Nintendo Land review for Wii U

Platform: Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Medium: DVD-Rom
Players: 1-5
Online: Yes

I find Nintendo Land’s concept to be a bit more interesting than its actual execution. The idea of a theme park centered on Nintendo franchises sounds like a great idea, and if it’s not going to be pulled off in the real world, why not make a video game centered on that? Nintendo Land does a decent job of representing a number of core franchises culled from different eras of gaming, but I certainly think a little more oomph could have been given to the theme park setting than what we get with Nintendo Land.

Nintendo Land is clearly meant to be the demonstrative software for the Wii U hardware. It incorporates nearly every new element of the system, from a variety of Game Pad related activities to the new message board like MiiVerse, which here carries over random Mii’s from online and places them in your lobby to populate the theme park, adding some life and bits of randomness to the surroundings if you opt to turn the option on.

The Game Pad gives you the ability to walk around your park, and visit each attraction present. You can also walk around the lobby and check out unlockable gifts, which are given out after spending coins on a small mini-game that’s not entirely unlike a game of Price is Right favorite Plinko. I do enjoy the idea of unlockable goods to position around your lobby, but I wish they were a bit more consistent in both theme and placement, or at least allowed me to pick and choose where to put them. Why would I want to have a Stalfos statue in front of the entrance for Luigi’s Ghost Mansion instead of The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest? I have no idea.

If you really just care about playing through the mini-games that represent series like Pikmin, F-Zero, Metroid and more, you can switch the view to a menu-based system that also allows you to jump between games with ease. I do enjoy the little bit of presentation when loading up each mini-game, which often involves a little hallway filled with pixel style art of each franchise, and often comes complete with classic 8 or 16-bit renderings of each franchises’ respective theme music. It’s one of the few presentation angles I feel that Nintendo Land gets right, and certainly tugs on the appropriate heart strings of nostalgia that I have for Nintendo as a company.

As far as the actual mini-games go, well, they’re sort of hit or miss. The standouts consist of Donkey Kong’s Crash Course (easily the best of the 12), Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, and Balloon Trip. Others are fun but a bit too simplistic, like The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest and Pikmin Adventure. And some are downright bad, including the disappointing F-Zero themed Captain Falcon’s Twister Race.

A lot of the games can be tackled via single player mode, but you’ll have the most fun with Nintendo Land when you can get a group of players involved. There’s a small portion of the game that’s only accessible with two or more players, putting events like Mario Chase, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion off limit for single player. Also, these events are typically best if experienced with all possible players present, as bumping down to two players either puts restrictions or changes in place that alter the gameplay, and make for a less exciting game overall.

Each of the 12 mini-games present try to make use of the Game Pad in interesting ways, often using the dual screen aspect of the Game Pad and TV screen, or using the motion elements found in the controller to manipulate the on-screen action. Donkey Kong’s Crash Course will see you tilting the controller back and forth to manipulate the trajectory of your on-screen cart, while Luigi’s Ghost Mansion offers up different views to the player looking at the TV and the player looking at the Game Pad Screen. Takamura’s Ninja Castle will have you tilt the Game Pad sideways, and use it to slide off ninja stars towards the direction of your TV screen, hitting diminutive ninja as the pop up in a shooting gallery style of gameplay.

For the most part, the emphasis on the Game Pad works well, and allows for a lot of variety in the various games despite their overall quality. Nintendo Land tends to succeed at showcasing the new hardware and control type, and does a pretty good job of giving early adopters an idea of what to expect going forward from the system. I’d also venture to say that it’s one of the better looking launch day games on the system. I was sort of taken aback by how good HD Mii’s can actually look, and the variety in visual design from one game to the next does a good job in showcasing what Nintendo’s new hardware is capable of from a graphics standpoint.

But I didn’t find a whole lot in Nintendo Land to really grab my attention. I still gravitate towards Donkey Kong’s Crash Course as a single player event, so much so that I’d love to see a fully featured game built around this in the future. And certain events are definitely worth playing through with friends involved, but Nintendo Land just doesn’t quite do it for me when it comes to other games in the line-up. It’s certainly a game that can be fun with a group, but as a single player experience I found it lacking. It does a great job of showcasing new system elements, but also comes up short in fully realizing that theme park look Nintendo was going for. So in the end, it’s sort of a mixed bag for me, and not something that I’d suggest rushing to pick up if you’re buying the basic Wii U model.

Grade: B-