The Game: A launch title for the Nintendo Wii U, this is a party game featuring a dozen minigames, with each one representing a different Nintendo franchise. As Wii Sports did for the Nintendo Wii’s motion controller, Nintendo Land is intended to show off the capabilities of the touch-screen Wii U Gamepad. Or as Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime put it: “Play it, and you begin to understand.” (Available when the Wii U ships in late 2012.)
What We Played: Of the 12 minigames included in Nintendo Land‘s “virtual theme park,” we were able to try out five: The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle.
The Good: Two of the minigames were pretty entertaining: Luigi’s Ghost Mansion and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. In Ghost Mansion, four players with Wiimotes control ghost-hunters in a maze-like house. A fifth player has the Wii U Gamepad and controls the ghost, who is not visible on the TV for the other players. The ghost tries to “capture” the four other players, who in turn are coordinating with one another in an attempt to defeat the ghost by shining their flashlights on him. The minigame does a solid job demonstrating what Nintendo awkwardly calls “asymmetric game play” — four players are having a different gaming experience than the one person with the Gamepad. It should come as no surprise that it’s more fun to play as the ghost, since that’s the unique experience.
In Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, again it’s four players versus one. The person with the Gamepad simultaneously controls two guards by using the dual analog sticks, while the four other players control animals as they try to collect candies without being caught by the guards. The minigame wasn’t that engaging if you were one of the four animals, especially since your speed dramatically decreased as you collected more candy, thereby making it fairly easy for a guard to reach you. But controlling two guards at the same time with the Gamepad was an amusing, mind-stretching endeavor.
The Not-So-Good: The other three minigames failed to impress. In Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, you use the Gamepad to throw darts at enemies, which gets old pretty quickly. The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest lets one player use the Gamepad to shoot arrows at baddies, while the other two players wield swords with Wiimotes. The minigame featured on-rails game play, meaning you couldn’t control where your character moved. As a result, you simply stood around fighting enemies, which barely required any cooperation between you and your fellow gamers. Finally, in Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, you tilt the GamePad to maneuver a trolley through a 2-D obstacle course. The GamePad offered a zoomed-in perspective of the level, but it otherwise didn’t present a special gaming opportunity.
Excitement Level: From 1 to 10, Nintendo Land gets a 5. It could be an enjoyable game to play when you have friends over. But whereas Wii Sports effectively highlighted a whole new style of gaming, Nintendo Land struggled to convince me that the Wii U was offering a revolutionary experience. It didn’t make me “understand.”