguably my second favorite of the Nintendo Land attractions. Wii Remote players control Ghost Hunters, trying to (for lack of a better term) bust the GamePad player’s ghost. Shining your flashlight on the ghost drains it’s health. The goal for each player group is to eliminate the other side. The ghost is invisible, unless a flash of lightning or the beam of someone’s flashlight hits it.

The tension ramps up as the ghost gets closer and closer to one of the flashlight bearing hunters. Wii Remotes begin vibrating like crazy the closer the ghost gets and soon you begin freaking out, flashing your light in every direction as quickly as possible. The ghost player is no stranger to tense moments as well, because that player’s experience is closer to that of a stealth game. Psychologically freaking other players out by getting close to them and telling them to turn around adds a sadistically fun twist.

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day

Take the concept of Mario Chase, but flip it on its head. Wii Remote players are running from the GamePad player, while also trying to collect a set number of candy pieces along the way. In order to make catching these candy-cravers, the GamePad player controls two separate guards, one with each analog stick. Suddenly, the GamePad player is splitting their attention in two separate ways. Controlling two characters at the same time is similarly difficult to patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. It’s challenging, but not impossible to catch the candy capers before they collect enough candy to win the match.

Like all the other multiplayer modes, there exists a certain level of tension from being chased by an opponent you can’t see all the time. This is fun and exciting, but if you pull back the curtain, each of these chase games are built on the same foundation, which is a little disappointing.

Yoshi’s Fruit Cart

Yoshi’s Fruit Cart is by far my favorite single player attraction at Nintendo Land. Players draw a path for their mechanical Yoshi to follow, running across fruit along the way. The crazy twist of it all is the fruit does not appear on the GamePad screen. In order to complete each stage, players must look back and forth from the GamePad to the TV. It is insanely addictive and I have yet to see an end to the levels. I’ll continue coming back to this one for a while.

Octopus Dance

It’s a dance rhythm game. You mimic the actions of a robot and dance to a beat. The actions get harder the further you get. Pretty standard fare, but still fun nonetheless.

Donkey Kong’s Crash Course

This is another fun single player only attraction. In it, players tilt the GamePad to move their cart along an obstacle course. At various points players will blow into the microphone, lower and raise platforms with some of the GamePad’s buttons, and be thoroughly frustrated at how difficult the course gets. You’ll cross checkpoints at a regular rate, but a set number of lives ends the experience before you’re ready for it to be over.

Takamaru’s Ninja Castle

Remember that dumb kid in the only Wii U commercial out there? He was playing this game and looked like he was having a real fun time with it, right? Well, I hate to break it to you, guys, but he was an actor and totally faking it. I had more fun with the Playstation 2 EyeToy ninja slapping mini-game than this one. All you do is toss shurikens at your TV and hit the paper ninjas. It’s pretty cut-and-dry, and it’s pretty boring.

Captain Falcon’s Twister Race

F-Zero is back, you guys! This being an HD console, Nintendo has finally upgraded beyond Mode 7 and now it’s time for the real action to begin. Players control a hoverjet through a series of sharp turns and random obstacles. As you get further through the different stages, the obstacles become far more dense and moving through them is a real challenge.

On the GamePad screen you see an over-head view of the action with plenty of heads up for the various stumbling blocks in your way. On the TV, you see a more conventional third person perspective. I found myself organically switching between the two screens to get the best angle for the different challenges.

Balloon Trip Breeze

Balloon Trip is one of the only games that really warrants using the GamePad stylus for control. On the GamePad screen, players see a zoomed in view of the action; on the TV, players get the best vantage point for the game. During sequences where maneuvering through smaller gaps it’s best to use the GamePad, but more often than not I was watching the TV for this game.

When not in one of the Nintendo Land attractions, players move through a hub world bustling with Miis (supposedly) populated from the Miiverse. I never saw any Miis with profiles I could view or any type of functionality that was apparent. But I did see a screen tell me constantly that Miis from Miiverse could populate my theme park.

From each of the attractions, players accrue coins that are used in an addictive Plinko-style game that unlocks a bunch of the in-game models to view outside of the games themselves. You can also unlock the various incredibly infectious songs from all the attractions and play them whenever you want within the theme park. I’ve yet to unlock the fireworks, though. But that might be super late game stuff, and rightly so, because those fireworks from E3 were bitchin’.

It’s great to see Nintendo finally show off their fantastic art in full HD. The attractions are full of vibrant color and a ton of Nintendo charm. The only downside to the HD-ifying of Nintendo is the Miis. Miis look exactly the same as they did before, just shinier and more rounded. With all the beautiful and different art styles within Nintendo Land’s attractions, to have the one constant be boring ol’ Miis is a bit of a let down. Overall though, Nintendo Land is as much a showcase of graphical fidelity in their unique art as a showcase of the GamePad functionality.

I think of Nintendo Land more as a theme park than a mini game collection. After riding all the rides once you get the gist, but I find myself coming back to my favorites just to pass some time. There are some rides you find boring and won’t come back to as often, but for the ones you do play over and over again it is extremely fun every time. Nintendo Land is the summer getaway of video games. Each attraction offers something unique and different, and, in that, I find the same replay value as I did with Wii Sports five years ago.