The start of a new generation of consoles is always an exciting thing, even if it turns out to be a false start like the Dreamcast. Since I was lovely enough to spend the extra £50 on the Premium pack for the Wii U, I received the pack-in game Nintendo Land, which takes the form not of a single game but twelve minigames, all of which I’ve spent a week playing through in order to tell you, in their own individual paragraphs, why each one is good or bad. I’m so devoted to you guys.
Nintendo Land starts by plopping the player straight in the middle of a shiny, colourful plaza where an interminably irritating computer creature named Monita endlessly yaps at you about how to control the game. It’s not difficult to figure out movement, but when it comes to camera control things can get quite hard when you’re not used to using the GamePad to swing it around.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the graphics really do look very nice. The lighting in particular is something you’ll only see in the highest-end games at the moment and the whole thing runs at a lovely frame rate. Whether this translates over to the games themselves depends on which one you’re playing, but it’s a useful show of the console’s power.
Starting off with the Zelda minigame, you could be forgiven for thinking you were back on Wuhu Island from the way it resembles Wii Sports Resort. The GamePad is used to swing around Link’s bow, while the right analogue stick is used to fire arrows at groups of enemies approaching from further along the linear path. It’s fun, but odd to control since both GamePad and analogue stick have control uses and it’s often hard to aim precisely, especially at short range.
Moving on to a very different sort of challenge, there’s Donkey Kong’s minigame, which despite sharing very little with the eponymous ape except his name and graphical style, sees the player guiding a rickety trolley along a mechanical path by tilting the GamePad and making occasional use of the shoulder buttons and analogue sticks. This is probably the hardest game in the collection, and also the one you’re likely to spend most time on since it’s maddeningly moreish.
After that, there’s a Yoshi minigame involving guiding our favourite dinosaur across a map while guessing where you’re supposed to draw the path and a Balloon Fight remake that uses the stylus to control the character, both of which are so incredibly dull that they really don’t warrant mentioning.
Still, it’s not all bad since you get to play the weirdly compelling Mario Chase, in which you and some friends charge around an enclosed area trying to leap on Nintendo’s mascot like he’s run away with the petty change tin. Oh, and there’s the Luigi’s Mansion spin-off where you play a ghost trying to hunt down the titular plumber without having a flashlight shone in your face.
Metroid is next, and in one of the more tricky and complex games you have the option of either flying Samus Aran’s gunship around blasting targets and/or other players, or taking to the Varia suit and charging around the ground and rolling up into a Morph Ball. Frankly, I don’t know why you’d choose the latter option (who doesn’t love a good spaceship?) but the option is nice and the multiplayer is unrelenting, old-school fun that more games should be striving for.
Possibly the most interesting uses of the technology come in the form of the ninja star throwing game which has the player flinging shuriken while using the GamePad to aim their shots, and the F-Zero and Canabalt inspired game involving driving as far as you can while tilting the gamepad to steer and dodge environmental hazards.
Take a quick stop at the boring button-matching game Octopus Dance before shifting swiftly over to the far more fun Animal Crossing game, Sweet Day, in which one player with the GamePad controls the town guards as they hunt down the animals (controlled by players with Wii remotes) who attempt to gobble down as much fruit as possible. It’s great fun with the full five players and I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to fully understand the concept of asymmetric gameplay.
Last, but by no means least, is the sublime Pikmin Adventure. This is the one you’ll probably end up liking the most, not least due to its excellent visuals and sound design, but also because it’s by far the most fleshed-out concept of the whole collection. It plays like an arcade version of everyone’s favourite vegetable-powered RTS, with a fun levelling system based on collecting nectar and a great selection of levels to play through. This is another one that deserves playing through with friends, since they can play as extra Pikmin to help Olimar on his quests. If pushed, I’d say this was either the first Nintendo Land game Nintendo came up with, or it was originally planned as a standalone title before being shoehorned in at the last moment, because the level of polish is unbelievably high and almost worth buying the collection for alone.
Outside the games, there’s one last challenge – using the coins collected in-game to complete pachinko puzzles and unlock small bonuses that can be interacted with in all sorts of fun ways. These range from the interactive, like the jukebox or the button which changes the time of day, to the large, like the Deku Tree or Giant Bulborb, to the decorative, like the jar from The Legend of Zelda.
When all is said and done, Nintendo Land is a surprisingly content-rich game for a bundled title, and should provide you with a good deal of entertainment until you can get some more games. It shows off the system well and if you were already inclined to get the Wii U Premium package you’ll find this to be the icing on the cake. It won’t light the world on fire, but it’ll certainly warm it up a bit. 8/10.