With the innovations of each gaming generation, it seems that some elements are inevitably left behind. The N64 and PlayStation ushered in a new dimension to play in and explore, yet the tight 2-D platformers of the 16-bit era became scarce. And as online gaming became a bigger focus in this generation, many titles have forgone local multiplayer entirely.
The idea of online multiplayer gaming being inherently superior to local is a frustrating one for me, as I've always enjoyed the the social element of sharing game experiences in the same room with friends and family. So I'm quite thankful to see that Nintendo realizes this as well, as Nintendo Land--like Super Smash Bros, Wii Sports, and Mario Party before it--is built all around the idea of bringing people together.
Capturing gamers from a wide spectrum of backgrounds can be daunting, though, so was it possible for Nintendo's lightning to strike twice and entice my parents and other "casual" gamers back into the fold? Well, I've brought the Wii U to several different family get-togethers, and the results are like magic. Within minutes of explaining the rules of Nintendo Land's competitive games--Mario Chase, Luigi's Ghost Mansion, and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day--I noticed that the atmosphere in the room quickly transformed into one of raucous laughter and good-natured shouting. Nintendo Land has been compared to Wii Sports by many, and while I don't think those who've never played a video game before (i.e. Gramps) will get into it like they did for Bowling, anyone else who can competently play something like Tetris will have no problem enjoying most of NL's easily-accessible mini-games.
Everything a theme park needs, minus the $9 hot dogs.
Nintendo Land's titular theme park is the central location of the game, tying the various features together thematically as "Attractions". This approach gives the game a bit more of a cohesive feel than Wii Sports and even its Resort-based sequel. Under the theme park guise, the various Attractions take fun liberties with the art styles, from clockwork-style animatronics (Pikmin) to Epic Yarn/Yoshi-esque patchwork (Zelda, Animal Crossing, Balloon Fight) to the arts-and-crafts chalkboard of Donkey Kong's Crash Course and the cardboard puppet show of Takumaru's Ninja Castle. Oddly enough, the most sterile-looking creatures in Nintendo Land are the Miis themselves, but the warm lighting, rich palettes, and detailed texture work all add up to make a surprisingly lovely-looking game.
Arguably the only area where this concept falters is in the main hub itself. While spending coins to decorate Nintendo Land in Smash Bros-esque "trophies" is fun and gives life to the area, it doesn't mask the fact that you're basically on a simple circle. Nintendo Land's Plaza feels less like a theme park and more like the top of a decorated birthday cake, with the Attractions making for the bulk of the game's locales by a long shot. It would've been nice to look over the edge of the plaza to see the various Zelda stages, or the F-Zero track, etc to bring an even further sense of cohesion to the package, but this is a fairly minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.
One pleasant surprise that really stuck out to me has been the music. I don't think it uses live instruments, but they sound awfully close, and the quality is superb. Gone are the janky "my first Casio" sound bites that Nintendo still uses sporadically (most notably in the New Super Mario Bros. titles), and in their place are much stronger-sounding instruments and arrangements. It's somewhat telling that Nintendo Land remixes classic songs like the Brinstar Theme (Metroid 1), Saria's Song, Gerudo Valley, the Slider theme (Super Mario 64) and Balloon Trip in ways that sound better than the actual series they've come from. It's a truly impressive audial effort on par with the Smash Bros series that could've easily been handled lazily, and it gives a great atmosphere to the game. In addition, Nintendo Land tastefully mixes in some 8-bit chiptunes to provide the best of both worlds--most notably in the catchy original theme of the game.
Onto the games! Nintendo Land features twelve Attractions neatly split into three categories: 6 are single-player, 3 are competitive multiplayer, and 3 can be played either in single-player, or cooperatively. In addition, 2 of the 3 cooperative games can also be played competitively. The end result is a surprisingly large amount of modes to try out among the various games, so let's take a look at each one.
Take to the skies in the best use of the Balloon Fight license thus far.
All of the single-player Attractions have a gold star for beating the first set of stages, four levels of trophy (bronze, silver, gold, platinum) to nab for scoring high, as well as five stamps apiece for special feats of skill. In addition, you can unlock even more stages of each one after getting the gold star, so there's plenty to come back to if you're so inclined.
Yoshi's Fruit Cart
Yoshi is definitely one of my favorite single-player Attractions in the package, as the concept and execution really remind me of some of the fresher DS arcade-style games like Touch & Go. Drawing a path on the GamePad to nab fruit on the TV is a simple but clever concept, and it quickly gets challenging, with new ideas introduced regularly. My only real complaint with this one is that I feel once the fruit and baddies start moving, it becomes less about spatial reasoning and more about guesswork. It's a shame, too, because a lot of gamers will quit before reaching the clever switch/spike stages later on. Apparently there're a whopping 50 levels to this bad boy, so I've still got a ways to go.
This game is partly about rhythm, but mostly tests the player's short-term memory. You essentially repeat the instructor's movements using the analogue sticks in conjunction with tilting the GamePad. It's fairly fun, but the lack of other features make it a little too simple. Additionally, the core gameplay element isn't all that enticing, and it's frustrating when the game doesn't register your tilts. It's not a bad Attraction, but probably won't be one you'll revisit that often.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course
Tasked with guiding a rather fragile cart to the end of a tall obstacle course, players will quickly learn that despite the colorful visuals, Nintendo isn't messing around in this game. Crash Course is quite a challenge, but rather addicting. It's definitely my wife's favorite single-player Attraction, and while I feel that some of it is a little too trial-and-error, the clever design make for a great arcade-style score-topper. There's a surprising amount of content as well.
Takumaru's Ninja Castle
Based on the rather obscure Japan-only game Nazo no Murasame-jo, Takumaru's Ninja Castle is basically a rail shooter that focuses on using the GamePad as your ninja star throwing device. Like many Attractions in Nintendo Land, it's fairly straightforward at first but contains some hidden depth and more stages than you might think. I do feel that the combo system doesn't quite work with the fairly low accuracy of the ninja stars…but maybe I just suck. It's a pretty solid game, but one of the only ones where I feel the GamePad doesn't really add to the experience.
Captain Falcon's Twister Race
F-Zero returns in this two-screen thrill ride. Twister Race is a rather clever take on the racing concept, and the tilt controls feel very smooth and fluid. It's also got some solid design in the tracks and is just challenging enough to be addicting rather than cheap. I think everyone expected this one to be lame for some reason, but it's kind of the "pleasant surprise" of the package to me--and like all the Attractions, there's an additional harder course after the first one is won.
Balloon Trip Breeze
This fabric-y update of the semi-obscure NES title Balloon Fight delivers some of the best one-player action in the whole package. Controlling the Balloon Fighter (or more accurately, the winds that push him) with the stylus, players are challenged to guide the little fellow as far as they can while avoiding all manner of traps in the sky--and grabbing balloons for points. This is good old-fashioned arcady fun in its purest form, and it looks and sounds great to boot.
Instant fun: just add friends
These Attractions are best enjoyed with larger groups, ideally 4-5 players. If you have a smaller group, the games scale accordingly with adjusted rules and smaller stages to keep things balanced. They also have gold stars and stamps unlockable, as well as a few hidden stages.
The go-to game for people who've never played the Wii U, Mario Chase is a simple game of tag: four Wii Remote players vs. the guy on the GamePad. There's a lot of communication necessary in this one, leading to plenty of frantic shouting and fun--the fact that the game shows the GamePad player's face onscreen with the camera is a nice, silly touch. A lot of people enjoy this Attraction the most; I prefer the slightly more complex ones below, but this is a great game for starting people off for sure.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion
As the four ghost hunters attempt to catch the mostly-invisible ghost, Nintendo Land once again encourages communication between the players for success. This one's good fun because the Wii Remote guys have the benefit of teamwork on their side, while the ghost gets the feeling of mischief and power. There's a small bit of luck involved due to the invisibility of the ghost, but with enough planning and cooperation, the players can deduce where he's coming from most of the time.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day
In what might be my favorite Attraction of the entire package, Sweet Day tasks the Wii Remote users to gather candy while evading the GamePad-controlled Gatekeepers. The give and take of the Attraction has led to many a raucous time, and the visuals (giant heads barfing up candy) add to the fun. It also encourages teamwork with the use of trees that require several players, so the villagers have to play smart if they want to win.
Wistful inner monologue not included
The co-op games are surprisingly beefy, and may command the bulk of many players' attention. All three of them are split up into over a dozen selectable stages, and they all have further bonus levels that unlock afterward. In addition, they all have a secondary mode, such as Vs or Time Trial, as well as the usual selection of stamps and the gold star. And finally, they each have Master class versions of each stage, requiring the player to do some extremely challenging tasks (like finishing without getting hit, and/or under a certain time). I find that these seem to work best with smaller groups, such as 2 or 3 players.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest
Link (or Liink, rather) returns in a Zelda-fied take on one of the most popular Wii Sports Resort games: swordplay. Players' Skyward Sword skills will definitely come in handy here as they take on fabric Moblins, Tektites, Skulltulas and more. The GamePad user can play support as an archer. Be warned--it starts off easy but quickly gets tough, especially if you're aiming for Master class! Seriously, beating some of these levels without getting hit is a major feat. But it's made a little more pleasant from the excellent visuals and lovely remixes of classic tunes.
The "beat-em-up" of the package, Pikmin adventure asks players to work together in slapping animatronic Bulborbs silly. The GamePad user can use the touch screen to control where Olimar throws his Pikmin, while the Wii Remote users play the role of larger Pikmin on the TV. The toy/mechanical art style here is a real sight to behold, and the stages themselves are good fun. The Master class is incredibly difficult if you do it by yourself, since your AI partner isn't the most aggressive player. There's a versus mode as well, but it's a bit chaotic.
Whether by land or by sky, space pirates will fry! The on-foot shooter sections of Metroid Blast feel so fluid with the controls that it makes me lament still not getting much in the way of FPSes on the Wii. Piloting the ship on the GamePad takes a little more getting used to, but is still a lot of fun. The arena-style stages are fairly simple and focus on combat rather than exploration, but they're good bite-sized chunks of fun, and the Master challenges are far more doable here. There are also some boss fights, and they're surprisingly well-done, considering. There are versus modes included here too, so don't forget them when you're trying out the multi!
Miiverse integration adds to the whimsical fun too!
All in all, Nintendo Land is a surprisingly beefy package. It's my most-played Wii U game in both single and multiplayer, having put well over 30 hours into the title, and I plan to put in many more to master the various games (no small task). The addictive nature of the single-player games, as well as the surprisingly considerable challenge means that there's still a lot to see even when you think you've seen it all. The core gameplay isn't really amazing for the solo player, but it's consistently fresh and unique, and a polished experience altogether.
But the real value of Nintendo Land comes in the form of its multiplayer. Not since Super Smash Bros. Brawl have I had this much fun in local multi, and the fact that I can involve a lot more people in the fun is a major bonus. To me, this is one of the definitive multiplayer experiences of Nintendo's whole career, up there with Smash Bros, the best Mario Kart games, Mario Party, Wii Sports, and Perfect Dark. It's the perfect blend of accessibility and depth, and players can spend hours in a single Attraction!
I'm thrilled that Nintendo hasn't forgotten about the value in bringing people together for local multi--and it was a wise decision too, as these play sessions with family have sold more than one person on the concept of the system. I don't miss an online mode at all, except in the case of leaderboards, which would've been great for the single-player stuff. But the package as a whole still looks and sounds great, contains a ton of clever new concepts, and is packed with depth and imagination. For that, and the incredible feat of bringing everyone together for multiplayer fun, Nintendo Land is far and away the definitive Wii U launch game, and one of my favorite games of the year.
It sort of bothers me that this game didn't come with every Wii U because it deserves to be played by everyone. It is by far my favourite game on the Wii U, and I wasn't ever totally sold on it before finally playing it myself.
I just can't seem to get into Yoshi though. BOO. I don't seem to have the patience for moving fruit that I should have.
Great review Matthew! It can't be easy to review a game such as this, what with all its many games and modes.
I agree with all the praise; the multiplayer is fantastic, a lot of the games are pretty hefty and in no way deserve to be simply called 'mini-games,' and the overall challenge and replay value ensures I won't stop playing Nintendo Land any time soon. Whether I'm playing alone or with my wife (we love Zelda Battle Quest), this game is absolutely a hit. I think Nintendo really surprised us gamers with this one; I, for one, was definitely not expecting much out of this game, until I started playing it myself.
I haven't rated any of my Wii U retail games yet! (still want to spend more time playing them). I will say though, this one's easily at least a 9 in my collection, no doubt about that.
I love the look of this game and can't wait to play it. I don't think its nominated for IGN's Best Multiplayer Game 2012 but it probably should be, it's probably not due to a lack on online play which to me is just daft.
I love the look of this game and can't wait to play it. I don't think its nominated for IGN's Best Multiplayer Game 2012 but it probably should be, it's probably not due to a lack on online play which to me is just daft.
The good news is that it actually is included on their list.
Nintendo Land really deserves accolades for its ability to include everyone in the multiplayer. I can't imagine bringing my Wii U and something like say, Black Ops II to a Thanksgiving get-together and finding anywhere near the same success with family.
And I think it'd be weirdly progressive for an offline multiplayer game to win this category...
Boy, did you nail it on Mario Chase! I brought the Wii U over to my Aunt's house on New Year's Eve, and I brought it back over to my parent's house on New Year's Eve. Mario Chase was a huge hit both time, and my sister's boyfriend carried his cockiness to my parents house as the best Mario-guy on the block. Why can't anyone find him? (Animal Crossing was awesome fun as well.)
Good call on Yoshi's Fruit Cart, too. I didn't beat it, but I did start just guessing, especially when the fruit is rotating. I went against the flow (OBVIOUSLY), but when it didn't go just as much as you thought it would.. "aww."
Pikmin was good fun for me, too. I really liked the way it looked, and it felt less intense? than actual Pikmin. I wonder if Pikmin 3 will retain some of that, or maybe a less intensive mode for folks who aren't quite up to the take of managing a plantanimal army.
And why couldn't they make it more like an amusement park? Would that really be so hard? We've seen it in plenty of other games as tiny side stuff (Epic Mickey, for instance, or even Marvel Ultimate Alliance), why not here...a game named as if it IS an Amusement Park?
--You wrote this a month ago today. How much of it is still true? Have your times dropped off a little bit and seen other games rise to the occasion? I know that my own personal Wii U log looks nothing like it did in November.
Actually, NL has still been holding up really well for me!
For single-player, I still dip into Yoshi, Balloon Fight, and DK rather frequently (and still haven't reached the very ends of any of these). I can't play them for hours at a time, but they're good breaks between attempting to master rank the Zelda, Pikmin, and Metroid stages (mostly done, mostly done, and done!).
For 2-player, I've had a lot of fun going through all of the Metroid Blast levels, which we've completely finished. The controls are tight and responsive, and the master ranks are challenging but doable enough to be addictive. It's quite an excellent mode. Pikmin and Zelda have had similar crescendos in quality, and deliver quality bosses as codas to the adventure.
And on a recent family get-away, Animal Crossing was the big winner this time. My brother started getting brutal with the Gatekeepers, forcing me, my wife, my sister and sister-in-law to play smarter as the animals (planning to hit trees and run, barfing up candy in strategic locations). I even did some 2P AC as well--it's as fun as ever.
My current NL time is close to 70 hours (!) now, and I'm happy to say that the game hasn't deteriorated for me at all since writing this.
Also, my wife still kicks my butt on DK. She's almost got it all beaten, but the time limit is tricky indeed.
Haha!! Strategic Barfs, I LIKE IT!! The tension in the room of simply seeing one of your animal friends and kinda quietly waiting for the intial timer to end so the tree will dump treats is awesome.
--UGH, you know what I hate about Nintendo Land? I LOVE to use my own remote, and everyone has their own controller, but it seems / WAS so hard to switch the order around when someone drops out. I know that it is easy to do, and it SHOULD be easy to do, but sometimes the "sync, wait, are you in yet? Not yet.." isn't worth the "walk two feet, swap plugs, all done" that the N64 offered us.
Mrs_Mustache has me on Yoshi, and she's APPARENTLY better than me on Donkey Kong. I was DESTROYING her time (so embarrassing..for HER, not for ME!!) on New Year's Eve doing that tour thing, and I ended up losing because I'm a fool (there....embarrassing for meee.. I hope you're happy, T-Bun ).
Had some good Mario Chase fun over the Holidays. It was definitely the game that hooked my brother and his wife the most.
I also played through the normal missions of Metroid Blast with a friend and his fiancée and it was pretty damn awesome. There isn't a whole lot of variety in terms of missions of arenas, but the mechanics are so fun by themselves, they carry the game. My favorite mission type was definitely the token hunts. You DEFINITELY have to work as a team to finish those. And you have to make full use of the ship's increased mobility and the grappling ability.
I agree about the actual 'amusement park' aspect. It's a shame the game doesn't look more like Nintendo's version of Magic Kingdom. Peach's Castle in the middle, Hyrule Castle off in the distance, branching areas to a sci-fi area housing Metroid and Star Fox, Pokemon land, etc. That'd be amazing to run around and explore. RIght now, the plaza exists for me to basically just hit the Menu button as fast as possible because I don't really see any point in running around there. I have so many coins to spend in the Tower, but I don't really understand why I need them. Can spending coins unlock more content in the game, or is it all just music for the jukebox and items for the plaza? I haven't seemed to unlock anything of any significance.
That being said, DK Crash Course is far and away my favorite. I thought I'd think it's stupid, because it's essentially an experience I could have on a mobile phone or tablet, but it's so tightly designed that all of those worries go away.
-F-Zero kind of stinks to me, but I've only played it once. It's a neat tech demo, but it's not exactly the most mindblowing usage of the Gamepad. -Ninja Castle is fun, but I think it's a little too repetitive. It's a nifty way to use the Gamepad, but it hasn't really gripped me. -Mario Chase is really fun, even with only two people. That mud level seems broken though, unless we just haven't figured it out. I feel like the Mario player always gets stuck in the mud too easily, leaving the Yoshi carts and other player easy opportunities to track them down. Those Yoshi carts can be a real pain in the ass if you're not careful. -Pikmin looked beautiful, but I didn't feel all that engaged. Does this game get any harder? I was kind of just tapping like crazy in the game and having success. -Luigi's Mansion seems super tense. It was fun playing this with Amanda, because we could both be RIGHT behind each other and not know. Where am I....am I behind you? Or am I....in FRONT of you! Bam. It's also really funny when the lightning strikes and reveals the ghost location. I get caught up with that every time! -Yoshi's Fruit Cart...Hmm. It's an interesting minigame, but I don't know how much I'll go back to it. -Octopus Dance is more fun that I thought it would be. I get so thrown off when the Octopus shoots his ink at the screen. -Metroid seemed cool, though I only spent a brief amount of time with it. The Gamepad seems like it would serve a better purpose in multiplayer. I feel like I'd rather be watching the action on the big TV rather than scope in on the Gamepad. Maybe I can, but I just haven't figured it out yet (really only played it for about 10 minutes). -Animal Crossing is maybe my favorite game, but it's a little too easy for me to beat Amanda in it. Hopefully she gets better at it. I'd love to see how this game works with 4 people.
All in all, Amanda and I have had a lot of fun with it. It's a damn shame that we can't have leaderboards between friends, or play certain games with each other (especially Metroid, Mario, and Animal Crossing). I understand it's a local multiplayer game, but DK and the other Score Attack games BEG for leaderboards. Come on Nintendo. That could've really brought the game from 'fun' to 'amazing launch game' for me.
The plaza isn't really for you and I. It's for my niece who loves to run around, see what people are saying, look at the unlocked treasures and stuff. It's definitely a magical experience for her and pressing Y to go to the menu doesn't lose anything for us.