Before Wii Sports became Wii Sports, the killer app that caught all of our imaginations and kick-started a motion-control revolution, it was just a mini-game compilation.
Right now, Nintendo Land is nothing more than another mini-game compilation. It may yet be more than that, of course, but for now it is a tech demo. Like Wii Sports, it has its high points and low ones, and the high and low both come in bite sizes. This will leave you thankful when the mini-games miss the mark, but it will leave you desperately wanting more when they work.
There are a dozen attractions to this virtual amusement park, accessed via a main plaza by your Mii (you you can also check out the unlockable décor in the plaza, which is gained from coins collected from your adventures in each attraction). First, the slightly underwhelming. There’s a lot of chasing in Nintendo Land – Mario Chase, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. These three offer simple, and very similar mechanics (go catch them!). All require two-to-five players, meaning they work quite effectively as party games. With no online mode to speak of, they\’re best suited to a lively family living room. If you lack one of those, you won\’t get much out of these particular modes.
The real meat of the game arrives in \”team\” attractions (which can be played alone), featuring three of Nintendo’s most loved franchises. The Legend of Zelda is represented in Battle Quest (playable with Wii remotes as virtual swords, or with the GamePad to get your Katniss Everdeen on with a bow and arrow), allowing you to slice, dice and shoot in high-def Hyrule. Meanwhile, Pikmin Adventure is a tantalizing glimpse of what the GamePad can add to the real-time strategy genre. Both offer appreciable length and sophistication for being tech demos, but they pale next to the final team attraction: Metroid Blast.
Maybe it’s because I\’m a Samus fanboy (oh, the nostalgia of the 8-bit opening bars of Metroid’s theme in the menu), but Blast could quite easily justify being a separate eShop title…if it had an online mode. As it is, there are three distinct offline modes. \”Assault Mission\” is a co-op; one person controls the flying Gunship with the GamePad, while everyone else functions as a ground squad, aiming and shooting with Wii remotes. \”Surface-Air Combat\” is exactly what it sounds like, turning the co-op of \”Assault\” into ground-versus-air competition. Lastly, and also as its name implies, \”Ground Battle\” puts all players on terra firma with Wii remotes. The surface-based combat is ace here (the controls could use a higher turning speed, but the aiming is spot on), and it’s well worth tracking a buddy down to see how long you can hold out against the increasingly difficult waves of enemies dispatched to be arm cannon fodder. Don\’t have a gamer around to indulge you? You can play \”Assault Mission\” by yourself (in the air, or taking part in the fantastic ground combat), too. If Nintendo could open this up for multiplayer, or put an online Metroid Blast on eShop, they\’d make a lot of gamers happy. As it is, they\’ve made a superb local multiplayer showpiece. (Also, if the wonderful lighting and texture work is anything to go by, the first Metroid to appear on the Wii U is going to be a scene, man.)
Of course, if you\’re as anti-social as I am, Nintendo has you covered with six more single-player only attractions. I found them to be a pretty equal split: three very good ones, and three that qualify as flawed-but-interesting. Of the latter, there is Donkey Kong’s Crash Course (an obstacle course in which you tilt the GamePad to control your kart; it isn\’t as easy as it sounds), Captain Falcon’s Twister Race (an F-Zero themed racer that features tilt controls via holding the GamePad vertically; it’s as awkward as it sounds) and Octopus Dance (a rhythm dance game that flips perspectives between the TV and the controller’s touch screen; it’s as simple as it sounds).
The above all work, of course, but not nearly as well as the rest of the single-player only attractions. Balloon Trip Breeze utilizes the controller’s touch screen to let you control the wind: swipe accordingly to move your balloon through obstacles. It’s wickedly challenging and addictive (and even quite pretty). Takamaru’s Ninja Castle makes you hold the GamePad vertically, à la Captain Falcon’s Twister Race, but it’s a much smoother experience. You aim with the controller, but the tossing of virtual shurikens is done by swiping the touch screen (frantically, in most cases). It can take a minute to get used to this control set-up, but once acclimated, you\’ll be knocking out chibi ninjas like a pro.
That leaves one last standout: Yoshi’s Fruit Cart. I was ready for Metroid Blast and Ninja Castle to keep me occupied, but I found myself coming back to this simple mini game more than anything else. The task couldn\’t be easier: guide Yoshi’s cart by drawing on the GamePad’s touch screen while taking note of the location of fruit and obstacles, which are only visible on the television (the completion of the route you\’ve drawn must be traversed in a set time limit, adding another fiendish layer to strategy). It’s a simple game, but executed flawlessly. In a way, it’s the perfect distillation of the promise of the Wii U GamePad: two perspectives create a completely fresh challenge.
These 12 attractions may not all hit the mark, but a few knock it out of the park, and they\’re all thoughtful showcases for what the Wii U could be. Similarly, Nintendo Land itself could be the next Wii Sports, or its innovative highlights could be ignored. That’s a discussion for another day, though.
For now, put it all together and this little tech demo is quite a package. Nintendo has seemingly catered to everyone with a diverse selection of games, from hectic challenges (Metroid Blast and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle) to the clever and cute (Yoshi’s Fruit Cart and Balloon Trip Breeze). In fact, this \”something for everyone\”-style bleeds all the way down to your preference for booting up the game itself. Want to spend time in the plaza admiring your prizes? Covered. Want to bypass the plaza entirely and choose a mini-game from a touchscreen menu? Covered. On to the scores, Jeeves.