Pity the Mii, Nintendo’s solution to the avatar. This nameless, niche-less icon has oft struggled to take root, bouncing from game to game in straight-faced simplicity while others like Samus and Link have enjoyed back stories and planet-sized liberations.
With the launch of the Wii U, the Mii returns in Nintendo Land, a theme park vibrant with remixes of Nintendo’s greatest franchises. To the casual player, the appeal is simple (the Mii is a signpost for ‘non-gamer game here’), but to hardcore fans, the juxtaposition doesn’t bode well. Running rampant beneath a plethora of timeless classics, how will our Miis back Nintendo’s latest assertion: that there is something in Nintendo Land for everyone?
Your Mii is, once again, a guinea pig for unmarked pursuits, this time twelve attractions bordering the perimeters of Nintendo Land. Needless to say, not one of these pursuits is a plot intensive quest or survival-horror mansion. (I’m left speechless at anyone who so enters the theme park with these expectations in mind.)
Rather, what Nintendo does provide is an array of gaming experiences, each one vastly different from the next, yet each one equally simple to grasp. Be it in Metroid Blast’s third-person shooting or in the precision-based puzzler, Yoshi’s Fruit Cart, the objective is simple, and the controls even simpler. Yes, the Wii U GamePad couldn’t be easier to use — the tutorials take a minute at most — and while each game uses the pad differently, no dynamic feels unintuitive or cumbersome in the least. With an almost nonexistent learning curve, Nintendo Land caters to its casual fans while succinctly introducing an otherwise scary-looking controller.
And with a dozen games to choose from, dare I say, even the hardcore will be hard-pressed not to find at least one Nintendo Land game that doesn’t whet their gaming appetites, at least for a while.
Of the dozen attractions in Nintendo Land, some are restricted to single player, others accommodate from one to five players, and still others are exclusively multiplayer. Of those designed for groups, some are cooperative, and others both cooperative and competitive.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion pits players’ Miis in a haunted room and equips them with nothing but a flashlight. Of course, these flashlights are far from ordinary. For one, they have abysmal battery life; but more to the point, they reveal ghosts. And who better to play the role of ghost than one who wields the GamePad? Indeed, it is his mission to frighten his opposition without being caught. Meanwhile, all other players must strategize to find and purge him into oblivion.
This concept of asymmetric gameplay in Nintendo Land is a simple one, yet it’s one fully realized with this second screen, which effectively conquers the notorious issue known as ‘screen-watching’.
This simple yet welcome use of the Wii U GamePad is just one of twelve finely-tuned examples Nintendo Land has to offer. However, as a whole, the game is most enjoyed with friends and Wiimotes (and lots of batteries). While most attractions can be played alone, they’re akin to riding a roller coaster by yourself; that is, not as fun.
Even single-player-only games like Donkey Kong’s Crash Course are hardly as good without a crowd to watch and laugh as you blunder and fall. These games are good, make no mistake, but they’re vastly improved when played in the company of others. I don’t live with gamers, so it’s no surprise that I’ve spent far more hours playing games other than Nintendo Land.
While Nintendo Land comes packed-in with the Deluxe Wii U, one might think of it like a board game with a few phone-app style pastimes to boot. Like Wii Sports, it’s a novelty to begin with, but after a while, the game gets shelved, left as a precaution for when someone loses the Monopoly dice.
In all other instances, it shrugs off the dust as often as the one-dollar games on your Smartphone. Almost. Were it not for a few inclusions, Nintendo Land might have been rendered a 60-dollar collection of twelve simple innovations.
Unlike Wii Sports, Nintendo Land offers replay value in the form of collectible coins. Coins gained from any of twelve attractions can be used to try your luck at winning decorations for your park. Some are useful while others are merely aesthetic. For instance, one prize I earned was a switch that changes the setting from daytime to sunset to dusk and back again, while another prize was, well, a watermelon. This added sense of mystery adds incentive to keep earning coins, and, the more prizes you earn, the better your park will look.
Moreover, what your phone apps do not have is Miiverse. This social network is seamlessly integrated in Nintendo Land, allowing Miis from all over the world to wander your park with written and hand drawn messages ballooning in speech bubbles for all to see.
At the game over screen, people’s posts will appear left and right, detailing their latest accomplishments, miserable failures and humorous slip-ups, much of which will relate to your own experiences. The option to post a response of your own is also provided, and you can leap to Miiverse any time after a push of the ‘Home’ button.
Attractions also offer trophies related to how far you went in the given game without dying. These incentives to keep playing add depth to an otherwise superficial, albeit innovative, mini-game collection.
Bar the Miiverse community, however, Nintendo Land lacks all form of online gameplay. The game majors on local multiplayer, but not everyone in a given household necessarily likes playing games in their spare time, casual or no.
While the same could be said of a board game, Nintendo leads a full-fledged fandom itching to get online, and, coupled with a console packed with internet-ready software, this lack of online play seems like a firewall Nintendo specifically deployed on the presumption that it may discourage local multiplayer, and this, to me, makes no sense.
“At least the effects are good,” someone might say. And they wouldn’t be wrong, to a degree. The colorful palette is apt for the game’s audience, and the HD textures make hand-stitched backgrounds and cardboard props look exactly that.
It’s a shame, then, that the Miis get nary a makeover. Indeed, they look exactly the same as they did on Wii Sports, save a few extra polygons. The colors on skin, shirt and pants look like someone borrowed a few buckets from Microsoft Paint. Perhaps he was short on time. In any case, my avatar looks considerably awful now that his simple figure is surrounded in a theme park filled with detail. Even I would feel naked.
Yet, while the visuals may be inconsistent in Nintendo Land, the music is a euphoric bliss of nostalgia. Classic tunes have been revamped and remixed so well that I find myself replaying some games just to hear them. If nothing else, Nintendo veterans will no doubt love what they hear.
As a demonstration of hardware, Nintendo Land is a generation above Wii Sports. Time and effort garnish this latest mini-game collection, and a skilful inclusion of classic Nintendo franchises provides this party game with a refined sense of identity. Our high definition Miis could do with an improvement in texture, but everything else is coated in a vibrant finish, and the music certainly bears no gripes. The only thing missing is online multiplayer. Miiverse, while apt, is no substitute for true online multiplayer.
Regardless, Nintendo Land is a game to be played with others. While the Deluxe Wii U offers more than a packed-in title, I would discourage purchasing it if this game is the only thing on your mind and you only ever play games alone. Instead, I would advise you to ask yourself: Do you have some spare Wii Remotes? Do you have friends with whom you play social games? Do you long for your Mii to play dress-up? If the answer is yes to all of the above, then this game is undoubtedly worthy of your investment.
Indeed, it’s one of the best social videogames I’ve ever played. But make no mistake, it is a social game, and our Miis will find no lasting significance here. Running rampant beneath a plethora of timeless classics, they can all but fulfill Nintendo’s latest assertion: that there is, in fact, something for everyone.
- Intuitive controls
- Large, unique selection of games
- Classic tunes
- Lack of online play
- Miis look sub-par beside everything else