A late return to Nintendo Land unveils bad design choices hidden amongst novelty and two amazing games.
Sometimes things get left behind. This became true of our attempts to review Nintendo Land. In amongst the usual Christmas rush and our intense desire to bring you as much Wii U launch coverage as possible, we weren’t able to get out a review for, what was arguably, the system’s most publicised launch title. Coming bundled with the console’s deluxe edition, Nintendo Land is to the Wii U what Wii Sports was to the original Wii: A collection of mini-games designed with the sole purpose of showing off the new system’s hardware. Though it accomplishes this task, reviewing Nintendo Land six months after its release peels back its novelty to reveal an often unsatisfying party experience.
Nintendo Land is the eponymous amusement park your Mii is thrown into. Though there is a hub with items that can be unlocked and other Miis that can be lured to your theme park, these elements are almost always cosmetic and fail to add much depth. The other issue is Monita the park guide. I’m sure some exec at Nintendo thought this was cute or endearing, but she’s quite an irritating character. The fact that you hear her voice so regularly throughout a series of repeating and laborious tutorials also doesn’t help endear her to the player. The game’s themselves are all fairly easy to understand though, so the tutorials can be skipped for the most part.
Half of Nintendo Land’s twelve games are single player affairs and, whilst they revolve around clever ideas that utilise the Wii U Gamepad well, there is a distinct lack of depth that cripples otherwise promising gameplay ideas. Whilst games like Yoshi’s Fruit Cart and Donkey Kong’s Crash Course provide clever puzzles that could only be experienced on the Wii U’s touch screen and motion controller, the lack of multiple levels and the inability to save your progress means you have to repeat opening sections of these games again and again. It’s nauseating to have this kind of arcade setup in a modern game and it’s baffling why no one thought of including a level select screen or save function.
Captain Falcon’s Twister Race and Balloon Trip Breeze offer fast-paced but ultimately stripped down versions of F-Zero and Balloon Flight. These games are some of the most initially exciting of the solo attractions, but their simplistic mechanics inevitably become tiresome after a time. Octopus Dance sees you repeating set dance moves and, though bad press lead me to believe this was the worst of the games, some interesting design choices make it more than just a basic game of simon says.
Yet again though, once you’ve seen the dancers flip round a few times, it just fails to keep your attention. Takamura’s Ninja Castle was the most visually appealing, a game that involved you flicking shuriken at enemy ninjas using the Gamepad. The issue comes in how you need to hold and aim the Gamepad vertically, a configuration that is more uncomfortable than you might expect. It makes aiming a chore, inevitably forcing you to give up this particular game before you’ve barely started.
Of course, Nintendo Land is a party game, one that inevitably comes alive when more players get involved. For all the hate I could sling at the single player efforts, some of the competitive games are absolute gems. Mario Chase is the easiest to understand, particularly for those familiar with the awesome Pac Man Vs. on Gamecube. The game revolves around up to four players using Wii remotes chasing one Gamepad player.
Whilst the chasers only have a limited field of view, the runner gets a full look at the map via the Gamepad, making for a tense experience throughout. Similar in theme is Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, tasking a ghost on the Gamepad to fight against four other players wielding flashlights. Of course, if the trackers can shine their light on the ghost long enough, they can defeat it, but the ghost’s invisibility means they have to team up and track their spectral prey through vibrations and sound cues.
Both of these games are easily the highlights of the package, offering varied and complex asymmetrical multiplayer that will spruce up any group gaming session. As each game only has three small levels though, it’s a blast that can often feel short lived. The other competitive game is Animal Crossing Sweet Day, where four players need to collect sweets whilst avoiding a chasing player using the Gamepad. It’s a neat idea, but lacks the focus and hectic quality of Mario Chase and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion.
Cooperative games are also available and, whilst it’s a fairly decent idea, something about them all is distinctly lacking. The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Metroid Blast and Pikmin Adventure all revolve around a similar formula, seeing a powerful Gamepad player co-operating with up to four weaker Wii remote users. Zelda: Battle Quest has one player manning the Gamepad to fire a bow and arrow at waves of enemies whilst his companions wield the classic Zelda combo of sword and shield.
Metroid Blast offers a similar setup with four Samus Aran clones accompanying her battle ship. The problem is in how the Gamepad player is the only one who has any fun. The bow user and ship pilot are the only exciting parts to these games, meaning your four friends are either left playing a mediocre third person shooter or an on rails slash ’em up that gets old quickly. Pikmin Adventure is the worst of the bunch.
It had the most promise but, as the Gamepad player controls Olimar and the others individual Pikmin, Olimar can just summon the players to him at any time and throw them at his leisure. The game winds up feeling “spammy” because of this, and it also removes the four Pikmin players from having much control over the game at all. It could have been the deep and progressive adventure game the package needs, but it lacks the progression and tactics of the actual Pikmin games.
The three competitive modes are the real highlights of the package, with the single player offerings holding meagre depth and the co-op games giving little more than dumbed down interpretations of the fantastic games they reference. Even amongst the lesser attractions though, there is a consistent and engaging visual presentation. Nintendo obviously know how to handle their own hardware, using the Wii U’s power to their advantage. The patchwork feel to some of the games’ visuals are also a plus; an underused aesthetic in gaming that feels fresh.
Certainly there is a novelty to Nintendo Land, something that inevitably lead to a series of review scores that were arguably higher than the game deserves. Mario Chase and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion are stellar examples of the kind of multiplayer intrigue that only the Wii U can create.
The rest of the games are of a weaker quality though , with good ideas undermined by a lack of content and an archaic save and progression system. Nintendo Land certainly shows off the variety of the Wii U Gamepad successfully but, unlike the equally shallow but excellent Wii Sports, Nintendo Land is a full priced title rather than a pack in title. For a full priced game, Nintendo Land is good, but it ain’t enough.
This was reviewed on the Wii U.
Twelve varied games, Solid visuals, Asymmetrical multiplayer is a blast, Clever use of the hardware
Frustrating tutorials, Very little depth, Not enough content in each game, Some games prioritise one player over the others
The Wii U's high profile launch title doesn't hold up once the novelty wears off, providing little depth and imbalanced gameplay outside of two excellent mini games.