Nintendo needs to open up their own theme park. I don’t care if it’s a part of Disney World, Universal Studios, or even if it’s their own, completely unique thing. Hell, I don’t even care if I have to fly to Japan to check it out. I just want to be able to see a Disney-style realization of the classic Nintendo magic that has been a part of so many childhoods since the ’80s.
Until that park becomes a reality, however, Nintendo has given us what they think is the next best thing: Nintendo Land. One of the Wii U’s premiere launch titles, and the one that comes packaged with deluxe editions of the system, Nintendo Land puts players in command of their own Big N-themed amusement park.
Featuring a full “Main Street-esque” park to run around in, goodies to unlock, and twelve “attractions” to experience, Nintendo Land certainly has all the elements of a fun, digital amusement park. But does the game stand up to inspection?
While Nintendo Land is essentially a mini-game collection, the thing that differentiates it from the pack is the park overworld that players can wander through. And, despite being small, your park is a consistently fun place. Utilizing Nintendo’s expanded online functionality and Miiverse social community, Nintendo Land pulls other players’ Miis from all over the world to visit your game, making it feel like a living experience every time you turn it on.
Though there aren’t really any secrets to find here a la Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie, the park does hold a good amount of charm. Using a pachinko-style mini-game, players can use coins gained in attractions to win a variety of unlockable items that inhabit the overworld. From music tracks to statues, seeing what new prize you’ve won is consistently enjoyable despite the game choosing them in a seemingly random order.
This overworld is held down, however, by a really odd decision regarding the game’s camera. While using the GamePad to control what you see is fine, the game mimics the GamePad’s view on the TV’s screen, causing the image to shake and move all over the place, often letterboxing the screen. It’s incredibly annoying and makes exploring far too much of a chore to be worth it, essentially killing the other great features of the park.
But, like with all mini-game collections, Nintendo Land’s biggest draw is the variety of attractions available to play. Nintendo has packed this title full of 12 different games designed for single players, multiple players, and teams.
The first three games of the bunch are designed for two or more people, pitting players against each other in a few different variations of tag. Mario Chase sees up to four toads scrambling on the TV to hunt down Mario, who is using a full map on the touch screen to try and stay away from all four.
If you only have a couple of players able to play, the game compensates for the lack of toads by adding in Yoshi Carts, which help track down and detain Mario. And, while both modes are fun, the game really has no staying power without a full group of friends to play.
The same can be said for Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, which sees the GamePad user controlling two guards attempting to tackle down Wiimote-controlled animals before they fill up goals with a specified amount of candy. Innovative for sure, but it lacks staying power without a full group. And, due to the complicated GamePad controls, even a full group might have trouble finding the fun in this one.
The last of the three is Lugi’s Ghost Mansion which pits ghost hunters, controlled by Wiimote wielders, against a ghost, controlled by the player with the GamePad. Hunters are tasked with finding the ghost, while the ghost is tasked with sneaking up on the hunters. Though a little too complex for its own good, it is undeniably fun and, in the right environment, can provide plenty of thrills.
The problem with all the multiplayer games are that the AI makes the games feel unbalanced. Unless you have a full group of people playing, the AI compensation (or lack of) tilts the games in one group’s favor and makes the games more frustrating than they should be. They are all fun, but they do have noticeable balancing problems.
The next batch of games are team-based, and these ones are very hit-or-miss. The first, Pikmin Adventure, feels incredibly bland, with the gameplay practically mimicking regular Pikmin titles, but with less nuance and, consequently, less fun, and that’s taking into account the modes in which you can play as an actual Pikmin.
Metroid Blast, on the other hand, does just enough to mix itself up from the Metroid Prime games to be wildly enjoyable. Though ground combat is quite similar, it is simplified to a “party-game” level and makes blasting along with friends fun. Add in the ability for the GamePad user to control the franchise’s famous gunship and you have a winning formula.
The third game, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, falls somewhere in-between these two. Though the combat isn’t always fresh, often feeling like enemy waves cut from Skyward Sword, it is still fun to cut down hoards of baddies with a Wiimote. It does have genuine problems, however, with the “on-rails” movement controls becoming very tedious and the GamePad user, who shoots arrows, often feeling useless.
The last six games are all single player games, though a few of they can be broken into their own small group. Donkey Kong’s Crash Course and Captain Falcon’s Twister Race both have players controlling a very finicky vehicle through an obstacle course, being careful to not crash out. And both are wildly fun and challenging, though Twister Race can glitch out at times.
The other four are all fairly unique from each other. Yoshi’s Fruit Cart has players guide a Yoshi Cart to a goal while picking up specific fruits and gifts along the way, the gimmick being that players have to use the GamePad to guide the cart but can only see the fruit and obstacles on the top screen. Though it feels more tailored to the DS or 3DS, it is unique and fun once you get into it.
Balloon Trip Breeze has players guide a balloon fighter through a sky full of obstacles, using the GamePad to create gusts of breeze that direct the character. This is both the most beautiful and the most fun single-player game of the bunch, creating an experience that could very well have been a stand-alone, downloadable title, and including it here will undoubtedly expand the franchise’s fanbase.
Octopus Dance and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle round out the single-player games and, quite frankly, neither of them are very fun. Takamaru is a great idea poorly implemented, with the ninja-star throwing mechanics feeling clunky, and Octopus Dance is just plain boring.
Most of the single-player games fall victim to one fatal problem: no saving. Each game expects you to go through all of its levels in one sitting, giving no option to save and no ability to retry a specific level without going through all of the ones before it again.
While fine for the short Crash Course and Twister Race, this really hurts the other games and makes it harder to justify booting up Nintendo Land for a quick play before work, school, or bed. Some games just work better in small bites, but Nintendo Land doesn’t recognize that. In fact, by forcing you to lose to gain any coins you collected so far, it essentially slaps players in the face regarding that fact.
Though often fun, Nintendo Land simply fails to live up to the simple charm of Wii Sports, the original Wii’s pack-in title. Things feel unbalanced and overcomplicated, which is the exact thing you don’t want when introducing players to a brand new controller.
Many mini-games do use the GamePad in unique ways, most notably Yoshi’s Fruit Cart and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, but almost all of them are plagued by problems that could have been easily fixed through different balancing or adding a level-choice system no different than the ones seen in most iOS games.
If your system didn’t come with Nintendo Land included, there’s no reason to pick it up on its own. Though it might be some fun at parties, it isn’t good enough or satisfying enough to justify a $60 purchase. There are far better games to spend that money on.
Though the mini-games can be very fun, Nintendo Land has far too many problems to justify playing more than a few times. If it came with your system then keep it for parties. Otherwise, just skip this title.
Images Used under Fair Use for the Purpose of Commentary