Pros: Varied, interesting uses of the Wii U gamepad, asynchronous gameplay
Cons: Multiplayer games only work with a full compliment of players, some clunkers
In 2006, Nintendo launched the Wii alongside Wii Sports, a game that beautifully showcased the possibilities of the new console, so much so that people would tell me that they’d bowled on the Wii at a party and were now going to buy one. For the Wii U, Nintendo’s showcase game is Nintendo Land, a more complex and elaborate mini-game collection for a system whose broad potential requires a fancier sampler.
Developed and published by: Nintendo
Genre: Mini-game collection
For ages:10 and up
Platform: Wii U
Release Date: November 18, 2012
The Basics: A Mini-Game Collection That Shows Off the Wii U
The premise of Nintendo Land is that you are exploring Nintendo’s virtual theme park, hosted by a talking TV screen. Nintendo Land is full of the Mii avatars of other players with voice balloons, many in foreign tongues, expressing their feelings about the game, but you can’t actually stop to have a chat with them.
Mini-games are a mix of multiplayer and single player, with three multiplayer-only games, three games that can be played alone or with a group, and six solo games.
My friends Myrna and Kevin came over to check out the multiplayer games, which show off the Wii U’s potential for asynchronous gaming, in which different players with different controllers experience games differently.
Kevin particularly liked Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, in which the player with the gamepad is a ghost and the other players (up to 4) use Wii remotes to move their ghost hunters through a mazelike house. On the gamepad the ghost player can see where all the players are, but the hunters have to rely on the TV, which shows everyone except the ghost.
Because of this the ghost has an advantage, and players need to talk to one another to take it down. If the ghost is nearby, your remote vibrates, something worth communicating to your partners. If you can shine your flashlight on the specter it will be injured, but if it grabs you and there is no one to shine a light on it then you’re done, although you can be revived, also via flashlight.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion seems like it would be even more fun with more players, and this proved true of most of the multiplayer games. In Mario Chase the gamepad player is running around a maze while other players chase him. Hunters must call out when they see their prey so they can surround him or her, but it’s very difficult for only two people to surround anyone.
The most elaborate of the multiplayer games is Metroid Blast, in which the gamepad player controls a spaceship and wars with Wii remote-armed pedestrians. The game has the highest learning curve of anything in Nintendo Land, but includes a solid tutorial. It is perhaps a little too complex for a pick-up-and-play party game, while not complex enough to stand on its own outside of a mini-game collection. But it’s not bad, and is probably more fun once you’ve got the hang of it.
The other multiplayer games are a mixed bag. Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, is wonderfully odd, with remote players eating candy while the gamepad player tries to catch them with a walking knife and fork that are controlled separately. It is an unusual experience. The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest offers mild fun as sword-wielding remote holders (while some mini-games will work with any Wii remote, this one only works with the Wii Remote Plus) battle alongside an arrow-wielding gamepad player as they face hordes of enemies. The fun in Pikmin Adventure is milder still; there is little difference between playing with the gamepad or the remote and there is little more to the game than wandering around and breaking or attacking stuff.
In spite of Nintendo’s enthusiasm for asynchronous multiplayer gaming, my favorite mini-games are played solo (although other players can actually still
My favorite solo game is Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, a challenging 2D puzzle game in which you guide Donkey Kong’s cart along a complex track, using buttons and knobs to rotate pieces of track and even blowing into the gamepad’s microphone to raise platforms
The cart is quite fragile and if it hits a wall too fast or overturns then you lose one of your lives and must restart from the last checkpoint. There is a place right now that I simply cannot get past where you have to somehow flip the cart up from one track to the next, something that has killed me countless times. This has frustrated many players, and on the game forums I could find no one to explain how to do it.
Of the rest, Balloon Trip Breeze has you move a floating, balloon-holding avatar through hazards by swiping your finger across the screen to create wind, which is fun for a little while. The same goes for Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, in which you throw nunchuks at assassins by sliding your finger forward. Not much fun at all can be found in Octopus Dance, an uninspired rhythm game in which you match a dancing stick figure’s movements with the analog sticks.
The Verdict: Pretty Good, Overall
As mini-game collections go, Nintendo Land isn’t bad, offering a few really fun games, a couple of disappointingly bland ones, and a bunch that are somewhere in between. But it’s probably not as effective in selling people on the console as Wii Sports was. Wii Sports only had five mini-games, all of them very simple and basic, but they did a great job of selling non-gamers on the ease of the Wii. Can a more complex game sell a more versatile and complex console? I’m waiting for someone who played one at a friend’s house to tell me.