I'm at odds when playing titles that are just collections of mini-games. It didn't jive with me when the Wii came out and now that the WiiU is here I was initially hesitant to pick and play Nintendo Land even though it was a pack-in game. It wasn't until I sat down and played Nintendo Land with friends that I discovered how much fun this game actually is. While it's perfectly serviceable as a single-player experience, the magic lies in all the multi-player games.
It didn't take long for me and my friends to warm up to Nintendo Land after just one round of Luigi's Ghost Mansion, one of twelve small games meant to showcase the new gamepad controller. These games make a variety of uses of the WiiU Gamepad, with each game requiring the controller to be held a different way, or giving players a different perspective of the game's action. These games are rather short on content but seem to be a lot of fun.
Initially Nintendo Land starts out kind of barren, but thanks to the helpful Monita the Nintendo Land plaza is soon bustling with life after a short tutorial. Other players will wander in to your game, some offering their opinions on the games within, others are just there to fill up space. It definitely helps give the game a sort of living world and at least keeps the Nintendo Land plaza bustling. It's a weird detail to get hung up on, but having the plaza teeming with life is a nice feature and allowing players to comment on the various games kept me engaged in what people were playing.
Once the plaza comes to life you'll be allowed to explore with your Mii and sample all the games that Nintendo Land has to offer. Each game takes a riff on an existing Nintendo property and turns it in to a mini-game. Some of these games can be enjoyed solo, but a majority are meant to be played with others and each game has different requirements for the number of players and how Wii Remotes and the WiiU gamepad will be used for the game. Some offer simple controls like Donkey Kong's Crash Course, where your Mii is turned in to a spring loaded cart that has to navigate through an obstacle course, other games like Metroid Blast require the full suite of Wii Remotes, nunchucks, and the WiiU Gamepad to control spaceships that fly through a variety of Metroid-esque landscapes.
The games themselves range from mildly fun to a pretty enjoyable experience, but a lot of it is dependent on having the friends and accessories necessary to play each game to their fullest potential. Some games just wouldn't be the same with two people or less. Animal Crossing: Sweet Day is a great example of this. The player using the WiiU Gamepad controls two characters, one mapped to each of the gamepad's twin sticks and runs around chasing each of the other players who are trying to consume candy that falls from trees. The other players have to stand underneath these trees in order to shake out more candy, but if they are caught by the gamepad controller then they will lose all their candy. They have the option of dumping candy to gain speed to outrun their pursuer, but the pursuer can make a diving leap for their targets if they are close enough. It leads to a lot of yelling and shouting and a great deal of fun, which this game doesn't seem to be in short supply of.
On the other hand Mario Chase: The Great Getaway feels like a carbon copy of Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, but just stripped down to bare minimums. The goal of The Great Getaway is for the player on the WiiU Gamepad to escape pursuit by other players that are using the Wii Remotes. The player on the WiiU Gamepad has a greater view of the arena, but the Wii Remote players have access to homing Yoshi carts that will track, pursue, and knock out the gamepad player. There isn't much to this game outside of a few different arenas to run around in, and while Animal Crossing: Sweet Day was loads of fun and totally worth replaying multiple times, Mario Chase seems to fizzle out after just one round and feels like nothing more than a game of tag.
Another game that really works great for groups is Luigi's Ghost Mansion. The game has players chasing after a ghost who is controlled by the WiiU Gamepad. The ghost is all but invisible except when players use their flashlights to shine light on him. The goal is for the ghost to scare all the ghost hunters. Once a ghost hunter has been scared out of commission it is possible to revive him or her, but it leaves them open to more ghost attacks. This cat and mouse game can get really intense and is one of the games that me and my friends constantly went back to.
While there are some games that feel a little meager on the gameplay there are some that feel like they could be full on games, like The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest. It feels like a slightly more beefed up version of Link's Crossbow Training, allowing players to travel through landscapes in search of the Triforce. When five players are present, the WiiU Gamepad player will take on the role of archer, while Wii Remote players get to be swordsmen. The gamepad player uses the analog sticks to aim and fire arrows while the remote players swing the remote like swords, and it can get quite hectic even with five players going at it as enemies start appearing from everywhere. Going solo offers a bit more relaxed experience and feels a lot less chaotic, offering players the option to play as either a swordsman or archer. Pikmin Adventure should hold over gamers that are eagerly awaiting the third entry in the Pikmin series. Players assume the role of Captain Olimar and must guide Pikmin through an alien planet to escape via spaceship, while an evil Monita drops enemies in their path. It makes a good showcase for what Pikmin 3 should feel like and it's got me excited for when that game finally comes out.
There are a few games that work great for a single-player session, though they are over almost as quickly as they start. Donkey Kong's Crash Course is one of those games that you'll either love or hate. Using the WiiU Gamepad to tilt the playing field, players will navigate a springy cart through a number of obstacles, and just when you think you've got the hang of things the game throws even more devious obstacles at you. Though nothing is more intense and scream inducing than the final stage which looks deceptively simple but requires deft movement skills. For those who want something a little less taxing there is Yoshi's Fruit Cart. This game requires players to draw a line path for a cart to pick up items that are littered on the screen. It's a pretty laid back game, but gets challenging toward later stages.
For the rhythm gamers out there Nintendo's got you covered with Octopus Dance. This game uses the twin-sticks to mimic movements of an on screen instructor. It starts off pretty easy but quickly speeds up and makes players perform some complicated patterns. This game actually reminded me of Samba De Amigo, which isn't a bad game to follow when trying to make a rhythm game. Balloon Trip Breeze harkens back to the old NES game Balloon Fight, though it plays closer to the Game Boy title Balloon Kid. Players swipe on the WiiU Gamepad screen to create breezes that move their character around the screen. This is one of those games that seems like a great idea but the precision required in later levels makes it a little tough to get through.
The most unknown franchise in Nintendo Land has got to be Takamaru's Ninja Castle. This little shooting gallery game has players holding the WiiU Gamepad sideways and using it to fling ninja stars at enemies that pop up on the screen. Another game that uses this unique control scheme is Captain Falcon's Twister Race, which has players steering through a twisty course.
So if you're wondering, what the chase is and how do you cut to it? Playing these games will earn you coins and these can be used to play a coin drop mini-game that will earn you items that are used to decorate your Nintendo Land plaza. These items aren't much more than window dressing, but they have a little bit of factual information and are great for trivia. You can also invite friends in to your plaza for when you want to show off that you've been playing this game a little too much. There are also plenty of leaderboards to populate so you can compete with your friends.
Playing Nintendo Land on my own, I found myself growing bored of the games a lot more quickly as opposed to playing with friends, in which case I couldn't put a controller down. It goes to show that a collection of mini-games can be a load of fun, just in the right setting. Sure we kind of got the gist of this back when Wii Sports first hit the scene, but it's good to see that Nintendo is still able to put out a compelling product. They've set the bar pretty high, let's hope this stems the tide of some of that shovelware that the Wii was notorious for.