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Nintendo Land (Wii U) artwork

Nintendo Land (Wii U) review


"Around half of the rides are single-player affairs, which is disappointing because the game really has the best shot at longevity when youíre experiencing it with a few friends. However, those single-player events also tend to be the most challenging. That fact at least adds to their potential replay value if youíre stuck alone with your disc."



When Wii launched way back in 2006, it did so with Wii Sports by its side. Whatever you might have thought about that game, your relatives probably liked it. They were most likely drawn to the easy controls, which simulated the motions that are required when actually playing golf, boxing or bowling. The title was an instant hit and it helped sell quite a few Wii consoles.

Here in 2012, the Wii Uís equivalent--since it comes free with the deluxe version of the system--is called Nintendo Land. Rather than mimic favorite sports, this new pack-in title finds a different way to attract its potential audience. The idea this time around is that youíre visiting a Nintendo-themed amusement park, complete with rides based on the games that have helped make the brand a household name in North America since 1985 or so.

Unfortunately, that revised approach wonít necessarily appeal to the expanded audience that Nintendo gathered in the early Wii days. Thatís because unless you have a healthy affection for classic retro games, the virtual parkís appeal to nostalgia will fall on deaf ears. Not only that, but most games require you to endure an annoying tutorial (voiced by someone who sounds like a female Tom Nook from Animal Crossing) before youíre even allowed to play properly, and the controls arenít always as intuitive to boot. As a sample pack, Nintendo Land should suit new Wii U owners just fine. As a means of console evangelism, though, it falls short of the bar set by Wii Sports.

There are 12 games included as part of the Nintendo Land attraction, along with the park itself (which is really just a round arena with a circling train, and thus not all that appealing). You earn coins by playing the various games and you can then invest those coins in pachinko (which works a lot like Peggle, an experience that may be more familiar to North American gamers). Prizes that you win will then appear throughout your park, plus you meet up with avatars that belong to other players and they may leave you friendly messages. The ďridesĒ are the real attraction, however.

Around half of the rides are single-player affairs, which is disappointing because the game really has the best shot at longevity when youíre experiencing it with a few friends. However, those single-player events also tend to be the most challenging. That fact at least adds to their potential replay value if youíre stuck alone with your disc.

Yoshi Fruit Cart presents the player with a single-screen course to navigate. The goal is to collect every piece of fruit on the way to an exit, which you do by plotting a course on the gamepad device. However, neither fruit nor obstacles show on that smaller screen. You have to look at your television and compare what you see there to your gamepad view. If the line you draw isnít direct enough, youíll run out of energy before you reach the exit. If you miss fruit on the way, you canít advance. If you fall in a hole, thatís also bad. You have a limited number of lives, so you have to proceed carefully. In later stages, you can acquire flags to help provide markers. The whole affair can be quite engaging, though thereís limited appeal in playing through familiar stages once you beat them.

Takamaruís Ninja Castle should be familiar to anyone who watched E3 video footage. The goal is to swipe the gamepad screen to toss throwing stars. You can also plot patterns on it to toss clay bombs. Both abilities come in handy as you wander through a forest, battling ninjas and searching for a kidnapped princess. Sadly, the controls donít feel as precise as they should, so the challenge tends to feel slightly cheap (at least until you get the hang of things). There are nice visuals that nicely mix a retro vibe with high-definition artwork and itís fun to clear segments without letting any enemies escape, but otherwise the attraction falls flat.

Octopus Dance fares only slightly better. You must dance alongside an octopus, mimicking his moves. Heíll perform three successive moves in time with musical beats, and you want to do the same thing. Thatís easiest to accomplish if you look at your dancerís back, which is sometimes displayed on the television screen and sometimes on your gamepad. Youíll have to know when to look at once versus the other. If you make too many mistakes, you wonít progress any further. Youíve likely encountered a lot of similar stuff by now, if youíve played a lot of games, and the need to look between two screens isnít a compelling twist. As a result, the dance-off feels more like filler than anything special.

Captain Falconís Twister Race is more satisfying, at least, and rather conventional. You hold the gamepad upright and you can tilt it to steer a hover car left and right as it speeds along a course. When that vehicle enters tunnels, youíll want to look at your television screen to see better, but mostly itís best to view the gamepad because it gives you the best perspective. Things can get fairly intense as you advance, with a lot of tight turns and a demanding timer that punishes you if you take too long, so old school fans should like it a lot.

Donkey Kongís Crash Course begins strong, with the iconic Donkey Kongtune, and it features the construction girders you may recall from that title. However, play is dramatically different from what you might expect. You control a three-sided cart that rolls along the course, and you need to avoid landing upside-down. Along the way, youíll activate switches with the L and R buttons, or blow on the gamepad microphone to elevate ledges as you gather bananas and work your way through checkpoint flags while advancing toward Pauline, the damsel in distress. Though speed is encouraged, a methodical approach works best in this surprisingly challenging attraction. Perhaps it is too frustrating for its own good, actually. Youíll feel like a champion by the time you reach the courseís conclusion.

Balloon Trip Breeze is the final single-player event, an obvious homage to the Balloon Fight game that arrived during the early NES days. You swipe at the gamepad to produce breezes that will allow your balloon-riding hero to gain elevation or dip toward the water (but not too close, lest a fish eat you). There are floating spikes to avoid, and other adversaries and obstacles which you can destroy with careful taps on the gamepad screen, but mostly you need to watch your television. Itís quite the challenge, if youíre up for it.

Then, of course, there are the six multiplayer offerings. In each of those, one player holds the gamepad and is basically running the show, while other players grab Wii Remotes and play supporting or adversarial roles.

Competitive events can be a lot of fun. Everyone chases after the gamepad player in Marioís Chase, and he or she must avoid capture until the time expires. In Luigiís Ghost Mansion, the person with the gamepad is a ghost who tries to tag his or her foes from behind without spending too much time in the glare of their flashlight beams. Thatís arguably the most fun youíll have with Nintendo Land. Then in Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, two players try to gather up all the candy in a course while the person with the gamepad utilizes two characters (controlled with the left and right analog sticks) to poke the greedy rapscallions with oversized forks.

The more cooperative games are Pikmin Adventure, where one player is an astronaut who can toss little pikmin critters at objects that need to be destroyed. The other players can do more to help, as theyíre dressed up like giant pikmin. Metroid Blast puts one player in charge of a spaceship, which is rather unwieldy. The other players are agile bounty hunters who can blast at targets and grapple their way around interactive arenas, either helpfully or not so helpfully. Finally, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest is an on-rails event where the person with the gamepad uses it as a bow and arrows while his or her friends swing their Wii Remote controllers to produce sword blows. Together, everyone will hopefully battle through enemy hordes, then defeat bosses and unlock additional stages. The familiar characters from The Legend of Zelda are fun to see. This attraction feels like it could be the basis for a much fuller game, without the rails, but in Nintendo Land that opportunity is somewhat squandered.

Nintendo Land can definitely provide fun with the right friends in attendance, but ultimately the game offers limited appeal because none of its attractions feel particularly complete. The result provides a taste of what the Wii U hardware might eventually do, but itís a failure if what you wanted with your brand new hardware was something substantial. Youíll have to look elsewhere in the launch library to find that.

Rating: 6/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (December 02, 2012)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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