By Greg Newbegin
If the Wii started one thing, it's a new Nintendo tradition to release one launch title with their new "concept" machine that demonstrates exactly how users need to interact with their funky new device. Or perhaps it's also a way to help developers understand the kinds of things they can do with the machine? Either way, it doesn't always make for a really compelling game... but it certainly make things interesting.
Nintendo Land is that title for the Wii U, and it's essentially a bunch of mini games (12 in total) based on major Nintendo franchises, set in a virtual theme park environment. However, Disneyland it is not; it's really just a brightly coloured central hub, but still, for all intents and purposes, it works - and the fact it gets populated with the Miis of other gamers from around the world? That's kind of interesting, but there's no interaction, so it kind of leaves things feeling... empty.
Each of the twelve attractions (there are 6 multiplayer titles and 6 single player titles) are composed of up to 10 levels of increasing difficulty. Each attraction has its own "stamps" which are essentially achievements, and this is a wonderful thing. Disappointingly though, these don't carry outside of the game, so again it feels a little pointless. Playing through the games will also earn players coins, which can be used at a central attraction -- well, it's not not really an attraction, it's merely a device used to gift rewards that can be used to decorate the hub with statues of enemies confronted within games, and even a jukebox of in-game music. Interesting, and adds to longevity, but as there's no way to show things off (nor can you lay things out the way you want), again, it lacks direction.
Annoyingly, there's also a stupid guide that follows the player around - named Monita, and poorly pronounced "Mo-NI-ta" as opposed to the likely Japanese pronounciation "Mo-ni-taa" given it's a monitor) - it's boring, monotonous voice wil grate on your nerves. Thankfully, once the initial pointers have been provided, players are given the ability to skip the central hub altogether, and select attractions from a menu. I found myself playing out of this view for the rest of my time in the game.
But it's not all stinky roses. The attractions aren't all that bad...
Takamaru's Ninja Castle: In this attraction, the player must hold the GamePad vertically, and swipe towards the screen to simulate flicking ninja stars at enemies. It's pretty much a shooting gallery, and is quite enjoyable, but I found my arms got tired the more I played. It was also very repetitive.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course: In this attraction, a large and complex maze is displayed on screen, and a small section on the GamePad. Players tilt and swipe to guide a cart through the maze to an end goal. It's far more enjoyable (and difficult!) than it sounds, and by far is my favourite attraction in the whole game.
Captain Falcon's Twister Race: Based on F-Zero, players hold the GamePad vertically, and tilt the screen to turn a vehicle as it travels along a track, dodging obstacles and aiming for boost pads. Traditional behind the vehicle view on the TV, overhead on the GamePad. The GamePad view is almost useless, and it all just moves too slow to be really enjoyable.
Balloon Trip Breeze: Based on Balloon Fight, players control a little man floating in the air by two red balloons. Control is provided by swiping the GamePad to simulate wind. It works really well, and controls great - this is a lot of fun to play, and frustratingly hard at times.
Yoshi's Fruit Cart: Players are given a top down view of an environment, with a start and finish point. On the TV, there are some plates of fruit that are not replicated on the GamePad. Players must plot a course on the GamePad in an attempt to get from start to finish and collect fruit along the way. Should be more fun than it is.
Octopus Dance: In this game, players must copy instructions provided by a Wii U-controlled dance instructor, not unlike Space Channel 5. It's hard, and it's painfully repetitive.
Co-operative Multiplayer (also playable solo)
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest: In this game, one GamePad-weilding player shoots arrows at enemies as they play through levels. Up to four helpers can slash at enemies with their swords (aka Wii remotes) along the way. It feels a bit like more recent Zelda titles, but gets really boring due to it's ability to not change much from level to level. Much like recent Zelda titles (flame shields UP!).
Metroid Blast: Here, the GamePad player controls a flying saucer that uses some fairly complex controls. Wii Remote assistants control soldiers running about on the ground. Together, they shoot at stuff. There are also some competitive options, with Land players trying to take out Air players, for example. It's quite fun to play, but yep - it gets a bit samey.
Pikmin Adventure: Feeling very much like Pikmin, the GamePad player controls Captain Olimar as he attempts to reach the end of the level and jump in his spaceship. Pikmin can be thrown at enemies as usual. Wii Remote playrs control big Pikmin, and can attack enemies with their massive heads. I really enjoyed this title, and it made me look forward to Pikmin 3 - as did the video from the recent Nintendo Direct.
Mario Chase: In this attraction, the GamePad player controls Mario from a top-down perspective, able to scope out an entire arena can be seen on a map. Other players chase Mario down on the TV screen. It's a lot more fun than it should be, considering the simplicity.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion: This attraction feels similar to Mario Chase, but the GamePad player (controlling a ghost) is also trying to catch the Wii Remote players. The major difference here is that the ghost is only visible on the TV when light shines on the player - thus, the Wii Remote players all have torches... that run out of battery when used too much. The slightly complex, yet still simple, mechanics make this potentially the best multiplayer title in the game.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day: Here the Wii Remote players are the target, as they run abut trying to eat as many sweets as possible. The problem is this slows them down, and makes them more susceptible to be caught by the GamePad player, who is controlling two characters -- one with each analogue stick. Another fun little title.
There's also a train travelling around your theme park providing the Attraction Tour -- designed for multiplayer sessions. Players can choose how long their "Tour" will take, and then from a selection of all attractions to see which player comes out on top. In this mode, single player games require players to pass the GamePad - not a major issue, and in fact, some of the single player games really inspire competitive nature, so it works out well.
In all, Nintendo Land is a fun title that suffers from a lack of direction. There are some great ideas that would have really translated well to the Miiverse but are limited to the confines of the theme park. In fact, it's baffling to me that none of these games can be played against other players online. It would be nice to play Mario Chase or whatever regardless of how many people are home, but no -- this is not possible.
The game suffers further because, while there is plenty of diversity in the game as a whole, the attractions themselves don't evolve as players achieve higher levels. It's almost a chore to get through it all.
Far more fun with a group of friends and some bottles of beer, there's still a lot of fun to be had on your own. Just don't expect it to last all that long.