If you launch a console that introduces a new method of control, then you need to start out with some killer game to show off how awesome that control method is. You can generally tell how well the two were paired by how impactful they were together—so where something like Wii Sports and the Wii Remote had an insane impact on the industry, it’s impossible to say that for, say, the Super Scope or the Power Glove. So when Nintendo, often the people putting out the crazy tech demos in the past, decides to put out a system that has a giant screen on the controller, you better believe they need to prove the concept in some spectacular way. Poised as the minigame collection that’s supposed to make the WiiU make sense, Nintendo Land expertly creates a series of games that can be enjoyed either alone or, preferably, with a huge group of friends.
Starting out in Nintendo Land, you find yourself in a giant, empty amusement park plaza floating in the sky. A floating TV swoops in and explains what’s going on with the plaza you’re in and then you get to start the game. It’s a little surreal walking around, your footsteps echoing loudly in the empty environment, wondering why the area is so needlessly spacious and empty as you venture past the entrances for the 12 attractions.
As you continue to play, though, your game begins to come alive, with souvenirs from the attractions eventually littering your plaza and Miis walking around freely, imported in from the Miiverse, discussing the games and showing off drawings that they’ve posted. It’s a cool, alive-feeling integration of the online infrastructure, and you can stop every Mii and look at their progression in the games—percentage complete, stamps and trophies earned- or just reply to them on Miiverse, see their profile and “Yeah” their post (which is essentially just a Facebook “like”). I’ve caught myself exploring around the plaza just to see what everyone is saying and, though you can get it done faster in a menu, it’s more interesting to mingle with the Miis and looking at the conversations popping up around games.
Bringing up the menu for Nintendo Land reveals a split amongst the games- 6 of them are single player, and the other 6 are multiplayer. The single player games do allow assistive input from another player with a Wii remote, but they’re not really too involved beyond existing just to help the main player. Each of these games shows off the Gamepad functionality to varying degrees of success. Some of them show some cool ideas, such as using the screen to swipe ninja stars onto the TV or looking at the Gamepad to give you a different view of the action. Some of them don’t really use the gamepad that intensively, though, so you’ll find yourself tilting it like it was a Wii remote and not really utilizing the cooler aspects of the controller. The one that baffles the most, though, is Octopus dance, a simple rhythm game that almost seemed to exist just to show off the nature of the second analog stick. Truthfully, this is something we should all be used to by now, and there’s no real reason dedicate an entire 12th of the game to a sub-par dancing experience, even if it is based on the great Game and Watch Octopus game.
The 6 multiplayer games are also split in their own way, with 3 of them being multiplayer-only competitive games and 3 of them being single player or multiplayer co-op. On these, only one player can hold the Gamepad, with the rest of them (up to 5 people total!) have to use Wii Remotes- and in some cases, the ones with Motion Plus specifically. The Gamepad player tends to have more information and a different way of controlling than the other people, offering for great opportunities to back up and aid each other while working towards a common goal. The Gamepad also works as being the screen for the player who holds it, allowing them to not have to worry about split-screen, which I really like. It frees up a lot of real estate and cleans up the screen, allowing everyone to focus on their tasks a lot more- especially because watching the camera move as the Gamepad player moves the controller around might cause some motion sickness.
The multiplayer only games are all based on the same formula of Gamepad-vs-Remotes, and are all variations on one control type chasing the other. It’s very asynchronous, with the Gamepad player generally having more information and ability to evade or capture the other players. If you remember the Chase Mii tech demo, or even just Pac-Man Vs. on the Gamecube, then you know what’s going on with these games.
For all of these there are leaderboards (though not online), stamps to collect (cough achievements) and trophies for each game, bronze to gold (though I have heard a rumor of platinum trophies out there…). Filling in all of them is a good way to repopulate the plaza with the little collectibles I mentioned, though earning them all probably doesn’t get you much more than a simple “Thank you!” and a “good job”. They’re pretty devious, and some of them seem like the developers saw the hardest part of the games, laughed, and based a stamp on doing something incredibly difficult in that already difficult area.
Perhaps I’m just sounding curmudgeon and clichéd, but it’s great to see a game that comes out and has a broader color palette than the browns and grays we’re used to. This game is fantastically bright and colorful, and looks like a logical conclusion of what games should look if they continued constantly on the SNES types of coloring and environment building. There’s a lot of nice lighting and smart uses of bump mapping and reflective mapping to make the items all seem like they’re made of specific materials, and it’s a lot more beautiful because of it.
The visual motif is also very charming, and the creative team definitely went a long way to create mechanical and patchwork-looking replicas to a lot of classic properties. Watching all of the Miis dress up as the game characters also has its own charm, and really, over HDMI on a 1080p connection, it’s just a game that pops off of the screen.
Every minigame collection runs the risk of being too much in a way that offers too little. It’s easy for the games to be bogged down in quantity but not really variety, burning you out quickly and leaving you looking for something more that they just can’t offer.
Fortunately, Nintendo Land dodges this experience by being a very smart and fun game that uses the different control types to create a very fun experience. The use of the stamps and trophies give you a good understanding of how far you are in a game and how much is left for you to do, which is a good way to close some feedback and let you know what you’re doing with each separate attraction. Each of the single player games also include new, more difficult challenges after you beat their first part and you earn yourself a gold star in that attraction, which are good ways to give you new things to do once you beat the games once and keep you coming back to try and beat the difficult new levels.
While single player is definitely a lot of fun (except the overly-simple Octopus Dance), the game really shines in multiplayer, which has opened my eyes to a new way of playing games. This asynchronous gameplay finally makes good on something that games like Mario Galaxy tried, but failed to do- give one player a different way to interact, through new controls and new ways to interact with each other. Despite the fact that the versus games are all variation on the same concept, they still manage to be hugely different, and the gamepad player fighting against the Wii Remote players is a really fun dynamic. I go back to it all the time because it’s just such a cool thing, and the cat-and-mouse game Is entertaining for hours and hours.
I feel like this is the kind of thing that might just change games on the WiiU to be something altogether new and rarely explored- while the second screen might make you think “oh, it’s like a large DS!”, the ideas really have the potential to shine when using the Gamepad to explore new types of multiplayer- not just versus, but co-op as well. It’s a great way to split powers and responsibilities between two people even while they’re in the same room. While you can argue that it would still be achievable over the internet, there’s something more special about it being a couch experience, an experience the WiiU is still going for, much like the Wii before it.
As I go about my day, I have to stop and wonder why I’m not just staying in and playing Nintendo Land. The game is more fun than I ever thought it would be—it smartly adds to the games as you get better at them, providing you with a greater challenge as you progress through and giving you so much more to play and experience. The multiplayer is something special as well, giving a great experience when you bring together a bunch of people competing or working together. If it wasn’t for a few duds, this game would be incredible, but even still, it’s the best game to show off your WiiU and a great experience to play with some friends.