Nintendo Land is to the Wii U what Wii Sports was to the classic Wii console. The game is a showcase of the Wii U's new tablet controller, focusing not only on the GamePad's primary features, but also how it complements and enhances the Wii's motion controls. And of course, what better way to do this than with a number of mini-games designed around Nintendo's first party franchises?
I was able to spend some hands-on time with the title, and here are my thoughts on each of Nintendo Land's separate games.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle
The first and simplest mini-game I was able to play was Takamaru's Ninja Castle, a game centered around one of the first demos shown for the Wii U where you "throw" ninja stars by swiping the GamePad touch-screen. Progressing through the game is a matter hitting enemies on the screen with your ninja stars -- it's all first person, it's all on-rails, you just aim with the GamePad much like a WiiMote and swipe the screen. The speed of your swipe correlates with the speed of the ninja star thrown.
Enemies will initially pop out of the woodwork and stand still, resigned to their fate, awaiting your swift ninja justice. If you keep missing, or grant mercy, these first enemy ninjas will disappear. Gradually the enemies become more difficult and less cowardly, returning fire with their own ninja stars or throwing bombs which you can explode mid-air, but still, the demo as a whole was extremely easy overall. The boss, the black ninja, would kite you from side to side and then rush in for a blade slash. Timing your attack for when he rushed in would counter him, leading you to sweet ninja glory.
My experience with the game resulted in an interesting bug that at the time was very confusing, but I believe I better understand it upon reflection. Attacking requires you to swipe the tablet with a finger, but as I played I found myself using my index finger and middle finger in tandem. This motion led to my stars often being thrown at slow speed, a frustrating experience at times, but that's not the oddest thing.
Gradually as I played through the 10 minute demo, the calibration on the aiming would gradually err leftward. By the time the demo was over, I was aiming to my far right side as opposed to directly at the screen. Both my PR guide and the demo attendant were as confused as I, and we quickly moved to the next booth. In retrospect, I believe having two fingers on the screen perhaps influenced the calibration, but it could simply be my powerful ninja skills bending reality. Probably the two finger thing, though.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion
After the single-player experience of Takamura's Ninja Castle, I was ushered towards Luigi's Ghost Mansion -- a 5 player mini-game designed around the use of four WiiMotes and the GamePad. Initially, I took the role of the ghost/GamePad, and the four booth attendants played as their Miis with weapon-grade anti-ghost flashlights. The purpose of the game? For me, it was to capture and destroy each of them. They, however, would do their best to squelch my ghostly life-force with their ungodly light.
Completely unfamiliar with the game's mechanics, I found I was completely invisible until caught in a flashlight, but the game went deeper than that. I leapt at the opportunity to show off my League of Legends ganking skills, so I hid behind corners and circled around the rooms to leap at unsuspecting backs. Often as I approached a victim, they would cry out to each other, "Ghost near red! Help quick!" No such luck, my prey.
I must have defeated them each individually four times until I realized they were resurrecting each other. Only the ghost, myself, had a health bar -- they, however, could be knocked down over and over again, and then be resurrected repeatedly by a friend's flashlight over time. It was too late for me to regroup and attack, time ran out with no definitive conclusion.
My PR guide took the Ghost controls and I was handed a motion controller. "They'll shake faster when the ghost is near you," I was told. They had withheld that detail when I was chasing them -- I had underestimated the competitive spirit of these Nintendo booth attendant ladies. They were vicious. I couldn't match their cooperative efforts, but I knew how to complement it -- I took the role of suicidal rogue agent, knowing my team's tendency to be helpful and supportive would allow me to do what I did best, kill ghosts. He stood no chance, though there was a close moment when I found I needed a randomly spawned battery to recharge my flashlight.
Just a comment regarding how this game applies Wii U features -- the 5th player, the ghost, would play the game through the GamePad screen entirely. This allows them to see the whole map, along with the locations of each of the enemy Miis. The main screen would look similar, but without the Ghost's location, naturally.
Donkey Kong Crash Course
This next mini-game I was shown was Donkey Kong Crash Course, and it's probably my favorite of what was available it the Nintendo Land area. At first, the game appears very imposing, with a huge map of ramps and levels and assorted puzzles I never got near to. You use the GamePad to direct a triangle-shaped, two wheel cart through this labyrinth, and if you flip your cart you fail. The farther you tilt the GamePad, the faster you go. Roll too fast or two slow on the wrong turn or drop and your cart will break.
This game is ridiculously punishing, let's point that out straight away. Sure, they provide you with 5 lives and spread checkpoints across the map, but it suffers from that Super Meat Boy, I Wanna Be the Guy gameplay choice of making death not so terrible a thing. You're going to crash ... a lot, but you can start right back up and be wiser from your past brushes with disaster. I saw Nintendo's booth on day 2 of E3, and the attendant said only one person had fully completed the first area.
This first area that I was able to explore involved mostly basic ramps. The first series of ramps required you to go slow and the next fast, followed by another set that would move based on left and right shoulder button presses. The level progressively became more complicated, faster moving and with shifting directions. If you reach the bottom and save the princess, you move on to area 2. I doubt many will ever progress that far.
Crash Course is simple, addictive and utterly masochistic -- and by far the best experience I had with Nintendo Land.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest
Battle Quest comes across as an on-rails Skyward Sword. Two players play with the Wii motion controller as swordsmen, protecting the party from melee monsters and the like, while a third player held the Wii U GamePad, playing as an archer in-game. The archer covers the party from range, but can also snipe enemies that the swordsmen can't reach. The party has shared life, so make sure to invite your gamer friends to play Battle Quest.
E3 2012 walkthrough - YouTube
I started with the GamePad, as the archer, and it was a rather enjoyable, yet carefree experience. It feels a little like Link's Crossbow Training, though without a fully-automatic bow. You're responsible for the unreachable enemies sitting in scout towers, though that's not really too difficult to get under control. You'll also be responsible for enemies that may approach from the back, as the swordsmen have no way to turn around. There's also puzzle buttons that only the archer can release. Anyways, in that first round the booth attendant swordsman wasn't a paying attention or something and he lost our party's allotment of health in less than 3 minutes.
After switching to the motion controller sword, things went much smoother. With the booth attendant on the bow he was safely out of harms way, allowing me to lay down the hurt without worrying about our health bar too much. Enemies ranged from pig-men, easily defeated with a sword slash, shield-wielding pig-men, who required a well-aimed sword strike, to eyeballs in spinning clamshells that require a very specifically angled sword strike to dispatch.
The demo's boss is just a rather large, shield-wielding pig chief. He'll be invulnerable while his shield is held in front of him, but when he pulls it back to swing his sword you'll have an opportunity. Get in as many stabs as possible before he attacks, and then make sure your shield is up as he swings. His cleave will strike all sword-wielders of the party, so the unprepared will quickly cause the party to fall. Overall, once you get his pattern down the fight is extremely easy.
Battle Quest is another fun introduction to the GamePad and how it and motion controls can work together in unique ways. Still, in practice it's gameplay we've experienced before on the Wii and been underwhelmed with. Firing a bow with a GamePad is actually more unwieldy than firing with a WiiMote, though the asymmetric gameplay (being able to explore a full 360 environment on your own personal screen) is interesting, though went largely unexplored in the demo.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, F-Zero, and more
I wasn't able to try out Animal Crossing, and F-Zero was announced mid-show and therefore wasn't playable in their booth. Both titles feature your Mii in an oddball mini-game focused on showing off how the GamePad can be used to create new systems of gameplay. Animal Crossing lets you collect candy while a fifth player on the GamePad chases you with a pair of guards, and F-Zero is, of course, a racing game.
There are also 6 more titles, for a total of 12, yet to be announced. A Metroid mini-game is an absolute, and a Yoshi game too, but who knows what else Nintendo can come up with. You can see the in-game icons for all 12 mini-games in this article's header image.
Overall, while I found each of the mini-games enjoyable in their own right, I can't see Nintendo Land being anything more than a tie-in product with the Wii U. I wouldn't even say the product is comparable to Wii Sports as an individual game. Each game is relatively enjoyable, but beyond Donkey Kong's Crash Course they're nothing I would want to play beyond showing them to friends at a party.
Nintendo Land's second purpose, to show off the GamePad's potential and how it promotes "asymmetric gameplay," was also rather insipid. It plays like a glorified motion controller. The second screen, while offering a second view of the game (zoomed in for Donkey Kong, 360 view for Zelda, full map without fog for Luigi), felt less like an impressive example of technology so much as a feature unnecessarily attached to the game mid-development.
Of course, other launch titles for the Wii U make a much better case for the GamePad, but if through some sort of insanity Nintendo Land is released as a launch title and not a console pack-in, I don't see it doing particularly well. As a pack-in however, Nintendo Land would absolutely be a great game for a family to play Christmas morning. Let the other launch titles compete, and allow Nintendo Land to make the Wii U a fun family experience out of the box.