"Nintendo Land" was created as a sort of proof-of-concept for the Nintendo Wii U, a game that showcases how the new system's tablet can be used for tapping, drawing, flicking as well as how it can interact with those white Wiimote controller sticks from the original Wii.
The game's main menu is presented as a theme park that offers 12 attractions, or mini-games, based on Nintendo franchises of today and yesteryear. At first the choices can seem daunting: There are far more modes of gameplay than in say, "Wii Sports," and how enjoyable this or that game will be often depends on how many people you have with you.
For single players, the game choices are plentiful. "Donkey Kong's Crash Course" and "Yoshi's Fruit Cart" are two short-and-simple, but smart, puzzle games that offer little replay value once completed. They seem to serve as demonstrations of the GamePad's accelerometer and drawing stylus more than anything. Similarly, "Captain Falcon's Twister Race" seems more intent on showcasing how racing can work with a vertically held screen rather than offering a fleshed-out racer.
Most folks we played with agreed that the "Octopus Dance" mini-game, with its "Simon says" gameplay, was the least engaging of the bunch. "Balloon Trip Breeze" had the nicest design out of all 12 mini-game offerings, its music, color scheme and island jumping evoking the calming gameplay of the hit mobile game "Tiny Wings." While the balloon game was a joy to play, it did not demand multiple sessions.
The two best single-player experiences were "Takamaru's Ninja Castle," which has you flicking ninja stars from your gamepad to your television screen, and "Pikmin Adventure," which has you controlling an army of critters using your touch screen. Throwing ninja stars offers the Wii U's best "how'd they do that?" moment, moving items from the GamePad to the television screen is surprisingly accurate thanks to the pad controller's superb motion sensors. This style of gameplay would be welcome in future. Meanwhile "Pikmin Adventure" takes Nintendo's Pikmin series and speeds up gameplay to a satisfying degree, destroying walls and baddies with rapid stylus tapping in what feels very much like an arcade game.
Invite some friends over and "Nintendo Land" becomes a completely different beast, a game that is infinitely more fun with company. The best two player experience goes to "Metroid Blast," which features the deepest gameplay of any attraction at the park. Although based on Nintendo's "Metroid" series, the game evokes the best of the "Star Fox" games, offering a world where you can roam free on foot with Wiimote or by ship on Gamepad. The action is fast paced as you destroy targets, collect items and even battle a few bosses. The game is so good, it makes "The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest" look bad. The Zelda game requires a Wii-motion plus accessory for every additional player and is an "on-rails" experience, not allowing you to move freely. The result is an experience that is slow-moving and difficult to share with friends.
With a large group and the most basic Wiimote controllers, "Nintendo Land" comes the closest to reaching the Wii U's true potential. Games like "Animal Crossing: Sweet Day," "Luigi's Ghost Mansion," and "Mario Chase" are variations on games of tag that give the person with the GamePad a special role and a map of each arena for play. These games are dead simple and far more fun than they seem, each offering multiple maze maps to play on.
"Mario Chase," at its core, is a game of "kill-the-man-with-the-ball." Whoever is holding the GamePad is "it" and has a 10-second head start on those chasing them. "The chased" sprints around and tries to avoid being tackled, while up to four chasers work together to capture them. If the chased is spotted in a green area, chasers can shout that location to each other and close in. Tactical, simple and operating on many of the same split-screen principles that make the "Mario Kart," series so popular, these "tag" games beg for sequels and expansions.
If you are one of the poor souls who bought an 8 gigabyte Wii U that did not include a copy of "Nintendo Land," you would be wise to go out and pick it up. With four Wii controllers and a few friends, the game succeeds in proving the concept that is the GamePad.
The world of "Nintendo Land" has a charming design to it. The mini-games are skinned with some combination of paper, chalk, tin or fabric to set them apart from the canon of Nintendo's franchises.
Once connected to the Internet, your theme park will have avatars of real people from around the world walking in and around it, sharing drawings and thoughts on the games. I caught an "f" bomb in there and could not find a way to flag it. It is a bit of a tease to see these gamers wandering around your park and not be able to challenge them to a game. "Nintendo Land" does not support online multiplayer.
It takes this much writing just to properly describe each mini-game and how to use it. Nintendo has a marketing challenge on its hands. "Nintendo Land" is available now for the Nintendo Wii U at a suggested retail price of $59.99.