Developer: Nintendo EAD
When I think of the name “Nintendo Land” my mind rushes off to a far off place, a magical place, full of childhood wonder. It would be a full of children and families, with workers wearing over-sized costumes of Diddy Kong and Link as they mingle with the guests. Everyone smiling from ear to ear as they wander through a theme park bristling with opportunities to be sucked into a world of fun and nostalgia, and all of this is set against the backdrop of the Peach’s Mushroom Kingdom Castle, amazing during the day, but full of awe and mystique when night falls and the fireworks begin. Yet, whilst this image is a blatant rip-off from Anaheim, California, there is a point to it. Although Nintendo Land the game, is nowhere near as grand as the initial image in my head, what it is hoping to achieve is something similar. It is hoping to restore wonder and joy to a fanbase in much need of resurgence. It is hoping to showcase an experience in the WiiU which is new, exciting and something people will want more from. The question is, does it achieve what it set out to do, or does it leave you feeling short-changed and striding for the exit?
For those not in the know, Nintendo Land is serving as the demonstrative launch game for the WiiU, with it being bundled in with Premium versions of the console in a similar way to Wii Sports was with the Wii. The game itself is set in the titular “theme park” where the attractions are 12 different minigames that showcase the different ways in which you can use the new WiiU controller. The 12 minigames are split into 3 different types; single-player games designed just for the WiiU controller, competitive multiplayer games where up to 5 players compete against each other (up to 4 players use Wiimotes with Wii Motion Plus), or co-operative multiplayer games where players work together towards a common goal. All of these minigames are based on Nintendo’s key franchises, with the likes, of Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda and Metroid all providing settings for your pleasure, with each displaying different features of the WiiU controller.
You are guided through your own Nintendo Land by Monita – your robot guide, with a strange look and an even stranger voice. Monita will explain to you each mini-game in turn as you play it, and will provide you with any additional information you need as your progress. What I found refreshing was that Monita only explains the rules to you if a new Mii is playing the game for the first time – meaning that a revisiting Mii does not have to go through explanations of how to play each time. This may sound like a small thing, but when you’re playing minigames – for the most part short experiences – you don’t want a lengthy introduction tacked on every time before you can play. It’s an addition that re-enforces the pick-up-and-play nature of the game in general.
So, now to the mini-games themselves. Perhaps the most natural first jump for players will be into the single player minigames, as they don’t require a room of friends and accompanying Wiimotes to enjoy. There are 6 solely single player experiences for you to try. From DK’s Crash Course, where you tilt the WiiU controller to move a triangular trolley through a 2D DK-inspired obstacle course, to Yoshi’s Fruit Cart where you must use the WiiU stylus to guide Yoshi through stages collecting fruit, without being able to see obstacles or fruit on you WiiU controller. You can even become Captain Falcon in his Twister Race minigame where you hold the WiiU controller vertically to view a top-down view of the race track, and you turn by tilting the controller. The single player offerings are enjoyable enough, especially if you are a perfectionist or completionist type of player. The minigames add to the already fun experience by teasing you with trying to better your high-scores (more later) or trying to reach the next level in a game. It’s very addictive and the shorter nature of the games themselves means it doesn’t feel like a chore.
But where Nintendo Land comes into its own is with the multiplayer games. There are 6 multiplayer games on offer – 3 co-operative and 3 competitive games. In all instances additional players play with Wiimotes (which need to have WiiMotion Plus) and player one controls the WiiU controller. In the 3 co-operative minigames, up to 5 of you must work together to work through a variety of levels towards a particular goal. In the Zelda-inspired Battle Quest minigame for example a group of 4 Links battle through Zelda- themed 3D maps, to beat an end of level boss holding a piece of the Triforce. 3 Links will be using Wiimotes and will be armed with a sword for hand-to-hand combat, whilst the WiiU controller will control a Link with a bow for ranged combat. This set up requires tactics, even on the earlier levels, as bow Link will need to take out far off foes for the team, but can’t move when he is aiming, so its easy for the other team to run off ahead. It took a while for me and my mates to realize that “co-operative” meant just that rather than trying to be 4 heroes. But what it means is there is a real sense of achievement on completing each level, especially if a certain section was causing frustration.
The competitive minigames were naturally the area to which my friends and I were drawn (not sure what that says about us as friends). In these minigames the players with the Wiimotes team up against the player with the WiiU controller, either by trying to catch them, defeat them or escape them. The addictive Mario Chase minigame sees the WiiU controller player having a 10 second head-start to run away from the other players – up to 4 more can play with Wiimotes. The WiiU player has a HUD on their controller detailing where everyone is on the map, so it can avoid people, whereas all the other players are armed with is a distance indicator to show when they are getting closer or further away from the WiiU player. This requires teamwork on the Wiimote player side and frequent shouts of “he’s in the yellow section” or “you go around the other way” were not uncommon. Plus there’s just something oh so satisfying about watching the replay of you catching the player and winding them up about it face-to-face.
But aside from the fun experiences of the minigames, it is also worth mentioning the hidden depth to these games. Unlike minigame collections of previous Nintendo consoles that were drab and uninspiring – step forward Wii Play – there’s lots of additional touches which set this collection above most others. Firstly there’s the high score system I mentioned earlier for single player games, which provides a competitive angle in itself but add to that a bronze, silver and gold trophy ranking depending on your score, and the magpie in me suddenly wants to get gold in everything. Added to that is through the games, you will acquire stamps for achieving various different goals whilst playing, which again give you additional targets to aim for whilst playing than simply completing a level. Also every time a game is played, you will earn coins. More coins are awarded for earning stamps, or doing very well in a game. These coins are spent atop the central plaza in Nintendo Land, where you play a basic additional minigame to earn prizes, that will adorn you park. These prizes vary from being able to play various Nintendo tunes in your Park plaza to decorating it with various pieces of Nintendo nostalgia. This decoration of your park serves no other purpose, but again it’s an additional reward for playing the game.
But aside from the rewards of playing, Nintendo Land also understands the realities of playing games, and more importantly playing games together. It knows that when there is a group of you, you will want to mix up who has the WiiU controller regularly, so it provides a very fluid option to do this at the end of each game. It helps keep the variety and interest among your friends if they’re doing something new. Also the game recognizes that it won’t always be just 1 of you or 5 of you playing. Sometimes it will only be 2 or 3 of you around. So in these cases it tweaks game modes to suit the number of players or provides AI players where necessary to never detract from the minigame experience.
Maybe I’m old-school, maybe I’m not a fan of change, or maybe I’m just out of touch. Either way I’m of the opinion that the best fun you can have with a games console is with a good local multiplayer game. Get some friends round a TV, get the drinks and snacks in, and you’re all set for an evening of laughter and mockery. There’s nothing quite like be able to see the face of the person you just killed in an FPS, or watch them react after you’ve just overtaken them on the line in a racing game, and what Nintendo Land does is remind you of this fact from the very start. It provides you with numerous experiences that are packed with enough variety, humour and competitive edge to keep you wanting to play them again and again. If you can rustle up one or two friends or willing family members this Christmas, then Nintendo Land is well worth picking up, even at full price. It's not a singleplayer game and it never pretends to be, but if you accept it for what it is, you'll be glad you picked it up, and your friends will be too. In short, if you have a Wii U, and love a bit of local multiplayer, you really ought to get this game.
- Thoroughly enjoyable collection of minigames
- Instantly accessible to all
- Reinvigorates the local multiplayer
- Hours of entertainment
- No sprawling 100+ hour epic game
- Some minigames feel a little similar
The Short Version: As a collection of minigames, Nintendo Land was never going to be groundbreaking. But what it is, is a game that is inviting, engaging, rewarding and so full of polish that it sets a very high benchmark for this type of game. What it set out to do was showcase the WiiU potential. What it provided was not only a glimpse into a future for the console which most definitely has potential, but it also reminded us where true fun lies – in the enjoyment of games with friends and family. Even if their Miis do dress up as a Pikmin in the process.