The best theme park I’ve ever been to.
As the game consists of twelve smaller offerings this review will cover each game separately, and then give an overall in-depth summary of the game as a whole.
Nintendo Land is an interesting idea executed with great precision loaded with fun. As a compilation of twelve smaller games, many people may simply write the game off, but if you are looking for a reason to own a Wii U and have friends or family openly available to you, Nintendo Land is fantastic.
Each of the twelve “attractions” in the game are based on beloved, or in the case of Takamaru’s Ninja Castle – based on The Mysterious Murasame Castle –, slightly more obscure offerings from the house of Mario. The game splits these twelve attractions into three categories: single-player (the largest of the three with six attractions), competitive multi-player and the co-operative. The cream of the crop is found in the competitive titles Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion and Animal Crossing’s Sweet Day. But most of the games in the title give tasters of the asynchronous joys that the Wii U can deliver, and others are just fun to play.
No one game in the package is particularly small either, and each one offers a tougher challenge upon completion through further levels for example. As such, Nintendo Land can provide a serious challenge while catering for the more casual player very well. You will be playing this game for months to come.
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course:
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course is perhaps the best of the six single-player offerings in the collection. It sees you controlling a small cart carrying a token of your Mii’s face, simply having to get to the end of the level. This is deceptively challenging, as the level is split into ten “sections”, each asking more and more of you progressively, one wrong move and you start again from the latest section (acting as checkpoints), you start with three lives – which you will be losing over and over again.
Crash Course therefore is a mad dash for perfection, but this and the addictive challenging nature of the game is not the best part. No, how you play the game is pure genius, lending strength to the fantastic stage design on display. You tilt the gamepad to move the cart, too fast and you will crash into a wall, too slow and your cart may not get up a slope or get stuck on a ledge. However, this is not all you do, you circle the analogue sticks, blow into the mic and use the triggers on the controller whilst always maintaining the gamepad’s position and movement of the cart. It’s a deceptively complex and amazing puzzle game that will have you scratching your head and getting angry, but you will always come back for more.
Nintendo Land excels in control, each game showing the capabilities and versatility of the gamepad in its own unique way, something entirely new and exciting waiting for you around every corner.
Yoshi’s Fruit Cart:
Yoshi’s Fruit Cart is played entirely on the gamepad’s touchscreen, asking you to draw the route for the Yoshi-shaped cart to follow, picking up fruit in order to open the door to finish the stage. Again, this is a simple prospect devilishly made challenging by those evil geniuses at Nintendo; each of the twenty stages progressing nicely in difficulty.
At first you just have to collect the fruit in any order to open the door, but you will soon be collecting them in a certain order, avoiding bees and holes and using items to your advantage. This is all made very challenging because the game adopts a trial and error style of play, again ensuring a mad dash for perfection. Like Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, Yoshi’s Fruit Cart excels in its addictive nature and deceptively challenging gameplay, but it is just not quite as fun and can really try your patience at times.
Deceptive challenge is an aspect of every single-player experience found in Nintendo Land; some however apply this technique better than others while others can come off as simply infuriating.
Octopus Dance is perhaps the strangest concept of all the games, based on the Game & Watch Octopus, this game sees you watching a diver-cum-dance instructor and following his movements with (hopeful) accuracy. Again, this is much harder than it sounds; you mostly use the control-sticks (one for each arm), and occasionally you have to shake the gamepad to jump or tilt it left or right in order to lean.
The game is played all in time to music – pretty good music – and there are five stages in total to complete, all at once however with a small number of lives. Each stage gets harder as they progress and each stage is harder than the last, upping the tempo. What makes the game difficult is that you must remember what the instructor did and copy exactly; this becomes mentally fast at times and very confusing. It also does not help that sometimes an octopus will spray ink on the screen, obscuring your view. What we have with Octopus Dance is perhaps the hardest game Nintendo has made in years, but it is just infuriating and based on a simple yet unexciting premise. Octopus Dance is the weakest of the twelve games.
Music is an important tool for Nintendo Land, each of the game’s tracks provide lovingly re-worked classic tunes from Nintendo’s past, really adding to the feel of the game’s world. And I have to say, the credits’ track is one of the best I have ever heard in a video game, mixing Nintendo tunes with an amazing original tune for Nintendo Land to create a fantastic celebration of all things Nintendo.
Captain Falcon’s Twister Race:
Twister Race is another weaker offering from Nintendo Land. This game sees you in control of the Blue Falcon, navigating through small tracks of hairpin bends and various obstacles by way of tilting the gamepad in the direction you want to go.
This again is simple yet challenging, as the game is split into ten “sections” all having to be done at once with only one life at your disposal, one mistake and you fail. While not quite as infuriatingly difficult as Octopus Dance, it is very tricky. What’s perhaps the most interesting facet of Twister Race however is that it is controlled with the gamepad vertically, making it seem more like you are controlling the road, not the car, as the car moves automatically.
In each game, the player receives coins, which you spend in the central tower on a mini-game that has you dropping the coins into the right places in order to win prizes. These prizes are presents and there is a total of 200 to collect, most of these are very neat statues taken from each of the attractions all with their own animation and description from the ever-present Monita (your guide to the world and attractions of Nintendo Land).
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle:
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle is the most obscure reference point found in the game, based on an old NES game found only in Japan. But that does not matter when the Ninja Castle is such a fun place to be. This game again uses the gamepad vertically, but this time you point at the TV screen to aim a crosshair at enemies on screen, swiping your fingers across the touchscreen to fire shuriken. This game has a very lovely origami aesthetic, providing the nicest looking attraction of the whole game.
This game is fun, simple and challenging. There are four stages to work through, with an awesome boss to face off against at the end. You receive scrolls throughout the stages that require quick shapes to be drawn on the touchscreen such as circles, giving you bombs to play with for example. Again however, the challenge can be a little infuriating at times, but it is worth it.
Not all of the single-player games are challenging however, Balloon Trip Breeze is easier and shorter than any of the others.
Balloon Trip Breeze:
Balloon Trip Breeze sticks truer to its source material than any other attraction in the entire game. You use the touchscreen to guide your Balloon-clad Mii through four stages of increasing difficulty, dodging enemies, breaking blocks and scoring points.
The game is a breeze to play through and is short because of this. It lacks some of the challenge that the other single-player offerings excel in, but it is fun and very cheerful. The slower pace acts as a little bit of a breather, but thankfully, the later stages are a lot trickier; providing the challenge some may crave.
The single-player games however actually provide the weakest part of the game. But they are necessary for those who cannot play local multiplayer. The co-operative attractions in the game however can be played single-player or multi-player, but for each playing co-operatively is the way to go.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest:
This is the strongest of the three co-op games, mixing Skyward Sword swordplay for up to three players with fantastic bow and arrow for the player using the gamepad. The bow and arrow user controls by aiming with the gamepad, moving it around anywhere; it’s incredibly clever as you do not have to aim at the TV screen, there is a full-360 degree area on the gamepad at any time. You pull back an analogue stick and let it go to shoot an arrow.
The game employs an aesthetic of knitted characters, with fluff exploding from enemies exactly where they’ve been hit with the sword. It looks incredible and really adds to the immersion of the game. What is the best however is the mix of gameplay styles, and that each level is designed around every player doing their part: it’s incredible, detailed, complex, simple and damn fun.
The toy art-style is one Nintendo Land wears on its sleeve; everything is a clockwork toy, with wooden blocks and plastic filling the rest of the screen (with the exception of Battle Quest and Ninja Castle). It’s a nice aesthetic and gave Nintendo the opportunity to show their impressive new lighting techniques for the HD Wii U. However, at times the lighting can be a bit off-putting and look a tad false. This is fine because the lighting engine is new and Nintendo were clearly trying new things.
This attraction plays like a mixture of Pikmin and the LEGO games. The gamepad player controls Olimar, using the touchscreen to throw Pikmin at enemies and can gather all the other Pikmin players. Four other people can join in the fun by controlling their Mii in Pikmin costumes (hilarious of course).
Each level works in a similar way; you beat enemies to progress to the next area. Again, it is interesting the level of co-operative play, but it is not as much as Battle Quest. The very simple gameplay and general low difficulty make this the game of choice for younger players – Nintendo even added that if you are eaten, you come out covered in poo. There is also an interesting level system based on nectar, always creating a mad rush for said nectar. Pikmin Adventure is fun, simple and funny. Kids will love this one.
Miis in various Nintendo costumes also appear to be the call of the day, every game in which your Mii appears, it will be in costume. This adds another layer of Nintendo’s charm and the nostalgia that can be taken from the game.
Another five-player co-op experience, this time based in Metroid. Four players take control of a Mii in a Varia Suit, running and gunning down enemies in a third-person perspective, using the Wii Motion-Plus to aim. The gamepad user however controls a Mii in Samus’ ship, with full control, using the motion sensing technology of the gamepad to aim.
This is the longest of all the games and requires more skill than either of the other two co-op offerings. As such, children will perhaps find it too hard to control and play; but if you know how to play, it provides fantastic gameplay set in a cool, Metroid atmosphere.
The co-operative attractions all provide a smaller game experience by themselves, each providing alternative modes. However good these three attractions may be, it is the competitive multi-player that really brings Nintendo Land to life.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day:
The weakest of the three competitive offerings, Animal Crossing’s Sweet Day is a riot. Up to four players control the villagers (basic Animal Crossing villagers), who are tasked to pick up sweets whilst not getting caught by the guards, however, the more sweets crammed into your head, the slower you will move. The two guards are controlled by the gamepad user; this is tricky to control as you control each one with an analogue stick. It takes a while to get used to this, as you need to remember what one’s what as you have to press the corresponding back trigger to dive in order to catch the villagers before the time or sweet limit has been reached.
Believe it or not, every second is exhilarating. It truly is tense whatever side you’re on. Sweet Day is a great laugh, exciting and fun to play. It’s a shame then, that there are only two levels to play it on.
Each of the three competitive attractions lives and breathes on this tense, exciting gameplay with up to four players against one; each one showing the true capabilities of the Wii U.
Mario Chase is the business, it is THE one. Mario Chase deems the Wii U entirely necessary. It is a game of hide and go seek, the gamepad user plays as Mario (at least your Mii dressed as Mario) and must not be caught by one of the (up to) four Toads for three minutes. It controls very simply, you run and the four toad players press “2” to tackle, each of the toad players has something that tells them how far away Mario is – otherwise you would never find him.
Mario Chase is the epitome of Nintendo Land’s mantra of simple gameplay with endless replay ability. There are only three stages to play with, but each one is different enough, one is basic, one has mud and another has slides. Each one opens its own strategies and it is very clever. Mario Chase is endlessly entertaining and there is no feeling quite like actually managing to win as Mario, or to catch him in literally the last second, pure, euphoric joy. This attraction is tenser than any horror game and more exciting than pretty much anything else on the market, everyone – no matter how miserable – will enjoy their time in this one.
The last of the three competitive games is the most atmospheric and the hardest to win as the group of up to four players.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion:
Ghost Mansion is the largest of the three competitive offerings, serving up five stages to play with, each with their own unique aspect. Like Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion requires different strategies in order to win based on what level you are on. The gamepad user plays as a ghost, who is tasked with capturing each of the Luigis within the time limit, sound simple enough? It is. The other (up to) four players play as a Luigi of dressed Mii, in each of the Mario Bros. colours. Armed with nothing but a torch, the Luigis must drain the ghost’s health by shining the torch on it, trouble is, you cannot see the ghost; the game therefore for the Luigi players is very tense, one’s torch can even run out of battery.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is the most complex of the three competitive games and provides atmosphere in spades. It is a fantastic experience for all five players and only just misses out on the crown taken by Mario Chase.
There is also an attraction train that makes every game competitive; it’s another fun option for multiplayer sessions and can even improve the experience of games like Octopus Dance.
Nintendo Land also utilises another unique aspect of the Wii U – Miiverse. The game is completely integrated with Miiverse, with posts appearing in the plaza and with the menus when a level is failed or completed. The Miiverse integration adds another layer of immersion that only the Wii U can provide and I am yet to see a game that uses Miiverse better than this.
Nintendo Land is packed full of fun ideas and is a lot more than just a mini-game compilation. It looks fantastic and can provide some of the best multi-player action as of yet in a video game. The six single-player offerings are the weakest aspect of the game, but games like Donkey Kong’s Crash Course and Yoshi’s Fruit Cart provide fantastic experiences. The co-op games are fun, but the competitive attractions are the best of the best. As an overall experience, Nintendo Land is second-to-none and a completely unique experience that really shows the true potential of multi-player games that only the Wii U can provide.
While not the best game for those who cannot play local multi-player, the sheer wealth of content and fantastic experiences found in multi-player provide for one spectacular experience.