Every new console needs its centerpiece to showcase the systems abilities. Due to how Nintendo approached this last console cycle though, a graphical tour-de-force on the Wii would have been a non-starter as it would have looked worse than anything on the other systems. And thus, Nintendo gave us Wii Sports, a game that simply, yet elegantly, demonstrated what was unique about the Wii, its controls. The Wii U, while more graphically adept than the Wii, presents the same problem for Nintendo as the identity of the system is tied around the gamepad.
Surprisingly, the most effective display of the gamepad’s use at launch is from third party developer Ubisoft. Their survival horror game, ZombiU, gives players a dramatic rundown of what to expect from the gamepad, however it is also not a game for everyone. But don’t worry, Nintendo has you covered with Nintendo Land, a title appropriate for anyone that can pick up a controller.
When announced at E3 earlier this year, Nintendo Land sounded like a joke. A mini game collection set in a theme park, centered around “attractions” based on Nintendo’s biggest properties. Graphically the game looked ridiculous and did little to assuage my fears that Nintendo was completely out of touch with the wants of the gaming community. Shame on me for doubting Nintendo though, because while not perfect, Nintendo Land is a pure joy to play and expertly shows off what makes the Wii U so unique.
Nintendo Land is a virtual theme park featuring 12 mini-games based on classic Nintendo properties, each of which doing something different with the Wii U’s gamepad. Every aspect of the gamepad is explored within these 12 games, from drawing with the pad’s stylus to using the gyroscope to maneuver to even successfully pulling off hide-and-seek by using the gamepad as a hiding spot. While each individual “attraction” can easily be described as a tech demo for a specific functionality of the gamepad, Nintendo Land, much like Wii Sports before it, is packed with colorful visuals and an overwhelming sense of charm that masks the mini-games’ true nature. It also helps that most of the games are great fun to play either with friends or by oneself.
Nintendo Land features a healthy mix of solo, co-operative and competitive games. While the solo games are fun and often challenging, the game really shines when people play together. Some games, like Metroid Blast, may pose some issues for less experienced gamers but each game comes with a detailed tutorial on how to play but most are easy for anyone to jump into. My living room became a verbal warzone as my kids attempted to track me down in Mario Chase or avoid my guards in Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. Things got even louder when they sat down to help my Captain Olimar reach his spaceship in Pikmin Adventure. Each game offered a unique play style that tested my skills as a gamer but remaining simple enough for anyone to sit down with and play, all the while showing off the different functional aspects of the gamepad naturally.
The game’s charm extends outside the mini-games as well. Playing games awards players with coins which can be spent on a pachinko styled game that rewards prizes for clearing levels. These prizes drop into the lobby of the park and span from a train to game specific statues to juke box in the game. It’s a blast to get a prize drop and then actively open it up. Between these prizes, the music and the fun visuals Nintendo Land is able to effectively simulate the theme park atmosphere and leaving each session players will undoubtedly have a smile on their face.
As a device to showcase the Wii U, Nintendo Land couldn’t be any better. It is un-apologetically Nintendo in every possible way and while it does nothing to dissuade the notion that Nintendo is for kids, Nintendo Land does a great job of showing everyone they can be kids. And they can do it on the Wii U.