Developer: Nintendo EAD / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor]
Nintendo’s announcement of Nintendo Land was greeted with a load of justified eye rolling. After all, the last time we were in this situation we got Wii Sports, an interesting but thoroughly disposable mini-game collection. The elephant in the room remains: is Nintendo Land as gimmicky and forgettable?
Actually, the answer is no, but the game still has to jump through a few hoops to justify its price. Yes, Nintendo Land is a collection of minigames, but it’s also a celebration of Nintendo’s legacy as a publisher and a great showcase for the gamepad’s capabilities. Whether that appeals to you depends on your history with games and whether or not you frequently play with friends.
MULTIPLAYER AND CONTROL
Nintendo Land contains twelve minigames, neatly divided down the middle between single player and multiplayer experiences. Each game pairs a gamepad control mechanic with a classic Nintendo franchise to varying success. Unsurprisingly, Nintendo Land is at its best when the gamepad’s unique features are combined with multiple players.
The standout game of the whole pack is fittingly labeled with Nintendo’s most venerable franchise:
Mario Chase. This game with five players is incredible fun; four players with Wii Remotes must chase down and tackle the one player with the Wii U gamepad. Sounds trivial, except that the player with the gamepad gets a top-down view of the entire arena, while the other four players get a behind-the-back view and a number indicating their distance to Mario. It’s a game of incomplete information, and the four chasing players must communicate their movements while the fifth gives them all the slip. If that weren’t enough, the four chasers get to look at the chased player’s smug face the whole time courtesy of the gamepad’s camera. This game has instantly become a party favorite at my apartment.
Co-operative multiplayer is surprisingly fun as well, though not quite as novel. The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest borrows the motion plus swordplay from Skyward Sword and sets a group of Links loose on familiar Zelda monsters, while Pikmin Adventures transforms your crew into a group of Pikmin that must fight a series of monstrous, mechanical insects. Each grants a particular freedom to the holder of the gamepad, but they’re less gameplay-critical mechanics and more interesting quirks.
Regardless, I’ve spent hours in Mario Chase and just as long working through the stages in Pikmin Adventure and the other minigames Metroid Blast and Battle Quest. As long as you have friends to play the game with, Nintendo Land is easily worth the purchase price.
From the single player perspective, there is some value in the game but only for players that appreciate a more retro experience. Just like the NES classics most of these games hearken, the minigames rely on arcade-style escalation of difficulty to provide replayability.
I found myself returning to Takamaru’s Ninja Castle and Balloon Trip Breeze the most often. Takamaru’s Ninja Castle plays similarly to Virtua Cop, where you use the gamepad to aim at the TV and slide your fingers along the length of the touchscreen to flick ninja stars at cutesy cardboard cutouts of ninjas. There’s not a lot of depth to it as a shooting gallery-type game, but it gets very difficult, and keeping your aim steady while frantically swiping the gamepad is an interesting test of dexterity.
Balloon Trip Breeze is nearly identical to Balloon Fight in challenge and gameplay, only now you generate gusts of wind by swiping on the gamepad touchscreen to blow your character through floating obstacle courses. Controlling the Balloon Fighter this way feels surprisingly accurate and it’s genuinely fun to return to a nostalgic game with a new controls.
However, the single player offerings are also spotted with forgettable, gimmicky games like Captain Falcon’s Twister Race and Octopus Dance. Use of the gamepad feels arbitrary in these games. In the case of Twister Race, you steer a wind-up F-Zero car by rotating the gamepad, and Octopus Dance merely uses the gamepad to show you a mirrored version of the TV screen while you mimic a dancing Game & Watch character. These games would be perfectly functional without the gamepad, killing their potential novelty.
Nintendo Land also includes a trophy collection minigame that reminds me of Smash Brothers. You earn coins based on your performance in minigames, and you can drop those through a pachinko-style game board to earn trophies
. Once unlocked, the trophies are sprinkled around the Nintendo Land plaza along with random Miis that are imported from MiiVerse. Once I’d decked out my plaza with a few fixtures, I actually found myself wandering around for tens of minutes at a time, poking at my trophies and reading the MiiVerse comments left by the visitors milling around. I wouldn’t tote this as one of Nintendo Land’s major features, but you might be surprised at how entertaining it can be.
VISUALS AND SOUND
In typical Nintendo style, the minigames in Nintendo Land don’t amaze with technical brilliance but instead opt for effortless and superb artistic style. The entire game has a toy-like, handcrafted aesthetic similar to Kirby’s Epic Yarn or LittleBigPlanet. Miis are shiny and plastic, while game stages are cobbed together from cardboard, cloth, buttons, and visible stitching. The aesthetic is amusingly universal too — if you take damage in the Zelda minigame, your little sockpuppet Link will have visible tears with cotton stuffing poking through.
The only technically impressive area of the game is the Nintendo Land plaza. It’s filled with a volumetric haze that makes it feel very bright and airy. Massive fixtures orbit around the plaza as well, making the space feel massive.
The game’s sound, on the other hand, is surgically tuned to pierce your nostalgia. The first time I started up the F-Zero minigame only to hear the original SNES title music made my mouth drop open. It was a similar story with the Zelda game that played the Link to the Past overworld theme. Nintendo Land is loaded with original and reorchestrated Nintendo classics, which was a treat for me but won’t hit you in the gut if you don’t have that stock of memory built up.
There are a couple of angles to find value with Nintendo Land. If you frequently entertain guests, Nintendo Land is an invaluable party staple. If you’re a solo gamer, it’s a much harder sell. Nintendo Land capitalizes on nearly thirty years of videogame history in some touching ways, though not so thoroughly as Smash Bros. If you have a history with Nintendo and find some value in strolling down memory lane, Nintendo Land’s presentation will be enough to win you over. Otherwise, make sure you bring some friends.
+ Intelligent use of gamepad
– Single player offerings slightly lacking
+ Great music for Nintendo fans
7.5 / 10