Nintendo Land Review

When the Wii U launched in North America the more expensive of its two bundles came with Nintendo Land. Japan will have a similar situation when the Wii U launches there early next month. While it’s not the only bundled game Nintendo is offering in the UK (you can also get a bundle with ZombiU), it’s clear that Nintendo expects a lot of consumers to be picking up this game when they buy their system. As such, many comparisons have been made to the game which sold tens of millions of Wii’s, Wii Sports. Yes it’s a game designed to teach you how the controller works and no it’s not as easily accessible for your gran who has only ever touched Wii Sports Tennis. Nintendo Land has a lot more to offer the more competent gamer than Wii Sports ever did and will be a game that I’ll actually enjoy as much alone as with friends in the months to come.

Possibly the most important thing to note about Nintendo Land right off the bat is its level of depth. Where Wii Sports had five minigames, each of which featured a single map to play on and not much changed as you played through, Nintendo Land has twelve “attractions” which will introduce new enemies, obstacles and maps as you progress through them. Some are more limited than others (some of the multiplayer games have three unlockable maps), but others like the Zelda themed attraction have loads of levels, multiple game modes and control options and ramp up significantly in difficulty as you progress through the stages. This is a minigame collection that will challenge core gamers, either solo or as a group, but still provide entry level content that anyone who’s played a side scrolling Mario will probably be able to handle.

The minigames are split up into three sections. Games designed to be played alone, those designed for competitive multiplayer and those designed for cooperative multiplayer. I’ll break down each section and the games within it before looking again at the game as a whole package. The competitive games were generally the most accessible, being comprised of Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. Mario Chase tasks the Gamepad player with evading the one to four Wii Remote players by making use of an overhead map of the level. The Wii Remote players all have to work together to locate Mario and corner him so that he can be captured. One of the best things about Mario Chase and the other competitive games is that the Gamepad player’s face is shown on the TV, which they may not realise on their first play through. The look of concentration was a wonderful source of amusement for me and my friends.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion sees the Gamepad player take on the role of a ghost, only visible on the Gamepad screen. They must try to capture the Wii Remote players before being captured themselves. Again it focuses on teamwork and coordination, but provides a more slow paced type of challenge to players.

The last competitive game is Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. The Gamepad player uses both of the control sticks to simultaneously control two guard dogs, trying to capture the Wii Remote players before they can steal a set amount of sweets. Every sweet the Wii Remote players pick up slows them down, occasionally forcing them to drop all of the sweets they have so far collected in order to make a speedy escape. Playing with the Gamepad requires a lot of coordination, using your sticks to perform pincer manoeuvres or trap players into corners, and is great fun.

Next up are the cooperative attractions, which are The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Pikmin Adventure and Metroid Blast. The competitive attractions all have a huge amount of content, with a dozen or more maps, levels and multiple modes to work through. The first, Zelda: Battle Quest, drops you and your friends into a map to fight through fields and dungeons full of classic Zelda enemies. The Gamepad player moves the Gamepad around to aim a bow and arrow, while the Wii remote players control a sword in 1:1, slicing down enemies differently depending on how they are defending themselves. The swordplay is more akin to Wii Sports Resort in terms of control accuracy than Skyward Sword, which I feel is a positive.

Pikmin Adventure is great, but makes some choices that may annoy the Wii Remote players. You fight through levels that are very similar to those in the full Pikmin games. While the Wii Remote players control Miis dressed as Pikmin and can attack independently, the Gamepad player can use the touch screen to throw a small army of Pikmin, as well as pulling the Wii Remote players away from whatever they’re doing and back to them, so that they can be thrown at targets. This mechanic works well if you communicate, if not it leaves the Wii Remote players frustrated and feeling like they’re loosing out. Within each stage you can level up based on how many orbs you collect and how little damage you take, which adds a nice competitive element to a primarily cooperative experience.

The last is Metroid Blast, which proved to be more of a challenge for those unfamiliar with video games. For the Wii Remote players it combines using the Nunchuck for movement, the pointer for aiming, a button held while moving the pointer to turn and a different button to shoot. While they got there eventually, a couple of my friends who hadn’t used pointer controls were a little overwhelmed by what they had to learn to play the game. The Gamepad player controls Samus’ signature ship which can be a little clunky to control. Metroid Blast has loads of different levels and modes, boss battles against classic Metroid enemies and gets pretty tough by the end.

The final category is the single player games. The first of the single player games is Donkey Kong’s Crash Course. The aim is to tilt the Gamepad to move a minecart around a level inspired by the original Donkey Kong and its construction site aesthetic. The game is genuinely difficult, requiring a really light touch to control. The levels are set up to encourage high score and record speed chasing and have a lot of challenge to offer gamers.

Next up is Takimaru’s Ninja Castle. The basic idea is simple, flick ninja stars from your Gamepad screen to the TV, trying to hit ninjas before they can hit you. There are powerups to collect, bosses to fight and stages that get progressively faster and more difficult. The game takes practice, but never feels unfair. It’s one of those game’s that’s easy to jump into, but could take a while to master.

Captain Falcon’s Twister Race is a fairly slow interpretation of F-Zero, but one that throws enough obstacles in your way to be a challenge. Not much use is made of the Gamepad, providing a top down view of the racetrack which is obscured by tunnels, forcing you to look at the TV view. The game is challenging, but it’s one I quickly became bored with.

Octopus Dance is another simple game, one which doesn’t draw much inspiration from its namesake, but is still an enjoyable and difficult game. While the Game and Watch Octopus is in the background you have to dance in time with Mr Game and Watch by moving your control sticks. It doesn’t make much use of the Gamepad, but it’s a fun addition to the package.

Yoshi’s Fruit Cart is an interesting game. The idea behind it is that on the TV you can see fruit, but it doesn’t appear on the Gamepad screen. Using the touch screen you have to draw a route that will collect all the fruit and reach the exit. It’s good training for games like Little Inferno where you want to be able to look at the TV while touching the Gamepad screen, but it can at times feel a little too much like trial and error in the later stages.

The last single player game is Balloon Trip Breeze. The idea of the game is to steer a little man with balloons strapped to his back through a course, avoiding obstacles using gusts of wind to guide him. The Gamepad screen shows a close up view and allows you to make small movements around objects, but you have to remember to check the TV screen to get the big picture of the area and plan where you’re going to go.

One of my initial fears about playing Nintendo Land with friends was the Gamepad. Would people fight over who got to use it and who was lumped with Wii Remotes? Surprisingly, it was not a problem at all. When playing multiplayer it was easy enough for us to rotate use of the Gamepad. The Gamepad player would pick a game, play as the Gamepad player for one round and pass the Gamepad on to the next player who would pick the next game. It made it easy for everyone to get a taste of both sides and of all the game modes and everyone was happy with the setup. During many of the games where those with the Wii Remote were trying to defeat the Gamepad user there was a layer of audible teamwork, people whispering plans and shouting when they saw the Gamepad player. In some ways it meant that it was more fun to be on the Wii Remote team for some games. In several of the competitive games the Gamepad player’s face will show up on the TV too, which made for plenty of hilarity watching them make very amusing concentrated faces.

For those worrying about the difficulty, don’t fret, it offers a decent level of challenge. Several of the games (particularly Zelda, Pikmin and Donkey Kong) had me and my friends hitting the game over screen and taking multiple attempts to complete. These games start with easier levels to get people into the experience, but they ramp up in difficulty pretty quickly.

While the whole theme park aesthetic is nice, due to the nauseating effect caused on the TV by moving the Gamepad, I tended to stick to the more traditional game selection screen when playing with friends. I used the theme park mainly when playing solo and watched the Gamepad instead of the TV. It would have been nice if there was a setting to switch that effect off on the TV, but unfortunately not.

One of Nintendo Land’s biggest selling points has been the idea of asymmetric gameplay, with the Gamepad player experiencing something different to those playing on the TV. In this regard the game does fulfil its aim. Many of the games are set up with the single Gamepad player having an advantage over the Wii Remote players, but their numbers and ability to work at a team put the Gamepad player at a disadvantage. It really does encourage teamwork and makes for a great multiplayer experience.

The game, much like most of Nintendo’s Wii prefix titles, uses Mii’s as the primary character model type. The jump to HD has certainly helped clean them up, but they are still the simplistic avatar’s you’ll be familiar with. The game runs with their basic style by putting them into simple costumes themed around the game you’re playing. The games each have their own style (for example the Pikmin game contains metal wind up toy versions of classic enemies from the series, while the Animal Crossing game takes an almost Kirby’s Epic Yarn method of having the world made out of fabric) and they all look beautiful in high definition.

All in all, if you’re looking to show off the Wii U to friends then Nintendo Land is quite simply the best game to get. It’s franchises that everyone will know, shows off some of the best features of the Gamepad and is simply a blast to play with friends. Sure your technophobic uncle may not be convinced like he was by Wii Sports, but this game is not designed for him. It’s more polished, has more features and provides more challenge for gamers looking to experiment with a new console’s features. If you get a Wii U, I highly recommend picking this game up with it.

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