The Magic Kingdom
Perhaps Nintendo couldn't decide which of its much-loved franchises to launch Wii U with, because the answer it's come up with is "all of them". Sure, there's also your regulation Mario platformer in the form of New Super Mario Bros. U, but Nintendo Land crams a panoply of the company's most famous characters and series into a dozen mini-games designed to show off Wii U's unique features.
The idea is that this game is a virtual theme park for Nintendo, where your Miis - your little in-game avatars - can participate in "attractions" based on all your favourite Nintendo games. Metroid, Zelda and Mario are all represented, along with Pikmin, F-Zero, Animal Crossing, Donkey Kong, Luigi's Mansion and more.
It's a mini-game compilation, then, but not as you know it. The games are extremely varied and some of them are pretty unusual. They all find novel ways to use the Wii U's Game Pad in gameplay. Like Wii Sports and Wii Play before it, this is a game designed, as much as anything else, to demonstrate the potential of Nintendo's odd new console.
There are 12 games: three "team" attractions, three competitive attractions and six solo attractions. The team games are basically co-operative, although some of them also have competitive modes, and they can all be played to some extent by one player. The competitive games need at least two players and work better with more. The maximum number of players is five - one on the Game Pad and up to four more using Wii remotes (sometimes, MotionPlus remotes and/or Nunchucks are required).
The six multiplayer games are designed around the idea of what Nintendo calls "asymmetrical" multiplayer; that is, multiplayer where not all players have the same abilities or goals. The trick is that the Game Pad player will often have a different control scheme, or a different view of the playing field via the Game Pad screen, to those playing on Wii remotes.
The three competitive games, Mario Chase, Animal Crossing Sweet Day and Luigi's Ghost Mansion, are all variations on a game of tag. In Mario Chase, a team of Toads chase one Mario (who can see where the others are on the Game Pad screen); in Animal Crossing, one Game Pad player controls two characters chasing the others while they try to collect sweets. Ghost Mansion is the best of these three, with a team of Luigis hunting one ghost who's hunting them in return. They're all a brilliant laugh in company.
The co-op games have the most substantial content, which each presenting 16 or so levels of adventure to work through as well as leaderboard or multiplayer modes. Metroid Blast is a slightly fussy arena shooter where the Game Pad player flies a ship and Wii remote players use Samus' iconic power suit. Zelda: Battle Quest is an on-rails combat game with some players swinging remotes like swords while another aims a bow and arrow using the Game Pad's wonderfully sensitive motion controls. The best game of the whole package is Pikmin Adventure, which plays out like a top-down dungeon-crawling game as Captain Olimar and a team of Pikmin smash crates and enemies and level up together.
The six solo games are a varied bunch, and of pretty varied quality too. You've got traditional score-attack arcade games, like Takamaru's Ninja Castle, a shooting gallery where you flick shuriken off the Game Pad screen at Ninjas on the TV. You've got a couple of obstacle courses and a time trial racer and rhythm action game and a puzzle game.
While some of these are a lot more fun than others, one thing they have in common is that they can be quite difficult. That's true of some of the multiplayer games too, Zelda in particular. Nintendo Land may look like a fun game for all the family (and it is), but it's also a serious challenge in places, which makes the leaderboard competition in the solo games and progress through the co-op games more meaningful.
As a showcase for the Wii U, it works, but it's fair to say that it's not as immediately engaging as Wii Sports was. There are lots of different ideas going on here and the game is falling over itself to explain them all the time, which can get in the way of the fun, initially - especially when the explanations come in the creepy, droning voice of Monita, your robot guide.
But the Game Pad is always great fun to use, there are lots of neat touches - like the way the Game Pad player's face is captured by its camera and beamed to the TV screen in some games - and the Nintendo themes are charmingly executed with sweet, colourful and beautifully detailed graphics. Fans will love the Plaza, where you can collect statues of Nintendo characters and listen to classic tunes on the jukebox.
Unlike most mini-game compilations, there's genuine challenge and even a bit of depth to Nintendo Land, and it has a generous amount of content, too. It's far better when you have friends or family to play with than played solo - and it's true that maybe only half the dozen games are truly great. But Nintendo fans will get a kick out of it and if you're buying Wii U for a family home or a shared house, it's essential that you get Nintendo Land with it.
- Beautifully executed Nintendo themes with all your favourite characters.
- A great variety of games that explore all the crazy possibilities of the Wii U's Game Pad.
- Compared to most mini-game compilations, it's amazingly polished and complete.
- Some games aren't up to the general standard (we're looking at you, Octopus Dance).
- The three competitive games are essentially pretty similar.
- All the explaining can get tedious and Monita gives us the creeps.