A-Ticket attractions for E-Ticket prices
Nintendo Land is a hard game to review. I’m not saying that to attempt to elicit some sort of pity from you for the current profession I find myself in; I say that because the game will end up living two very different lives—the determination of which one you see being tied to how you end up with the game in your hands.
And it’s not that I have some sort of preset bias against it due to a built-in hate for minigame collections—let me be clear in that. I know that some like to rag on the entire genre as a whole, but I think they serve a very specific purpose if developed with actual care and attention. However, for fans of Nintendo hardware, their previous console did serve as the home to too many such releases—so having Nintendo kick off the Wii U with one of their major projects being cut from the same cloth of game that helped turn the Wii into a haven for shovelware may legitimately give some pause.
Given that we—as a media company that covers videogames—typically receive free copies of games for the benefit of doing our reviews, getting to play Nintendo Land for no cost was already going to be how I’d be experiencing it. However, the Wii U unit that we received from Nintendo was the Deluxe model, and—as part of that bundle—Nintendo Land is a “free” pack-in game. So, I entered into my time with the game from that mindset—that I was playing it as if I had gotten it as part of an overall bundle purchased on launch day.
In that regard, Nintendo Land is an excellent way to get acquainted with your shiny new system. When the Wii launched, its pack-in game—Wii Sports—was a genius idea that enabled any kind of person to not only quickly come to grips with how to play the game, but also see the potential of what the Wii could offer. As expertly as it filled that role, however, it wasn’t exactly a good game. In contrast, Nintendo Land feels like a project that tries to merge actual, legitimately entertaining gaming concepts together in a way that while its twelve attractions can be enjoyed by all, they’ll still be able to hold the interest of those who call themselves gamers.
That’s how the game feels at first—yet after hours of actual hands-on time, the results of that effort are mixed. It’s interesting, because part of the problem stems from one of the elements that makes Nintendo Land most exciting: the game’s heavy connection to popular Nintendo franchises. Playing minigames based on Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, or F-Zero in the guise of a virtual theme park is an exciting proposition, and it makes perfect sense on paper—but, at the same time, it also makes me want to play real Wii U versions of those games, instead of bite-sized “inspired by” offerings.
Coincidentally or not, the most enjoyment I had with Nintendo Land came from two of its single-player games that had no big-brother proper versions to hope would be coming soon: Balloon Trip Breeze and Donkey Kong’s Crash Course. The original NES Balloon Fight included an outrageously addictive optional single-player mode called Balloon Trip, where the object was to see how much progress you could make traversing a trap-filled obstacle course. Balloon Trip Breeze re-creates that idea, now with the piloting of your balloon-hoisted Mii done via stylus swipes on the GamePad’s screen. Meanwhile, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course is really only Donkey Kong in name; the goal is to safely guide a delicate two-wheeled cart through a complex maze by rotating and manipulating the section currently shown on the controller’s handheld display.
In all, Nintendo Land’s 12 attractions break down into six single-player-focused games, three team-based multiplayer mini-games, and three competitive multiplayer offerings. The mix of Nintendo properties and gameplay types is good, and as a pack-in game to break out now and then for fun times with family and friends, Nintendo Land excels at its job.
Unfortunately, there’s a problem: This isn’t a pack-in for every Wii U console, like it should have been. For those getting the more expensive Deluxe bundle, Nintendo Land will be everything it needs to be for you as an included introduction to the concepts Nintendo has built into the Wii U. For those who choose to go with the $299 standard bundle, Nintendo Land is a $60 game—and in no way, shape, or form is this a release worth that price.
Even for the best and most enjoyable attractions offered in this digital theme park, longevity just isn’t there. I can’t see the six single-player minigames having enough depth to really keep players’ attention in the long run—especially given that two of them, Captain Falcon’s Twister Race and Octopus Dance, are horribly shallow right from the start—so what life you’ll get out of Nintendo Land in the weeks to come will come from its multiplayer. Here, by far the most excitement this package has to offer is its three competitive games—but even then, I just couldn’t help but feel like Nintendo Land could have been so much more. All three—Animal Crossing Sweet Day, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, and Mario Chase—rely on pretty much the same concept: chase, or be chased. When you’ve got five people together in the same room, and those three games can run on all cylinders, then they’re all fantastic and frenetic fun. (Animal Crossing Sweet Day is especially a joy when you’ve got the right group of people playing.)
But—all three games break down the fewer players you have. In one of our sessions at the EGM offices, we played Mario Chase with three players. So, the GamePad-wielding player had two Miis hot on their trail instead of the maximum four. In no uncertain terms, the experience was far less enjoyable, and the dynamics of the game were clearly not balanced for situations where all player slots weren’t filled.
At this year’s E3, Nintendo put a huge amount of focus on Nintendo Land, and many were exasperated over how obsessed it seemed Mario’s parent company was in pushing what amounted to another minigame collection. The truth is, Nintendo Land turned out better than I expected—or maybe I just ended up enjoying it more than I expected. And yet, at the same time, it feels like an idea that needed more time, effort, and creativity—at least, if Nintendo thinks this should be a product sitting on store shelves with the same price tag as games like Mass Effect 3 or Batman: Arkham City. Had Nintendo Land been a pack-in game for all bundles—again, like it should have been—I’d have been able to be more forgiving of its faults, and more appreciative of what it does offer. Or, Nintendo could have dropped the single-player attractions for another six multiplayer offerings; a more robust, diverse, and better-balanced package filled with games perfect for gatherings could have potentially been justified as a full-priced purchase.
As it stands, Nintendo Land is a game that will give you plenty of bang for your bundle buck. If, instead, you’re going to be considering it as a separate purchase to have something to convince your family and friends that this Wii U thing is the new hotness, then I have to try to convince you that your money would be better spent in other places. Use that $60 for one of the better Wii U games that’ll be out there waiting for your attention—and break out a nice, non-electronic boardgame to help you reconnect with those around you.
SUMMARY: Nintendo Land is charming in concept and execution, but it’s also a game that doesn’t have the depth or gameplay offerings to really reach its full potential. As a pack-in game, it’s great; as a $60 retail game, it’s horribly overpriced.
- THE GOOD: A fantastic concept that, when it works, provides some fresh and enjoyable excitement.
- THE BAD: Not nearly enough value for the money you’ll be paying if purchasing the game separately from the Wii U.
- THE UGLY: The hate Nintendo Land mascot Monita is receiving. She’s an adorable robotic theme-park sign with a sometimes witty sense of humor—how can you not love her?
Nintendo Land is a Wii U exclusive.