In much the same way as with Wii Sports, it’s easy to overlook the importance and longevity of Nintendo Land for the Wii U. Most reviews I have read talk about it more as a tech demo than a game you would play for any length of time. Accordingly, it sits with a Metacritic score of 78.
They reflect the fact that for core gamers this sort of packed-in fun is simply an exercise to show off the system’s features before moving on to more serious challenges. However, for me and my family, Nintendo Land is already outlasting and outshining many of the so-called “fully fledged” Wii U games.
Although many complained about the paucity of games on the Wii, my family have been more than happy playing just a handful of titles. Wii Sports Resort, its table tennis game in particular, has seen literally thousands of hours of gameplay. Add to that Mario Charged Soccer and Go Vacation and that has been enough for six happy years with the Wii.
It’s not until you get through the first 50 hours or so with those games, like Nintendo Land, that the depth really starts to show. By focusing on a simple scenarios, well executed, Nintendo creates challenges that stay with families for years — particularly where multiple players is a factor.
The irony here is that the very thing that makes these games seem like they would be short-lived is the simplicity that gives them long-term enjoyment. The situation gets muddier when you add in Nintendo mini-game collections like Wii Play and Wii Play Motion that actually are more stereotypical mini-games that are quickly forgotten about.
<a title="FGTV: Wii U Aims to Balance Family Friendly NintendoLand Alongside Hardcore Zombie U” href=”http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2012/06/e3-wii-u-nintendoland-zombie-u/” target=”_blank”>Nintendo Land offers a range of games in one package. It is cut from the same cloth as Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit and Wii Party, and has the same potential to offer many hundreds of happy hours of gameplay. How long you will play each one depends on the size, shape and tastes of your family.
The single-player challenges are likely to become stale much more quickly because they lack that variety that comes from introducing a human opponent. That said, we’ve still found plenty of repeat play value in Captain Falcon’s Twister Race — a Wipeout-style race — and Balloon Trip‘s serene floating challenges.
The games that have really stood out for us have been the competitive Mario Chase and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion and the cooperative Metroid Blast. These each offer a very simple premise, be that chasing, searching or shooting, but executes it in a way that isn’t possible without the Wii U GamePad technology.
While many have criticized the imbalance of one super-controller and four normal controllers — seeing it as a recipe for arguments over who will get to use the GamePad — it’s this very imbalance that makes these games work for us. Whether it’s having a map in Mario Chase, a view of the other players in Luigi’s Ghost Mansion or piloting a vehicle in Metroid Blast, the lopsided nature of the controller setup makes the games interesting and long-lasting.
In a family of five, this not only means that we all get to play together in the same game for the first time, but it also means that the game is very different depending on which of us is using the Wii U controller. While our youngest member just likes the thrill of having all that extra power, the older kids like to grief mom and dad by targeting us. Then things get more tactical as the grownups take charge of the tablet.
At the same time these games shy away from complexity, preferring restraint to ever more weapons, abilities and challenges. Instead they finesse the experience and make it genuinely special. Whether it is the ability to see the hider’s face via the Wii U camera, being able to transport ground troops with the spaceship or letting the ghost carry players off to a dark corner of the mansion there is a sense that each of these elements has a purpose and that all kinds of other options have been discarded because they didn’t meet the rigorous design criteria.
Saying all that, Nintendo Land is more of a risk for the Wii U than Wii Sports was for the original Wii console. The breadth of games feels less coherent both in terms of look and feel as well as controls. Whereas Wii Sports focused on super-simple gameplay — any family member could play without instruction — the Wii U’s wonderfully lopsided nature requires more explanation. Grandparents and non-gaming family members may take more persuasion to play Nintendo Land.
I’m sure that Nintendo realized this, and it is a calculated risk. Firstly, much of the work to engage a wider audience with games has already been done with the Wii. Hearing news of the Wii Mini in Canada, the Wii U is even more of a next step for that audience. Secondly, the breadth of game styles here connects new players not only to the Wii U’s new controller but pretty much every character in the Nintendo pantheon. Metroid, Pikmin, Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, Luigi and Yoshi games are cleverly introduced alongside the new console, making it much more likely for players to “attach” to other games (both old and new) that feature these characters.
It’s no mean feat for Nintendo Land to deliver accessibility and playability while introducing new interactions and franchises at the same time — and without letting the games themselves become a hotchpotch of committee-driven concerns. For me this is the real genius of Nintendo Land and Nintendo; truth be known, that they are able to keep the game play fresh and engaging while still attending to the demands of the ever more competitive videogame business.
Here’s a deeper look at each of Nintendo Land‘s mini-games.
Single Player Games
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle has a certain novelty to it as players flick throwing stars from the touchscreen. It reminded me of the throwing-star modes in Shinobi, a favorite game of mine from the ’90s. The kids have enjoyed this a lot, even though it’s only one player. The character animation and ability to curve the stars through the air brought them out with shrieks of laughter and fist pumping.
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course has been almost ignored by my children. Players use the tilting feature of the Wii U controller to guide a trolley through a Donkey Kong-themed platform-based obstacle course. It’s infuriating in all the right ways for those of use with more patience and has become a nightly ritual in our house once the kids are in bed.
Captain Falcon’s Twister Race is a single-player racing game. Initially this suffered with comparisons to the multi-player Wipeout games my kids play. (Steering assist and tilt controls make it the ideal toddler racing game.) Although Twister Race looks much simpler, the ability to have an aerial view of your craft on the touchscreen makes it easier for the whole family to play. It also means you can really brush each apex in the time-trial mode, which became a whole afternoon’s entertainment of taking turns to earn ever faster times.
Balloon Trip Breeze has the player guiding a balloon-holding character through a sky filled with collectibles and spiky obstacles. My daughter enjoyed this for a while, but it has not been a game we’ve gone back to as much as the others. There is a little less novelty here and in many ways it can be played exclusively on the touchscreen like a DS or 3DS title.
Yoshi’s Fruit Cart starts slowly but soon gathers pace. Players have to draw a route with the stylus to get Yoshi to collect all the fruit on the screen. The trick is that while the fruit is visible on the TV it’s not on the touchscreen where you will be drawing. It becomes an exercise in geographical translation as players struggle to match one screen to the other. As the game develops it introduces pits, moving fruit and bonus boxes. It’s become one of the most popular things for my oldest child, 9, on the Wii U because of its simplicity and steady difficulty progression.
Octopus Dance is a rhythm action memory game. The combination of these two gameplay mechanics gives the genre a new twist. Players memorize actions of the Game & Watch Octopus before repeating them with the control sticks or motion sensor of the GamePad.
Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest is the first of the cooperative multiplayer games. Five players go on a Zelda-themed adventure together. For the four players using the Wii Remote this is very similar to the Swordplay levels from Wii Sports Resort, only here you also have Link’s spin attack. The fifth player uses the Wii U controller to fire arrows at foes in a similar way to the Wii Sports Resort‘s archery game. The combination of these two mechanics, along with the beautiful sewn-together visuals, has made this a game we have played a lot of. Levels can be repeated for improved scores and there are many hidden items to find along the way.
Metroid Blast is another multi-player game, but this can be played cooperatively or competitively. Four players use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck to control a Metroid-style character in first-person-shooter mode. The controls here benefit from Nintendo’s refinement through various first-person offerings on the Wii. Here they feel instinctive and natural, so players can focus on the tactics and action.
A fifth player uses the Wii U controller to pilot a spaceship that flies around the level. This combination of ground troops and air cover offers up all sort of tactics and feels hugely immersive to play. The two perspectives combine to create an experience very similar to the physical laser-gun games of the ’90s. Creeping round corners and calling friends in to help, not to mention a variety of special attacks mean we have played this for many hours already and it feels as fresh as when we first started.
Pikmin Adventure is a cooperative strategy adventure. One player controls Olimar via the Wii U GamePad, while the others use Wii Remotes to control Pikmin. The novelty here is that players must work together to solve each puzzle and beat each enemy. A little like the Four Swords version of Zelda, this adds new tactics and gameplay to the standard Pikmin challenge. My kids have a great time shouting instructions at each other, calling for help and generally collaborating to progress through the game.
Mario Chase offers a very simple game of hide-and-seek with one player hiding with the Wii U controller and four others seeking with the Wii Remote held sideways. The balancing of abilities makes this game a joy to play — the hiding player has access to a map on the touchscreen that the seekers can’t find. The seekers soon realize they need to use their greater numbers and ability to tell each other which color-coded area of the level they have seen the hider in if they are going to catch him. I think my kids would play this single game all day if I let them. It not only has that “one more go” quality but also lets you develop all sorts of unusual tactics to find the hider — patrolling a different colored zone each, chasing them down in a pack, using a lookout in the raised central area. Perhaps best of all is the replay feature at the end of the game that uncovers how close the hider came to being discovered.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is similar to Mario Chase but with a more sedate and tactical edge. One player controls a ghost with the Wii U controller and can see all the others who control a ghost hunter character with a Wii Remote. The ghost is not visible to the other players who must shine their torch to discover its whereabouts. The Wii Remotes also pulsate faster and faster as the ghost approaches. Finally, the ghost can disable the hunters by attacking them from behind. It all adds up to a knife-edge ghost hunt that gets my children shrieking with suspense and laughter.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, is another chase game. Only here players have to collect candy as a team before they get caught three times by the guard who is controlled by the Wii U Gamepad. The tension increases as players eat more candy and become slower (and easier to catch). It is the teamwork aspect that makes this game work as players need to coordinate themselves to trigger switches to release sweets from trees.
All images: Andy Robertson/Wired