For every new piece of hardware that enters the gaming market, there is inevitably a title that is designed to use each and every possible feature of that new hardware. These games are tutorials of sorts, masquerading as a game – usually a collection of mini-games. For the Vita it was Little Deviants, for the Kinect it was Kinect Adventures, for the Wii it was Wii Sports. The list goes on and on, and you can now add one more to it: the Wii U’s Nintendo Land.
Sold separately or included with the Deluxe Wii U bundle, Nintendo Land is a compilation of 12 mini-games that highlight everything the Wii U can do, especially the new GamePad controller. Each of the games is based on an existing Nintendo property, from Zelda and Metroid to the slightly lesser known Takamaru’s Ninja Castle and F-Zero inspired races. The games range from co-op to competitive, as well as a decent selection of single player offerings. On the multiplayer though, be warned: you’ll need the Wii MotionPlus. Standard Wii Remotes need not apply.
These games all exist within the Nintendo Land eco system, which is presented like a theme park. You have a central hub that offers easy access to any of the games, or you can select a quick menu option and choose that way. The hub itself will be populated by AI controlled Miis, as well as the real life Miis of players that are online (or they will be there once the online functionality is released prior to the Wii U’s launch).
Each of the mini-games offers something unique, and they all use the GamePad in a slightly different way. In the competitive “Luigi’s Mansion,” the player with the GamePad is the “ghost” and is hunting the other (up to) four players. The ghost can see everything in the square board, while the other players are equipped with flashlights that can hurt the ghost when they hit it, but the players don’t have any way of knowing where it is until it strikes and takes out a player.
Another game, the single player “Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” has you steer your avatar through a course using the Wii U’s gyroscope. You tilt it left or right to send your character in that direction, and hit the occasional shoulder button to operate gates. You’ll also have to use the mic, as blowing in it is the only way to operate certain lifts. One game has you use the touch pad to mimic gusts of wind as you try to keep a balloon rider aloft, while another still has you race using the GamePad as a steering wheel.
Of the 12 games, there is certainly a hierarchy involved, and not all games are created equally. Some, like “The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest” (which features co-op Zelda action that needs to become a full thing) are far more engaging and deeper than the mimic-based dance game, “Octopus Dance”. Nintendo Land is a full offering though, especially in a party setting.
For what is essentially a tutorial, the games are generally entertaining and amusing. Some of the competitive modes are slightly unbalanced in favor of the GamePad though. It’s far easier to destroy enemies in the “Metroid Blast’s” Assault Missions with the ship controlled by the GamePad than it is to destroy that ship as a standard player, and the ghost should win most rounds in “Luigi’s Mansion.” The single player games fare far better, and some like “Pikmin Adventure” are respectable-sized games in their own right, relatively speaking.
The GamePad gets a thorough workout, and the different modes offer a good party game mentality. More than anything though, Nintendo Land is a guide for you to learn how to properly take advantage of the Wii U’s GamePad, and more importantly, to show you its potential.
While games like “Metroid Blast” and the tag-like game “Mario Chase” show how the GamePad can be used to set one player apart, others like Zelda – which has four players with Wii Remotes supported by the GamePad user that is shooting arrows – show more possibilities. Things we’ve never even conceived of in gaming before are now being dreamed up by Nintendo, and this game is just a hint of what may be coming.
It is tough to review Nintendo Land as a game, since it is tutorial wrapped around multiple games of differing quality. Some of those games are exceptional, while others are not. It does what it sets out to do though, and it helps that the game features the traditionally fine polish that Nintendo games are known for. The graphics look great, and it is nice to see an HD rendition of titles like Metroid, even if it is only a brief and heavily cartoon-ized version. If nothing else, you have to credit it for its originality as it attempts things that no one else can even begin to mimic.
For the people picking up a Wii U for their family, or those that specifically want a game that can be played with others, Nintendo Land is a solid choice. The games are somewhat shallow, of course, and the explanations on how to play each game that keep popping up get old to the point of being obnoxious, but if you are looking for something to get the most out of your Wii U, Nintendo Land is a must have.
Score: 8 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Wii U using a copy provided by the publisher)