Review by MrX8991
"Fun for the whole family...and only the WHOLE family."
In 2006, Nintendo dared to be different from the other two major game consoles by emphasizing a new way to play games instead of emphasizing better graphics. The original Wii's pack-in game, Wii Sports, managed to attract the attention of people who otherwise wouldn't play video games thanks to its simplistic recreation of various sports. While not exactly the greatest game of the world, Wii Sports was good enough at selling the idea of the Wii. Now, 6 years later, Nintendo has tried to recapture that magic with NintendoLand, a video game theme park filled with many different mini-games based on popular Nintendo franchises - each meant to show off new ways to play with the Wii U's brand new Gamepad. Since the attractions vary wildly in quality, it's worth looking at each category separately to get a better sense of what NintendoLand gets right and wrong.
Mario Chase, Luigi's Ghost Mansion, and Animal Crossing Sweet Day make up the competitive attractions. These attractions can be played by 2 or more players and work off of the idea that the Gamepad player is playing against the players using Wii Motion Plus Remotes (that's right, no regular remotes for this game). While the premise is interesting, it ends up falling flat on its face due to horrible balance issues between the two teams.
Take Mario Chase for example. In this game, the player on the Gamepad is Mario and must run from the Toad players on the TV. If the Toad team consists of only one human player, they are accompanied by Yoshi robots that stun - but cannot catch - Mario. Now, the entire idea behind this game is simple but interesting: Having human players work together to hunt down the sneaky gamepad player. However, the entire game is ruined by Monita (your guide to NintendoLand) who shouts out which zone the gamepad player is hiding in. The Mario player is already outgunned, so why the heck does the game decide to make the odds even more uneven by basically doing the Toads' jobs for them? This means that even when the Toad team consists of one Toad and two brain-dead AI partners, the Gamepad player is still at a distinct disadvantage. Due to its simplistic nature and horribly unbalanced design, Mario Chase is by far the worst of the competitive games.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion, like Mario Chase, plays like a game of tag with the TV players - all playing while dressed as Luigi - trying to catch the Ghostly Gamepad player. However, the twist in this game is that the Gamepad player can sneak up and catch the players as well. Hitting the Ghost player with flashlights lowers its HP. The game ends when either the Ghost player has eliminated all of the human players, or the Human players have taken the Ghost's HP to 0. While more balanced than Mario Chase, the game is biased heavily towards the Ghost when there's only one human Luigi player. In this case, the TV player gets 3 Monita helpers who barely move and contribute almost nothing. I think they're supposed to spin in circles when they're near a ghost, but I've seen one start spinning while the ghost was on the other side of the map so I can't even figure it out myself. Either way, the TV player is pretty well doomed on all but the smallest of maps. While better than Mario Chase, Luigi's Ghost Mansion remains horribly unbalanced when played with low numbers of players.
Animal Crossing Sweet Day is probably the most original of the competitive games. In this game, the Gamepad player plays as two guards trying to prevent the TV villager players from collecting candy. This places the Gamepad player in a unique position: he/she must play as two characters at once. Unfortunately, this game also isn't that exciting. With low numbers of villagers, the guards have an easy time winning...unless, of course you listen to the tutorial. My biggest gripe with this game is that the tutorial for the guards mentions that you must protect a scoring zone from villagers. It says this while showing the scoring zone in the center of the map. However, it fails to mention that there's actually multiple scoring zones. This resulted in a completely one-sided first game in which the villagers mopped the floor with the guards without them knowing what was going on.
Overall, the competitive attractions reflect a common problem with NintendoLand: It's really only fun with large groups of people. Single players can't even access these games, and with only 2-3 players playing, the games just aren't even remotely balanced.
The Team Attractions are by far the best games in Nintendo Land. They offer a surprising amount of depth and challenge, even for veteran players. Unlike the Competitive Attractions, which were all rather simple and similar in nature, the three Team Attractions are all wildly different and require their own sections.
The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest
LoZBQ is arguably the 2nd best game in all of NintendoLand. There's two main modes: The Quest in which the gamepad player takes control of an archer and the other players take control of swordsmen. This is an on-rails adventure in which you all fight together to reach the Triforce at the end of each stage. Again, though, there seems to be balance issues between the players: The Gamepad player is at a distinct advantage since he/she gets to keep some distance between themselves and the hordes of melee enemies. The swordsmen have gameplay similar to Skyward Sword but without the ability to move where they want to go. Fortunately, this mode supports single player play. Oddly enough, the game actually gets harder if you have one archer and one swordsman since the swordsman can easily be overwhelmed in later stages. This also brings up another problem: The entire team has a shared life bar. I suppose it's meant to encourage watching out for each other's backs, but it's still maddening when one player is doing fine and the whole thing grinds to a halt because someone wasn't pulling their own weight. The difficulty curve with this game is surprisingly rough: later levels can become painful sword battles even for veterans of Skyward Sword.
The other mode is time attack in which supports only one archer. In this mode, the archer most clear 25 enemies as fast as they can. What makes this mode great is that the gamepad controls allow for very quick yet precise aiming. The gyroscope aiming, much like in Ocarina of Time 3D, is crazy accurate once you get the hang of it. Overall, LoZBQ is a wonderful addition to NintendoLand and makes you wish the game had more than three lengthy adventures.
Pikmin Adventure is the weakest of the three team attractions. In this game, the gamepad player takes control of the Captain who commands up to 15 of his/her own Pikmin. Remote players take the role of...more Pikmin that get to punch...stuff. It just seems like there wasn't as much thought put into this game as the other two team games. I mean, the gamepad player has a much deeper experience in this game while everyone else just gets to walk around and punch. The Captain uses the touch screen to throw their Pikmin either as weapons or to collect items. They can also whistle and bring their entire party - including human players - together.
There's several different types of stages in this adventure. A vast majority are simple "get to the end' affairs. Some are boss battles. The worst are the time attack missions in which you have a very limited amount of time to reach the end. You can add more time to the clock by collecting lots of small clocks. The problem with this mode is that it's horribly inconsistent. Sometimes enemies drop clocks, sometimes they don't. You'll never know if you're supposed to take the time to kill enemies since you never know if they'll drop clocks. There's also times where clocks take a few seconds to drop from the sky after clearing a room - sometimes long enough for you to move on to the next room before they appear since you're rushed for time. Overall, this mode is decent, but the lack of imagination when it comes to the remote players and the horrible time attack levels spoil some of the fun.
Let's get this out of the way: Metroid Blast is THE game in NintendoLand. It blows the rest of the pack out of the water. The Gamepad player pilots the gunship via the analog sticks, gyroscope, and triggers. It can be unweildy at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can be very efficient. The other players take the roll of Samus...es (Samusi?) and feature run and gun on the ground gameplay. The controls are a bit more natural here although looking side to side should be more sensitive than it is.
The heart of this mode are the co-operative missions. In these missions, the whole team works together to achieve a variety of goals such as kill all enemies, defeat a boss, protect allies, and grab tokens. The team dynamic here is looser than in Zelda, and as such, everyone gets their own health bar. The game also doesn't end until all players have been defeated. Even after defeat, a player can grab a powerup to get back into the game. It's just so much more user friendly than the other two team games that it's remarkable this system wasn't implemented elsewhere. Despite the more individual focused nature, there's still great moments of teamwork to be had. Remote players can grapple onto the gunship if they need a lift. It makes for truly exciting gameplay.
Of course, with the last few thoughts, you might think that the game might be too easy: "You can come back to life after being defeated? That's like a baby's game!" Well, get those thoughts out of your mind because, unless you have a full complement of players, this game is hard. Brutally hard. With 2 players, the later missions were harder than most Metroid games. I almost can't comprehend how a single player could beat the final three missions on their own, gunship or otherwise. However, unlike Zelda Battle Quest, there's more missions so the difficulty curve isn't so steep. The only problem with the stage design (other than single players/small groups being doomed) is that the later stages really favor the gunship. I suppose Nintendo really wanted people fighting over that gamepad.
It's worth noting that Metroid Blast not only contains 30 cooperative missions, but some competitive modes as well. The mini-game is by far the deepest in NintendoLand and it only makes you wish the rest of the game were this good.
NintendoLand also features six attractions designed for single players. Unfortunately, these games are very very shallow and they range mostly from decent to flat out terrible.
In Yoshi's Fruit Cart, players must draw a route on the gamepad to get past obstacles and get fruit. The catch is that the player is drawing the route on the gamepad, but the obstacles and fruit appear only on the TV. While it's a very interesting and is harder than it looks, it gets old fast. It's really only interesting for about 5 minutes. After that, you'll just want to move on to something else.
Octopus Dance is hands down the worst game in NintendoLand. In this attraction, the gamepad player must replicate the dance moves of the dance instructor in time to the music. Every once in a while, the dance instructor flips you around which requires you to look from the Gamepad to the TV or vice-versa. The early moves are fine: you only use the control sticks. It's when the gimmicks kick in that the game rockets downhill. First comes some ink that covers the gamepad. The game never tells you that you can rub it off by swiping on the gamepad, but it goes away on its own anyways. The worst part is it doesn't make any noise when it goes away so if you're looking at the TV (assuming you don't know you can wipe it off - again, the game doesn't tell you), you don't know when it's gone. This is the least of the problems though. Soon enough, the game throws in leans and jumps. For leans, you tilt the gamepad 90 degrees to the right or left and you shake it to jump. Now, since you're trying to keep to the beat, you try to do the movements fast and snappy to land the beat. However, the game cannot tell the difference between tilts and shakes if you move too fast and your player starts doing whatever the heck he/she feels like. However, tilting slowly makes it not in time to the music. It's utter madness and completely broken. This game should have never gotten off the drawing board.
In Donkey Kong's Crash Course, you control a cart traveling through a giant maze-like course while trying to avoid crashing. You move side to side by tilting and control various machines along the way using various buttons. The biggest problem here is that the difficulty curve is more like a wall - The thing gets way too hard way too fast. There's supposedly multiple courses, but I can't even make it past the first one. I mean, challenge is fine, but there's like no point to even get used to the controls. A fine game ruined by the horrible difficulty spike too close to the beginning. It's also worth noting that the TV is basically worthless in this game outside of letting other people see what you're doing.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle casts you as a shuriken-hurling hero fighting a cast of paper ninjas. The controls here take some getting used to and it helps if you rest the edge of the gamepad against your stomach/chest while playing for stability. Like DK's Crash Cart, though, the difficulty picks up too quickly (although not nearly THAT quickly). It's also worth noting that if you don't have a TV that's 32" or larger and in HD, you're in for a world of hurt because the distant targets can become almost specks on small TVs. A fun game and probably the best single player game, but it could stand to wait a bit before picking up the pace.
Captain Falcon's Twister Race has you tilting the gamepad to steer your own Blue Falcon down a track filled with various traps all while trying to reach checkpoints before your time expires. While you'd expect this game to go the route of using the gamepad as a sort of steering wheel, you instead hold it vertically while tilting. The Gamepad screen shows the overhead view of the action while the TV shows a more normal behind-the-car view. Steering feels awkward and since the game is so short, the difficulty once again picks up very very quickly. I'm all for a challenge, but this game and DK's Crash Cart are like throwing tons of instant death enemies in Super Mario Bros. World 1-2. You're just starting out and you're already hit by a roadblock of frustration. It's not very fun. It's worth noting that you can have other players help you by moving objects, but really, if you need multiple players to have fun in a solo attraction, something is wrong.
Finally, we have Balloon Trip Breeze. Here, you use the touch screen to create wind gusts to blow yourself along a course while dodging spikes and enemies. It's a decent game with a fine difficulty curve (for once) but the lack of depth and the fact that you have to start from the beginning easy levels every time you game over prevents it from shining.
During each of the NintendoLand attractions, you earn stamps for accomplishing certain tasks, stars for "beating" some attractions, and coins which are used to get prizes. Excuse me, let me amend that: coins which are used to play the single most boring mini-game in the history of mini-games so you unlock prizes. You see, in order to populate your lobby with giant audio-animatronics and whatnot, you need to play what amounts to the world's most boring game of Plinko (if you don't know what that is, look up the Price is Right Plinko on YouTube). This game is so monotonous and dull and yet you'll end up having to spend more time in it than many of the actual attractions just to have the lobby look decent. It's just plain tedious and stupid to force such a dull game down the player's throat.
Online Features...and the lack of them
Speaking of the Lobby, that's where you'll find the Miis of other players from around the world thanks to Miiverse integration. You'll also see little pop-ups from other players when beating levels or dying in the NintendoLand attractions. These posts can make things feel a bit livlier in the lobby and it's sometimes fun to see players sharing your frustration when you fail mission 28 of Metroid Blast for the 28th time.
However, it also highlights the single worst thing about NintendoLand: No online multiplayer. Since the single player attractions have all of the excitement factor as a pack of 5 minute flash games and the competitive games are off-limits to single players, you pretty well have to have a group of people in your house always willing to play to enjoy this game. Since not everyone has that, why on God's Earth would Nintendo not include online play? I know, they wanted to emphasize interactions in the living rooms but some of us simply don't have other people who want to play this game. At least give us the option of having online multiplayer! But no, even though you're standing in a theme park filled with people from around the world having fun, YOU CAN'T PLAY WITH ANY OF THEM. If Nintendo wants to stop being seen as an aging laughing stock of the industry that's behind the times on the most basic features, it needs to embrace online play. I know I'm going on and on about this, but really, there's absolutely no excuse. The lack of online play completely sours the entire game. Its exclusion is dumb. Just plain dumb.
A game without a market
The other main problem with NintendoLand is that it's stuck in limbo between a traditional gaming and casual gaming experience. It's trying to be the next Wii Sports by getting people used to the idea of this new-fangled controller, but it fails to see why Wii Sports was popular with non-gamers: It replicated real sports. It replicated things they knew. This crowd isn't going to care that they're playing tag on a small screen while others are doing something else on the TV because it's not something familiar. However, the simplicity of many of the games is clearly designed for these players. In other words, it's too "video-gamey" for the casual crowd, but most of the games are too casual for the video game crowd (I refuse to use "Hardcore" since that's a very inaccurate term). Only the Metroid, Zelda, and to a lesser extent Pikmin outings offer a deep enough experience to make things worthwhile.
I'm sure NintendoLand is a lot more fun if you've got a group of four other people willing to play it at the drop of a hat. For those who don't have that, however, there isn't a lot to do here. There's a few gems in this game and fortunately, their depth goes a long way in helping the whole package out, but a lot of the attractions simply aren't worth revisiting. If you've (for some reason) got a white Wii U, rent the game if possible. If you've got a huge group of friends you regularly play games with, it might be worth full price, but if you're a solo gamer, stay away.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/10/13
Game Release: Nintendo Land (US, 11/18/12)
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