I’ll be completely honest with you. When I saw Nintendo Land being shown off at Nintendo’s E3 conference last week, to say I was underwhelmed would be a massive understatement. Nintendo were wrapping up their biggest show of the year with a mini-game compilation? Really? Now, I’m not about to turn around and tell you that Nintendo Land is the best game ever and that you should rush out and proclaim it “Game of the Year”, because it won’t be. But what it is however, is the perfect way to demonstrate what the Wii U is capable of. It’s basic, it’s fun and it works like you’d hope it to.
If you’re not aware and you missed Nintendo’s conference last week, Nintendo Land is Nintendo’s idea of a digital theme park of sorts centred on Nintendo IPs. Each part of the park plays host to a different Nintendo title themed mini-game with some being multiplayer, some being for those of us who prefer to play alone. The demo both at E3 and at the special Nintendo event we attended this week allowed us to try out five of the themed games and see how the full game was taking shape.
Only two of the games on show were single player with one game themed around Donkey Kong and the other around little-known Japanese release Nazo no Murasame Jō (or The Mysterious Murasame Castle in translation). In Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, the goal is to get your two wheeled trolley from the top of the stage, as far down as you can towards the bottom without crashing and losing all of your lives. To move the trolley, you tilt the Gamepad in the direction you want to move and let gravity do the rest. As you progress, you come across bridges, lifts and more than need to be activated by pressing either the L or R buttons. Of the games on show, it’s definitely the weakest in terms of technical demonstration, but it’s still fun to play and that’s the most important thing.
The second single player game you might remember seeing as a tech demo during the unveiling of the Wii U at E3 2011. You know, that ninja star throwing game! Takamaru’s Ninja Castle was one that showed off the touch screen functionality of the Wii U pad as you swipe your finger (or stylus) across the pad (held vertically rather than the normal horizontal way) and throw stars at sneaky ninjas hiding in bushes, behind trees and more. When you first begin, each ninja simply pops up like a generic shooting gallery target and is defeated with a single hit. As you progress however, enemies take more hits to defeat, they fight back and they move around so things get trickier till culminating in a battle against an even tougher boss ninja.
Moving into the realm of socialising, it’s definitely the multiplayer games that showcased both the Wii U’s tech best and just how fun Nintendo Land can be with chums. The weakest of the three (and the entire package) was definitely The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. Featuring one player using a bow and arrow via the Gamepad and the rest using swords with Wii Remotes, you progress down a linear path, batting or shooting at anything that gets in your way. There are occasional moments where you have to time attacks on switches to open doors but it never really felt much fun.
The final two games however, proved to be the best fun I’ve had playing a multiplayer game in a long time. Animal Crossing: Sweet Day features four Wii Remote players trying to gather sweets from around a small town whilst one player controls two guards simultaneously using the Gamepad. As players gather sweets, their head grows and the larger your head, the slower you move. Players can eject any eaten sweets by frantically tapping a button on the pad, but to win the game the four players need to hold a set number of sweets simultaneously. Holding onto enough sweets to win is harder than it sounds because if the guards catch your team three times in total, it’s game over. Some sweets also require teamwork to collect as trees will only drop them when up to three buttons by their bases are stepped on simultaneously. It’s a simple concept but so enjoyable.
The final game we got to try was Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. Similar to the Animal Crossing game, four players with Wii Remotes run around a small mansion whilst one player with the Gamepad controls the opposition. This time, the opposition is a ghost and the goal for the four players is to simply stay alive and defeat the ghost. If a ghost catches a player, they are incapacitated and all four players down means the ghost wins. Players can battle the ghost using their torches to deal damage. Bring the ghost’s health down to zero and it’s game over for the spooky spectre. Again, it’s a very simple concept but it works really well and can get really frantic as you try to figure out where the ghost is (it’s invisible until hit by light) without being grabbed and KO’d. On the other side, trying to work out the best way to grab a player without walking right into their torchlight requires more thinking than you’d imagine.
The only real gripe I have after playing Nintendo Land is the real value of the package. Even if all 12 games turn out to be fantastic fun, that’s all the game seems to be: 12 mini-games. I’ve come to the conclusion that for Nintendo Land to really work, it needs to be included with Wii U console at launch, à la Wii Sports. Even if Nintendo knocked the console price up by £20 or so just to include Nintendo Land, it’d be a brilliant thing to do. £40 for a standalone title however? You’ll have to sway me some more on that one, Nintendo.
Regardless, don’t write off Nintendo Land just yet, it’s got more fun and laughs to it than you might think.