When Nintendo set out to replicate the modern-day amusement park with Nintendo Land, who would have thought it would do so with such ironic accuracy. Nintendo’s approximation of Disneyland, like its real-life equivalent, is bursting with infectious cheeriness, features a litany of mascots paraded from its history, and suffers the inevitable wax and wane that accompanies such diverse attractions spread across its park.
In many ways, Nintendo Land is the most ambitious of launch titles. Not only does it serve as an introduction to its new GamePad, but also there’s a catch-all mentality and introductory nature to the attractions that often finds itself working to its own detriment. Take ‘Pikmin Adventure’, for example: a co-operative mini-game that encourages Pikmin-dressed Miis to band together against clockwork critters, while a GamePad-wielding Captain Olimar leads the charge. The fundamental Pikmin formula has been diluted, the purpose lost between inanely punching blocks and killing predators. These sorts of antics are regular occurrences; mini-game interpretations of popular games that function as an introduction to the basic premise of core gaming brands to novice players.
‘Pikmin Adventure’ is the worst in this category, but ‘Captain Falcon’s Twister Race’ isn’t trailing far behind. A solely single-player game, it’s a breezy excursion but one lacking in precision, as the GamePad is twisted on its side using the gyro sensor to navigate around the track. But it’s hard to begrudge Nintendo for including the control method, as awkward as it is, with so few of Nintendo Land’s exhibits demonstrating the potential of the GamePad.
There are times where you’ll be staring down at the controller, wondering whether Nintendo’s wayward ambition has ultimately proven misguided. How else can you explain ‘Octopus Dance’ – a relatively undemanding copycat dance-off game – opting to use the dual analogue sticks for movements, with leaning to the left and right achieved by tilting the pad, when there’s a motion controller in our palms? Is this not what it’s designed for?
Perhaps the more pertinent question is why Nintendo placed so much emphasis on an ill-considered single-player in the first place? These are most certainly the weakest of the available games on offer and rarely sustain appeal beyond a single playthrough – the exception to this being ‘Donkey Kong’s Crash Course’, as precise handling of the GamePad is used to guide a cart down a Meccano-like maze. It’s a unique twist on the source inspiration that remains relevant and lip-gnawingly challenging.
Peculiarly, the best application for the GamePad is constantly proven to be as an independent screen. It makes sense, though: what better way to enhance the enjoyment of competitive multiplayer than enabling an additional player to gain a unique perspective on the on-screen chaos? The tension, strategy and riotous enjoyment that this ensures are inimitably Nintendo.
It’s here that we find the star attractions. ‘Mario Chase’ has a GamePad user hiding around a maze while four Wii Remote players hunt them out, the GamePad screen offering both a third-person perspective of the character and a map screen that tracks the positioning of other players. It’s easily the finest title that the ensemble has to offer, but relinquishes part of its appeal with every absent competitor.
Likewise, it’s a fate that the excellent ‘Luigi’s Ghost Mansion’ suffers. Almost the reverse of ‘Mario Chase’, the GamePad player uses the controller to navigate around a maze as an invisible ghost to capture wandering players, while the Wii Remote users must bust the roaming ghoul with their flashlights. There are various tiers of strategy at work here, as flashlight batteries steadily deplete, lightning filling the room and briefly revealing the spectre’s location, and a special move that enables the GamePad player to unleash a power cut that leaves unsuspecting players defenceless.
This is Nintendo Land performing at its strongest, as players anxiously pool resources and scramble in twitchy reluctance in search for an unseen entity. This is what party games are all about. But it’s a difficult balancing act that other attractions struggle to grasp. You need look no further than ‘Animal Crossing: Sweet Day’, a breezy competitive mode where Wii Remote players gobble treats with the GamePad player in hot pursuit. Controlling two guards with the GamePad’s twin analogue sticks, at times you feel like you need gecko eyes to keep track of movements, but it’s an engaging challenge, but one that remains unfortunately one-sided.
Co-operative multiplayer is similarly hit and miss. The aforementioned ‘Pikmin Adventure’ has superficial appeal, but lacks the necessary depth, and likewise ‘Metroid Blast’ is a barebones third-person shooter that, while enjoyable, doesn’t endure much of a time investment. And then there’s ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Battle Quest’, which has a GamePad bowman accompanying up to four sword-wielding Link-a-likes across various miniature expeditions.
What is most surprising about this addition is just how robust it is. A healthy variation of stages that each take several minutes to finish, this could have easily been another Link’s Crossbow Training. Instead it’s a thrill, nurturing teamwork and requiring more than a few wild gestures to make it through to the end of each mission.
At times like this, the game creeps beyond the trappings of a party game and into something else entirely. As we’ve come to expect from Nintendo, it’s nothing short of intoxicating, but there’s a lack of consistency and conviction in the product that is unusual for the Kyoto-based developer. A throw-it-all-at-the-wall approach that is uncharacteristically capricious. When the game works, it’s one of the finest party games on offer, but Nintendo’s confusion in what it wants to achieve with the Wii U GamePad results in an erratic compilation short on hits.