Review: Nintendo Land for Wii U
Nintendo Land is an interesting case study, as the game chosen to be the pack-in title for the Wii U Deluxe Set hardware bundle doesn’t seem to quite know what exactly it is. Is it a theme park? Is it a toy box? Is it an arcade?
Its identity as a theme park seems to be the most up-front and obvious, particularly as that seems to be how the game views itself, from its title to the use of “attractions” as a way of partitioning its varied content. But though it features many Mii guests visiting the park (courtesy of the Nintendo Network’s Miiverse functionality), one could argue that it really doesn’t lend itself very much to the feeling of a theme park.
Disney World, this ain’t. No costumed characters, no sprawling streets and pathways, no popcorn or hot dog stands (which would admittedly be more of a token gesture), nothing you would associate with anything from Six Flags to Wonderland. The “park” is a moderately-sized circular hub with a central tower and surrounded by gateways to each attraction.
The central tower does play a key role in forming your park, as it contains a mini-game in which you drop coins acquired from the park’s attractions to reach certain targets. Do this, and you can unlock decorations and music to play in the Nintendo Land plaza.
Granted, it economizes the space well, but the aesthetic doesn’t bring to mind what Nintendo fans (myself included) have dreamed of for years when the prospect of a Nintendo theme park is brought up. What is there is rather distinct, though, and if one were to accept it as a theme park, it would perhaps be best viewed less as the theme park today and more as the theme park of the future.
Speaking of aesthetics, that’s where Nintendo Land veers further from what one might expect of a theme park. While some attractions (the term for each sub-game in the greater package, in case you hadn’t caught on) seem well enough like what one might expect to see in a theme park attraction based on a Nintendo franchise, the overarching style feels more like a toy box.
For instance, the car in “Captain Falcon’s Twister Race” is scaled down and contains an old-fashioned wind-up key in the back, while “Metroid Blast” and (surprisingly) “Octopus Dance” (based on the Game & Watch title Octopus) carry a more state-of-the-art look. Then there are a number of other attractions, from “Mario Chase” to “The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest” to “Balloon Trip Breeze,” which feature a lot of cloth and woodwork.
It isn’t at all unattractive, mind, and it’s perhaps one of the best ways they could have created a unified look for all the games not only with each other, but also in a way which complements the use of Miis in the game.
Finally, that leaves us with the “arcade” idea. Unrelated to the way the park is set up or the aesthetic of the attractions, the arcade feel comes from the way those very attractions play. There are 12 in all, ranging from single player games to both competitive and cooperative multiplayer games, and even a few which allow either single or multiplayer play.
The single-player games in particular have that “easy to learn, difficult to master” quality going on about them as you aim to achieve the highest score you can. While they aren’t especially massive on their own, there is a pretty good amount of depth to each; more than the likes of Wii Sports or Wii Play, with a variety of different levels and increasing obstacles.
The overall vibe I get while playing is that this is like the modern arcade, the sort of games you might have seen in an arcade back in the 80s had this sort of technology been available at the time (in a manner of speaking). The games are challenging, but in such a way that you’ll be wanting “just once more chance” as you got a little further than last time, and know that you’ll reach the end with one more try.
Coming back to the question of what Nintendo Land wants to be, I’d say that perhaps Nintendo realized that any one of those alone would probably be insufficient, and so managed to combine a theme park, a toy box, and an arcade into one whole which simply manages to work. It’s an odd mix which manages to bring out the best in each aspect without being beholden to any one.
Moving on: I can’t go into each individual attraction in this space (we’d be here forever), but there are a few choice favorites I would like to highlight.
The first is “Metroid Blast,” which is touted as “great for more experienced players.” It’s an action game which can be played alone or with up to five players, the GamePad user controlling Samus Aran’s gunship from the Metroid games while the other players take on differently-colored Varia Power Suits. Together, the goal is to either cooperate to eliminate all of the enemies in each stage, or compete in a gunship vs. hunters match.
Nintendo’s EAD General Manager, Shigeru Miyamoto, has even stated that he imagines the next title in the Metroid series proper could follow from what we’ve seen in Nintendo Land. Of course, Metroid development tends to fall to Yoshio Sakamoto, so whether he feels the same way remains to be seen.
Suffice to say, it is a lot of fun to control both the gunship and the hunters as you seek out and destroy enemies and each other. It’s sort of like a simplified Metroid Prime in how it feels, albeit from a third-person perspective.
The second (not pictured) is “Captain Falcon’s Twister Race,” which is the closest thing we’ve had to a new F-Zero game in some time. Its use of the GamePad makes it a solo attraction only, unfortunately, but it still plays quite well in spite of that limitation.
Holding the GamePad vertically, you turn it left or right to steer a miniature version of Captain Falcon’s Blue Falcon race car down one of several different tracks, dodging obstacles and attempting to get the best time. The television provides a traditional behind-the-car view of the race, while the GamePad screen gives you a top-down view of the area immediately surrounding your car, allowing for a more strategic view of the race (though entering tunnels blocks this view, requiring you to switch to the television).
One fun twist borrows from Namco’s Mario Kart Arcade GP, in that the built-in camera on the GamePad also displays the player’s face on the main screen. Additionally, though it’s generally considered a single-player game, a second player can help out by using a Wii Remote to point at the main screen and remove obstacles with the A button, similar to how they might assist in Super Mario Galaxy.
Last, but certainly not least, we have “Balloon Trip Breeze,” which is perhaps the game truest to its series of origin in the entire package. In fact, it feels like a genuine sequel to the Balloon Trip mode in the original Balloon Fight in a way no other iteration, be it Balloon Kid or the Japan-only Club Nintendo game Tingle’s Balloon Fight, ever has. In addition to classic Balloon Fight enemies and obstacles, there are new variations which should keep fans old and new alike entertained and on their toes.
I spoke about how the game works in detail here, including my great pride at managing to proceed far enough to crash the demo. One might think that someone at Nintendo took that to heart, because I’ve found the version in Nintendo Land to be noticeably more difficult than the preview demo I played. Not tremendously so, and certainly not unfairly so, but I can say that I’ve found a greater challenge in just trying to get as far as I did before.
It’s also worth noting that much like “Captain Falcon’s Twister Race,” a second player can take up a Wii Remote in this otherwise single-player game and use it to remove some obstacles that might impede the player.
Seeing my Mii dressed up as a Balloon Fighter is still a great joy for me, and I’m hoping that Nintendo might do something more with this concept– like put it on the Nintendo 3DS. It’s hard to imagine any reason that wouldn’t work there, even as an eShop download.
While these are far from the only games worth playing on the disc (“Donkey Kong’s Crash Course” is rather popular, and I also like “Yoshi’s Fruit Cart,” among others), the game also has a few problems of varying severity which can unfortunately hinder the experience.
One of the more irksome aspects of the game is how the camera in the Nintendo Land Plaza is basically hardwired to the GamePad’s gyroscope. This is great for looking around when you’re willing to stand up and move the controller to look around, but can also be a hassle to deal with when you’re ready to sit and get down to business.
The other, arguably bigger problem is the lack of online in the game. I’m not a person who wants online for online’s sake, and I truly do appreciate Nintendo’s commitment to producing games people can actually play together on their sofa, rather than through their internet connections.
However, much like a game such as New Super Mario Bros. U, it can be difficult to get enough people together for a full game. Worse is that unlike New Super Mario Bros. U, some games are truly damaged by having a lack of players; certainly, you can play “Mario Chase” with only two players, but the simple fact is that you really need four active Toads to even approach matching Mario (incidentally, why Toads? Wouldn’t Koopa Troopas make more sense?). A single Toad catching Mario is more likely to be either luck, a fluke, or just a really bad Mario player.
As a result, not having online can effectively gate off parts of the game for some people, and that really is unfortunate. If it weren’t for my chance to play with others at preview events, I wouldn’t even know how some of these games are meant to be played.
When Nintendo first demonstrated the Wii U at E3 with a variety of software demos, I truly hoped that the company would find a way to collect them and offer them to us, and in that, they did not disappoint. The Wii U Deluxe Set is already the version of the console to get, which makes Nintendo Land a no-brainer, and is undoubtedly worth a try.
If you opted for the Basic Set, however, then you’ll have to decide whether or not to purchase the game separately. That’s a little tougher to say; if you have several friends readily available to play the multiplayer-only games with you, then you can’t lose. If you’ll be playing with only one or two people, then you aren’t really going to be able to experience every game at its best, but there is still a lot of fun to be had here, especially if you’re a fan of arcade-style gaming.
Oh, and this should probably go without saying, but if you’re a nut for Nintendo’s history and numerous properties, then you’re bound to enjoy Nintendo Land all the more.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.