It was always going to prove difficult for Nintendo to replicate the success of Wii Sports. Having perfectly demonstrated the accessibility of the Wii, it is troubling to see that the company are finding it harder to explain the merits of their new home console, Wii U. Yet again, they have a system that only sells itself once experienced, and so, with Nintendo Land, they’ve set out to once again achieve this.
As an advocate for the asymmetrical gameplay opportunities granted by the Wii U GamePad, it succeeds on the whole. Fusing the company’s most celebrated franchises with original concepts, the experience amounts to something very special indeed.
Your arrival at the Nintendo Land Plaza initially sees you release park guide Monita from the confines of a Prize Box, having been freed from which she guides the player through “warm-up exercises” that introduce basic GamePad control functionality. Once past this relatively tedious process, everything immediately begins to pick up.
There are twelve attractions in total, each represented by an Attraction Gate that surround Nintendo Land Plaza’s Central Tower. These are divided into three separate categories: Competitive, Team, and Solo, with the latter having the weakest selection. However, let’s begin on a more positive note.
For those less competitively inclined, Nintendo Land‘s three co-operative modes prove to be enjoyable. Metroid Blast will surely provide plenty of appeal. Described as being the game’s most “daring and intense” attractions, it is divided into individual modes. Land vs Air sees the player using the GamePad flying around in Samus Aran’s Gunship as other players using Wii Remotes do their best to ground it, Assault Mission tasks you with working together to take out advancing waves of enemies, whilst Ground Battle pits teams against one another.
Pikmin Adventure is perhaps the weakest of the three, with the GamePad-wielding player assuming the role of Captain Olimar as they direct other players to neutralise clockwork enemies using the Stylus. You’ll navigate through colourful environments, destroying blocks for points, levelling up your Pikmin and enhancing their attacks. Its downfall is that Pikmin Adventure is far more enjoyable alongside a CPU teammate, becoming rather confusing when others become involved.
Another excellent attraction is The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. Up to four players navigate their way through Hyrule inspired locales transformed into a cutesy patchwork that even Kirby and his yarn would be proud of. The player using the GamePad wields a bow, attacking from afar and shooting birds flying overhead to recuperate lost health, whereas Wii Remote Plus users slash their way through with swords.
It is the competitive modes that truly showcase how the GamePad can grant an entirely new perspective in multiplayer. Mario Chase challenges four Toads with rampantly chasing around a maze as they try to catch Mario in a game of tag. Teamwork is paramount to success, with players needing to work together to shout out which coloured zone that they spot him in.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion flips this over, with a group of four ghost hunters having to contend with protecting themselves from an invisible ghoul by using flashlights. The player with the GamePad is the ghoul, hidden from view, and must take each player out without losing their own health by being captured in flashlight beams. Lightning can at times reveal the location of the ghost, with the Wii Remotes rumbling whenever it is near to the hunters causing plenty of apprehension, fear and hilarity.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day is equally tense, with the Wii Remote players tasked with gathering sweets without being captured by marauding guards controlled by the GamePad. The more that an individual player gathers the slower they become, so it is important that players even the load.
Within such a predominantly party orientated game, it seems confusing that half the attractions have been designed to be played alone. It is within these that the company has allowed cracks and imprecision to show in an otherwise well-balanced title.
Captain Falcon’s Twister Race tasks the player with using the GamePad’s gyro sensor to steer their way along a particularly twisty track. You utilise a top-down view to avoid hazards, racers and direct yourself onto boost pads wherever possible. What makes the experience problematic is that as you progress through the early checkpoints, you speed up to the point where everything becomes a struggle. Helplessly colliding with the sides of the track isn’t fun, as can be said for being unable to swerve around obstacles.
Issues also hamper Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, in which you flick throwing stars at approaching ninjas. Whilst the concept is sound, the execution is flawed and proves an experience that will lead to much frustration once the novelty has worn off.
Yoshi’s Fruit Cart and Octopus Dance provide more solid foundations, yet admittedly feel far too shallow to have any significant period of time invested in them. The former requires players to draw a line that will allow them to gather all fruit on-screen and then make it to an end goal, with the catch being that you can only see precisely where they are by glancing up to the main TV screen. Meanwhile, Octopus Dance sees you tasked with copying dance moves in time to the music, using the GamePad’s dual sticks. There just isn’t sufficient implementation of the controller to allow this to feel anything more than a throwaway add-on.
Balloon Trip Breeze provides a far more robust challenge, the player flicking their suspended Mii along a luscious canvas as they pop balloons to heighten their score, avoiding enemies along the way. Similarly, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course is surprisingly addictive, the player making full use of the GamePad as they tilt their way to the goal, operating all manner of platforms through the use of the triggers, sticks and blowing into the microphone.
If playing with at least one other player, you can also hop aboard the Tour Train which navigates around the Nintendo Land Plaza. This allows you to participate in the competitive Attraction Tour mode, pitting players against each other in shorter individual challenges plucked from across the game’s attractions.
Whenever you finish an attraction, you gain currency known as Nintendo Land Coins. These are used to earn unlockable content made available through Prize Boxes, won by playing a Coin Game (based upon the popular Japanese arcade game Pachinko) that is accessible through the Central Tower.
The content itself serves to brighten up the Nintendo Land Plaza, ranging from statuesque items such as a Great Deku Tree replica, a Jukebox, or buttons that allow you to change between day, evening and night. It will be superficial to some, yet many will find joy in discovering the many secrets that await within the game, providing a return draw that was very much absent from Wii Sports.
Imaginative concepts allow Nintendo Land to deftly showcase early ideas of what can be achieved with the Wii U GamePad. There’s plenty to enjoy here that, to me at least, provides a far more enamouring experience than Wii Sports ever granted.