Nintendo Land Preview
AKA Nintendo Circus, depending on who you ask
Like many of you out there, I wasn’t terribly impressed by Nintendo’s press conference at this year’s E3. One of the things they touted as being a major showpiece was a game called Nintendo Land. Much like Wii Sports, the aim of this title is to introduce players to a new controller--in this case the Wii U GamePad--through a virtual theme park bursting with references to classic Nintendo franchises. At each attraction, your mii will don an appropriate costume and partake in a challenge that teaches the player a new way to use the Wii U GamePad. Nintendo’s hope is that this game will do for the Wii U what Wii Sports did for the Wii, and explain to new players exactly what the Wii U is all about.
You'll enter the game via a bright, colorful hub world littered with various attractions. These attractions transition your mii into the mini games that make up the real meat of the title. I got the feeling that this theme park overworld was aimed at a younger demographic than myself, so I took the liberty of using the magic of HDMI cable to throw it onto my living room TV to get my children’s opinion on it without any input from myself. They were strangely silent for a few minutes before my youngest burst into an imitation of this scene from a recently released children’s movie, which led to my family playfully re-branding the title “Nintendo Circus.”
That broke the ice, and the opinions started rolling in. Most of the positive comments were directed at the obvious Nintendo fan service. My kids made several comments along the lines of, “Oh look, it’s the triforce!” and “What game is that monster from? It’s cool!” The majority of the comments weren’t as favorable. They cited multiple reasons why the theme park looked childish. Everything was fair game. The biggest offenders in their eyes were the super bright colors, the train, and the cloud mobile hanging over the park which they said “looks like a toy you hang over a baby’s crib.”
As I stated before however, this isn’t the meat of the experience, but mearly an elaborate menu to choose your activities from. Once you get beyond that the game shows promise, and starts to show the potential of the GamePad. There will be twelve attractions in the final product, but only five were playable on the E3 show floor. I've decided to break them down into a set of broad impressions.
What is it?
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest is a Zelda themed, on-rails experience that is similar in many ways to the Wii Sports Resort Sword Play mini game. The object is to make it to the end of a level, eliminating all the enemies and bosses in your path.
How does it play?
Characters take on one of two different roles depending on their input device. Players using a Wii remote (with Wii Motion Plus) are equipped with a shield and a sword and are tasked with physically assaulting and defending against enemies at close range. They also need to keep enemies from breaking their line and getting to players using the Wii U GamePad. Those players using the new controller assume the role of archers. Squishier than the other players due to the lack of a shield, they are responsible for picking off enemies from a distance, and are the only players that can engage flying enemies before they attack. A shared health meter encourages all the players to work together.
The title does a good job of showing off the new tablet controller’s ability to track its own position in space, and using this feature is the only way the archer can aim his arrows. It works, and its on rails approach means that this feature will be easy to explore and understand.
As far as the game itself, it seems fun. There’s a tactical element to working together as a team, conserving health, and protecting each other which can give the game depth, provided it’s longer than the two level demo on the show floor. It’s a good piece that accomplishes a part what Nintendo is trying to do with Nintendo Land as a whole.
What is it?
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day has your miis dressing up as either animals or gate keepers depending on which controller they are using. The animals are tasked with collecting a certain amount of candies strewn around the arena, while the gate keepers’ objective is to catch them before they do so.
How does it play?
This title can support up to 5 players. One plays as both gate keepers using the Wii U GamePad. The other four, dressed in animal themed costumes, use standard Wii remotes (no nunchuck required.) The guards are controlled independently with the two control sticks on the Wii U GamePad. Since the GamePad has its own display, the animals will not be able to see what their hunters are doing unit they enter their field of vision. The animal players will be playing using a normal split screen display on the TV.
The animal characters share a bank of candy, which they collect by standing on icons in front of trees. Some trees have multiple icons, requiring more than one player to shake loose the candy. Victory comes when either the guards manage to perform three captures of the animals team (they can catch any player any amount of times, as long as they reach a total of three captures) or the animals collect a total of fifty candies.
There’s a twist to all this: while the candy total is shared throughout the group of animal players, each individual has their own total as well (as indicated by the size of their head.) The bigger the Mii’s head, the more candy the player has. The more candy each player has, the slower they will run, making it easier to be captured by the guards. Players can drop candy if they find they need to make a quick escape, but this lowers the total banked, setting the animal team back.
People have commented that the gameplay is very similar to Pac Man Vs, a title showcased several years ago for the Nintendo Game Cube. I won’t deny them that, but this title seems approachable and doesn’t require a pile of Game Boy Advance systems and cables in order to play it. The next attraction is similar to Pac Man Vs too, but it quite a few more gameplay elements added.
What is it?
This is a last man standing style game. There is a single ghost, played by the player with the Wii U Game Pad. Four other players in Luigi costumes assume the role of the ghost hunters. Teams win by eliminating the opposition.
How does it play?
This is the more complicated of Nintendo Land’s two Pac Man Vs style games. The ghost hunters must eliminate the ghost by hitting it with their flashlight beams long enough to drain his hit points to zero. The ghost must strategically eliminate the hunters one at a time without being cornered.
There are a few catches to this one. First, the ghost is invisible to the ghost hunters except for when the occasional burst of lightning illuminates the room for a brief second. The ghost player has their own view to keep track of their position, and can see all of the hunters as well on the Wii U GamePad. The only hint team Luigi has to the ghost player’s location, besides the lightning, is that their controller will rumble when the ghost gets close.
Additionally, the flashlights that the hunters need to shine on the ghost run out of batteries, and those suckers drain fast. These torches are more than just your offensive weapon against the ghost however; if a player is incapacitated by the ghost, the only way to revive them is by shining your flashlight on them for an extended period of time. The game does drop flashlight recharges on the map (indicated by little battery icons), but these seem to appear at random, and you cannot simply waste your flashlight energy and hope one will appear in your time of need.
Adding to the complexity of this game is the fact that the ghost is very powerful. Where the hunters have to slowly drain his life away, all the ghost has to do is isolate a hunter and attack him without getting tagged by the flashlight beam. It’s a one hit kill, and it means the hunters will have to play smart to win. I’ve viewed several gameplay sessions of this game in the course of writing this preview, and I saw the ghost win four out of five games.
In case you haven’t figured it out, this isn’t a starter game, and it really isn’t using the Wii U Game Pad in any way that’s radically different from Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. What it does do is offer a more thoughtful and strategic game for those who have already figured out the nuances of the Nintendo’s shiny new peripheral.
What is it?
Race a cart around an obstacle course using the Wii U GamePad’s tilt function to control it.
How does it play?
It plays a lot like a vertical version of the table top game Labyrinth, or some similar “tilt to control” games I’ve seen for mobile phones. You have two views of your environment. The TV displays a large overview of a majority of the course, while the Wii U GamePad shows a much closer perspective to your cart. Controlling your momentum by carefully tipping the controller back and forth is key, as your cart is extremely fragile and will be destroyed if you slam into a wall or become pinched by moving features of the environment, requiring you to start at the last checkpoint you crossed.
About that pinching part, there’s a little more to this than just tipping the GamePad. At various points throughout your little cart’s journey, you’ll encounter levers, elevators, and other obstacles which are manipulated by either the triggers or analog sticks on the controller. The entire attraction has a classic Donkey Kong aesthetic that’s immediately recognizable and appealing, right down to the giant gorilla himself and Pauline (although everybody calls her “The Princess” for some reason.)
This is a good, simple game that just about everybody can pick up and play. I have serious doubts that it will lead to the intense living room coaching sessions we saw in Iwata’s post press conference video, but it should provide new users with a quick way to learn the tilt concept if they haven’t played a game like this before.
What is it?
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle is a ninja themed shooting gallery game of sorts using the Wii U GamePad’s touch screen and infrared camera to replace the traditional light gun and trigger.
How does it play?
Well, this is basically an update of a demo that was on the floor last E3, which featured flinging ninja stars from the surface of the Wii U game pad with your finger at targets on the screen. The velocity of the star you throw is directly related to the speed of your swipe. Weak tosses will not reach targets further away, and will do less damage to the ones they hit. Throwing the stars faster also increases your accuracy.
There are a variety of enemy types, some of which launch their own projectiles at the player. These can be defended against by deflecting them with your own shuriken in midair. The demo also featured a boss fight with another ninja warrior equipped with a sword. This conflict required the player to wait for him to approach, then time a counter strike when he attacked. If done correctly, this left him stunned and open to attacks using your ninja stars. If the player tried to attack him without stunning him first, the enemy simply deflected the attack
Fun fact: Takamaru is actually a Nintendo character, but from a little known game called Nazo no Murasame Shiro, released only in Japan for the Famicon Disk System. This attraction only holds the ninja theme and character designs in common with the original title though. That game played a bit like the original Zelda set in feudal Japan. He also appeared in Samurai Warriors 3, and is a collectable sticker in Super Smash Bros Brawl.
So there you have it. Remember, when the game finally does launch at the same time as the Wii U console (and possibly as a pack-in title) it will include an additional 7 attractions. One additional game was briefly shown, an F-Zero themed attraction consisting of cars racing around a simple track, but it was not elaborated on or playable. So far though, the game seems to be doing what it was designed to do, namely provide a playground for people to experience some of what the Wii U’s new controller will allow them to do. Some titles are simple, some are not, but in the end, it appears to get the job done.