Wii U | Nintendo | 1-5 Players (local multiplayer/co-operative play) | Out Now | Miiverse Support
Controller Compatibility: Wii U GamePad; Wii Remote (pointer/sideways); Wii Remote and Nunchuk; WiiMotionPlus necessary
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27th December 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
erhaps it is with a similar motive that Nintendo Land was developed -- to light sparks of innocence through novelty. But while harnessing the striking wonder of a star-studded toy chest, the game is more than a casual play thing. Through some of their finest conceptual delivery in recent memory, it is an esteemed creation that furthers its clean-cut building blocks through administered cases of lively conditions and even the odd brilliance. With a well-rounded base, Nintendo Land functions as more than a showcase and is a weighty achievement that contrasts that of other collections in the way it acquires an enduring magnetism that proves hard to resist.
Nintendo Land consists of 12 different attractions, with a robot by the name of Monita overseeing all affairs. How a robot with such a dull voice and character could serve as an overseer for this jovial, fun-filled amusement park is beyond me. But like it or not, she's here to stay. From the Plaza, your park will be populated with Miis from all over the world, tied to Miiverse profiles. When you go up to a person, a recent post will be put on display in an overhead bubble. Also when concluding an activity and deciding where to go next, posts will be shown off to the sides of the screen to encourage you to voice your own thoughts on a particular attraction, illustrating the effect Miiverse integration can have on properties in the future, for the purpose of forming communities and spreading helpful pointers to less-experienced players.
Kicking off the collection's contents, let's begin with an overview of the three competitive attractions, as these represent what I believe to be the core purveyors of contagiously enthralling gameplay as expressed in a group setting.
Mario Chase is the first in the pack and can be seen as an instant classic. In a 1-vs-3 (or 4) model, the Toads must band together to capture Mario, whose goal is to avoid contact until time runs out. In the center of each of the three available maps, a Starman will appear to grant Mario brief invulnerability and a boost of speed, giving the group a reminder to guard the item when he is near. But at all times, it is imperative everyone formulates a plan of attack, even vocalizing strategies or announcing when the fugitive's position is compromised. This is because the player with the GamePad in hand has both an area camera and an overhead map to refer to.
Stages are well-designed and provide a few areas for cover and obscurity, with Slide Hill being an especially excitable battleground. I only wish there were more maps to unlock and continue the fun factor even further. But because it's such a blast, Mario Chase is difficult to put down and will initiate plenty of rematches.
In Luigi's Ghost Mansion, one player uses the GamePad to control a ghost who cannot be seen on the TV screen, while everyone else, carrying flashlights that can expose the ghost's position, must work together to deplete the ghost's health or simply stay alive long enough for the match to be called. Part of what makes the game so ridiculously fun, alongside the suspenseful nature of the game's design (thanks in part to the use of the rumble feature on the Wii Remotes), is its perfect sense of balance. The player donning the ghost costume has a finite amount of health that cannot be added to, while everyone else has both limited lives and battery supply, creating strategy when battery packs appear or when a teammate succumbs to the ghost's sudden scare and asks to be revived. Appreciated, too, is the presence of five different maps, each with a welcome amount of spots to inspect. An exception to this is the fifth stage, Monita's Rooftop, which requires a very decisive hand on the ghost's part, due to the security measures put in place and the openness of this map's design. Luigi's Ghost Mansion is absolutely one of the strongest games in the entire collection as far as ideal multiplayer is concerned.
No stranger to high-pressure situations that produce abrupt jolts of adrenalin, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day is another clever creation that's a great twist on Capture the Flag. The player with the GamePad will control two versions of himself (dressed up as Copper and Booker) -- one having the L-Stick and ZL assigned for movement and tackles, respectively, while the other uses R-Stick and RL. Other players must collect candies that literally go to their head (a topical container of sorts) and can greatly have their movement impacted if greed takes over. For the solo player, it's a case of dexterity; everyone else must share the load while avoiding capture.
Stages are designed in such a way that the gatekeepers can corner opponents if they act fast, which is great to see. But if I had one complaint with the game's design, it's that the drop rules for two-person play (which require escorting candies to crater-shaped containers) are removed when playing with more people. Without that, the game becomes a collect-a-thon that's still fun and requires balance, but that little touch makes a difference to me. Either way, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day is, like the other two, a thrill and will have players shouting at one another and feeling anxiety as their lives start to dwindle.
These three efforts are very much a clique, since they consistently provide a high level of fun that show no signs of getting old. Moreover, they carry penetrative qualities that make certain their core concepts are easily understood without being stripped-down or lacking in strength. In fact, they provide such an addictive atmosphere that I'm left surprised more maps weren't included. It's a real shame, as that variety would've left no room for doubt that these games can withstand the test of time.
Next up are three team attractions more co-operative in nature yet have the most dimension to them. First is The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. In this game, players adopt the role of archers and swordsmen in a mini, on-rails adventure that has you using each other's strengths at certain intervals when not facing the onslaught of enemies all on your lonesome. The design of this attraction seems to have a few cracks; perhaps not in the way of control responsiveness, but from the standpoint of balance and technical execution, there are some aspects to it that make it less refined.
The player using the GamePad or firing arrows is at a constant disadvantage compared to the immediacy that comes from wielding a sword. This also has as an effect on the flow of a mission when going at it by yourself, forcing the delivery of attacks to be done from afar at a slower pace to prevent the possibility of being ambushed due to the charge rate attached to arrow launches. Also, the camera movement feels reminiscent to that which was present in one of the Swordplay exercises in Wii Sports Resort, and by that I mean you're not always at the best standpoint from which to vanquish enemies. But you can press the A Button to adjust the active target, so that helps matters. Making up for these slight issues is that while not having the depth of a dungeon-crawler or a pure adventure title, Battle Quest still feels very much like a creation befitting the Zelda name. It's clean when the execution doesn't feel too limiting, and can be rather engaging when it wants to be.
Pikmin Adventure is one of the most puzzle-oriented games in the entire package, and it's also the attraction that feels most like a carbon copy of the game it was inspired by. Using the GamePad and having your Mii play as Olimar, players will guide their loyal Pikmin companions and be assisted by their medium-sized partner or partners. Here, the Pikmin revive after being defeated and thus present no need for worry about conserving resources. One can instead focus on advancing in the environment at hand, using them or your partner as distraction techniques to get around groups of enemies. It's quite versatile how you can affect the landscape with such ease, and it's something I can see offering great control with not only Pikmin 3 when it arrives, but also other strategy-based games. On top of this, the levels are designed rather well and are of the right consistency and length, with enough obstacles on display that do not overwhelm. Next to the main Challenge mode, the Versus component isn't nearly as strong, but once in a while some may find it mildly enjoyable.
Mixing both aerial and ground combat is Metroid Blast, an attraction that houses both mission-directed stages as well as some super fun multiplayer arenas. Controlling Samus' airship isn't easy and has a difficulty curve attached to it, as will quickly be found out. But believe it or not, with a little time and persistence, even young'uns will feel reasonably confident in their flying abilities. Playing on-foot might seem like a cakewalk by comparison, but this system has its own quirks in the way of camera controls that aren't the smoothest, requiring the A Button to be held down as you point your cursor towards the edges of the screen.
Missions involving the collection of tokens are laid out in an all-too-predictable fashion, but the campaign is generally enjoyable. The heart of this attraction absolutely lies with the multiplayer modes, however -- specifically when one person must take to the skies while all others must try to shoot him or her down, using grapple beams and teleportation devices for journeying to higher areas. I have to say the battle maps are very, very well done, and are made exciting because of their scope, bringing the attraction to life.
When discussing mini-game collections from a single-player perspective, it's often commented these games aren't "made" for solo play. And so, to offset the potential of such an accusation being hurled at Nintendo Land, they've devised six attractions dedicated solely to single-player play. A nice treat when you think about it, albeit those who typically reserve party games exclusively for gatherings won't be too appreciative about the gesture.
The first in the category is Yoshi's Fruit Cart -- quite the simple affair in the way it combines a principle of spatial awareness and extrapolation that make average use of the GamePad. Your goal here is to draw lines on the GamePad from your robotic Yoshi, through the placed or moving fruit, and closing off at the exit. Some catches are as follows: The door only opens once all fruits have been collected, there's often an order that must be followed, and your robot's need for fuel prevents you from ruling out too many times when you come up short in the plotting of your path. To be perfectly honest, the game isn't overly unique and I feel this could've just as easily been executed on the DS in some other fashion, but Yoshi's Fruit Cart still manages to be surprisingly inviting, and it excels in its all-ages appeal and, in the case of children, educational factor.
Balloon Trip Breeze is an interesting one in that, like Yoshi's Fruit Cart, it too is played using the stylus and its success is similarly measured by subtlety. Progressing according to a day system divided into segments, the objective is to go through the auto-scrolling course, using quick swipes of your stylus on the GamePad screen as you get carried by winds and approach threatening obstacles. The GamePad usage may appear non-essential, but again, there's a subtle accomplishment being leveraged here -- namely, that you can more freely influence your direction than would be accomplished with an ordinary hold-and-release system. It requires a bit more devotion of your time than other games, but it still fits right in.
These next two make primary use of the controller's motion controls by way of tilting, and they are Donkey Kong's Crash Course and Captain Falcon's Twister Race. The first involves controlling a simple yet sensitive piece of wheeled machinery through a varied obstacle course, guiding it along rails, down staircases, up ramps, and across gaps through the help of platforms you must use the two Control Sticks or even the Microphone to activate. It's super addicting, well-balanced, and presents just enough difficulty that you're able to use any frustration over failed attempts to further your desire to try again and again. Donkey Kong's Crash Course takes credit as being my personal favourite of the entire set of solo attractions, and regardless of age, the activity is a great example of trial-and-error done right.
Now as for Captain Falcon's Twister Race, this is a more linear activity and not at all about discovery. Here you hold the GamePad vertically, keeping your eyes fixed on the overhead perspective of the track on the GamePad. The responsiveness of the controller to your on-screen movements in this particular venture will take some discretion and sharp actions when you come up against the more bendy segments of the 12-stage track. Interestingly, if you disobey the game's orders and look at the TV screen instead of the GamePad, you can do just as well, if not perform more reliably. This execution will ultimately prove precursory to what will later be attempted in Game & Wario (and other future endeavours, no doubt), and for what it is, it isn't bad. But I can't envision this being a favourite of too many for those reasons.
Closing off the solo-focused selection are Octopus Dance and Takamaru's Ninja Castle. Octopus Dance makes use of the L- and R-Sticks as well as the gyroscope for a timing-based, rhythm mini-game that boils down to Simon Says. To be perfectly frank, this is the most uninteresting attraction in the entire game, and I was quite surprised by its inclusion given its half-baked state. Also worth addressing is that the controller can be quite sensitive while playing, so if you adjust your position while seated, the game may mistake this as a jump (which normally requires lifting the controller to about eye-level). Just about the only unique thing about it is the way it forces shifts in perspective from the GamePad to the TV as the mirrored controls get reversed, but this is truthfully a shallow means of trying to apply worth to a game that doesn't have much merit. Perhaps if Nintendo Land's focus were more like what was seen in Wii Play, then it might fit. But in a collection that has demonstrated such fortitude in other areas, Octopus Dance feels out of place.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle, on the other hand, is a bit less of a one-off, but it's also a very unpredictable one in terms of how it will be received. The GamePad is pointed at the screen in a vertical fashion, with your finger being used to chuck projectiles at mostly harmless targets. The control recognition is rather good in how consistently it judges the force you have in the application of reflexes, but it doesn't perform as well when it comes to how jittery the cursor can be to maintain. The overall progression of this on-rails encounter offers very few moments of surprise and actual danger, but there's a slight thrill kids will enjoy. The ability to stack combos through accurate attacks may provide added incentive for anyone older to return and demonstrate mastery over local friends on the leaderboards, but I'm much more inclined to think such a crowd will see through it as more of a one-time ordeal.
All throughout, Nintendo Land engages on levels beyond the gameplay explorations. Each attraction does a wonderful job of presenting its own unique vibe, using both familiar fixtures and even new themes that are truly whimsical in their visual design. As a few examples, the backdrop in Balloon Trip Breeze has a very theatrical feel to it, with realistic, felt textures and bold colours that change depending on the time of day. Battle Quest makes use of fabrics, buttons, cross-stitching and other related supplies as imaginative outputs to infuse this Zelda-themed attraction with a sense of warmth underneath the surface tension. Donkey Kong's Crash Course makes use of chalk drawings; Takamaru's Ninja Castle portrays an inviting, folded-paper aesthetic; and Pikmin Adventure is less organic than expected, with steel cans and large sunflowers giving it a Chibi-Robo feel. Yes, the art direction is lovely to see, and on a broader scale, there is excellent use of lighting in many places, with reflective surfaces and attractive landmarks. The quality of the soundtrack is something to be treasured all on its own, for redoing jingles and adding a new flair with instruments such as sitars and castanets, triggering nostalgia among those who are well-acquainted with the source material.
A few other important things to note about Nintendo Land have to do with fertilizing growth and curiousity in participating players. The first, a coin system, rewards you somewhat arbitrarily for making unspecified discoveries, such as shattering pots off to the side in Battle Quest, or making other accomplishments. These earnings can then be used as balls in a small-scale prize game attached to the Plaza's central tower, which, in turn, will unlock new decorations for the hub. The second is the presence of Stamps, which have carried over from Wii Sports Resort and also serve a worthwhile role in the game reaching the end-goals just spoken of. The conditions required for achieving these is never stated, nor is it always obvious what must be done, and so this ends up encouraging discovery and experimentation in its own little way.
Nintendo is adept in their applied understanding of what makes the hearts of kids (even big kids) swell with joy even well into the future, and Nintendo Land is truly an active demonstration of this. Due in large part to the considerable depth hidden beneath the surface, Nintendo Land is a prosperous mini-game collection that, quite honestly, does more to distance itself from the norm to the point that labeling it as anything less would disrespect the amount of work and creativity that has gone into it. It is to be admitted that one or two of the included games behave like fillers or questionable rehashes of games gone by, but collectively, Nintendo Land's attractions present meaningful gameplay experiences that expand tastes like no other for a game of this style. Loaded with bells and whistles, the game is wonderfully directed and sets a new standard for the face of party games, even though it doesn't broaden the face of gaming as we know it. While Nintendo Land's implementation of the GamePad and constitution of a purposeful offering doesn't appear as showman-like as Wii Sports, it is just as easily acceptable and intuitive, yet far more invigorating. All said, it will serve as a symbol of iconic Nintendo brand values for a long time to come.
26/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Charming and fun-filled executions, control sensitivities or other quirks present in places, intuitive but not always imaginative
Presentation 9/10 - Heartwarming production values, explores different themes while still harnessing that Nintendo charm, strong soundtrack
Enjoyment 5/5 - Does not disappoint, such welcome variety and depth, attractions that aren't as strong don't detract significantly from the spirit
Extra Content 5/5 - Always new secrets to uncover, unlockable hub props, Stamps to strive after, a positive example of Miiverse in action
Equivalent to a score of 87% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System