Nintendo Land Review
A virtual theme park that demonstrates the capabilities of the Wii U through mini games based on beloved Nintendo franchises
It has long been Nintendo tradition when debuting a brand new console to create a launch title that proudly showcases the innovative experiences the new hardware can offer. Super Mario 64 alleviated any doubt that classic 2D franchises could easily migrate into the revolutionary 3D era, and Wii Sports perfectly exhibited the potential for the interactive gameplay the original Wii would achieve. Now, the process that Nintendo started in 2006 has reached new heights with the launch of the Wii U, along with another demonstrative launch title called Nintendo Land, a carnival style park packed with Nintendo-themed mini games.
The main game area is a spacious plaza featuring a central tower surrounded by a ring of gates that lead to each of the mini games. A long and overly detailed introduction from a friendly, feminine robot named Monita gradually brings the player into the world of Nintendo Land. Features are revealed in sequence as the player progresses through the introduction. Each game also has a detailed tutorial to get through before playing. And though some of these can be quite entertaining (watching kimono-clad Monita be kidnapped by evil ninjas was particularly enjoyable), they almost leave players with the sense that they've already done everything before even getting into the real games. Thankfully, most of the attractions in this park are worth the wait.
No collection of Nintendo games would be complete without Mario, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda. In Nintendo Land, each of these iconic franchises is represented with a unique mini game in its image. In Mario Chase, one player runs around a small map trying to avoid being caught by the other players. This game is very simple, almost to the point of being boring. The Animal Crossing: Sweet Day mini game based on almost exactly the same concept also shares this flaw. Conversely, Metroid Blast and The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest are both relatively extensive mini games, each consisting of multiple game modes. Metroid Blast lets up to five people work together to combat waves of enemies, team up to shoot down the unfortunate GamePad user's ship, or compete to collect tokens from targets. Battle Quest similarly pits up to five players against hordes of familiar foes, with the Wii Remotes acting as swords and the GamePad serving as a bow. These make for great fun, either alone or with a group, but the control functions could use some adjustment.
Three other mini games, Luigi's Ghost Mansion, Takamaru's Ninja Castle, and Captain Falcon's Twister Race, make more creative use of the Wii U's GamePad controller. Luigi's Ghost Mansion allows one player to be the ghost who haunts the mansion and tries to scare the ghost hunters without being caught by their flashlights and losing health. The ghost is invisible on the TV screen, with the only indication of its presence being the rumbling of the Wii Remotes, and this player instead relies completely on the GamePad's display. In Ninja Castle and Twister Race, the GamePad is held vertically and the game uses the device's built-in gyro sensors to control aiming, either to chuck shuriken (better known as throwing stars) at enemy ninjas or to pilot a ship along a race course.
Out of the single player games, Yoshi's Fruit Cart, essentially a spatial orientation test masquerading as a game, makes the best use of the TV/GamePad screen duality that is so prominent in the Wii U's list of innovations. This game cleverly combines the TV display with the controller's built in touch screen, rather than simply playing on one screen at a time. The player must draw a course for a Yoshi style motor cart, collecting fruit along the way to unlock the gate to the next level. The fruit, as well as various obstacles in later levels, is only displayed on the TV, while the path must be drawn on a matching canvas on the GamePad. The early levels are rather simple for anyone with a good sense of positioning, but when the fruit starts moving around the challenge of collecting it all in the correct order increases significantly. The cart also has a very limited supply of fuel, which tends to run out too frequently on later levels, making them more frustrating than difficult.