Nintendo Land review: not-so-magical kingdom

Nintendo Land is being positioned as the company's flagship game for the Wii U console, much like Wii Sports was for the original Wii. Unfortunately, this mini-game compilation falls short of that ambitious goal. Not only do many of the games fail to prove why the GamePad is innovative, but many of the included activities commit gaming's ultimate sin--they're not fun. The GamePad by itself is not really an innovative device. With a capacitive touch screen, gyro sensors, camera, and microphone, Nintendo's gaming tablet is not unlike any other general-purpose tablet (or even the 3DS and Vita). What does make the GamePad so unique is how it interacts with the TV, providing a two-screen gaming experience that should, in theory, be unlike anything we've seen before. However, many of the games included in Nintendo Land fail to show off meaningful interaction between the two screens. focalbox Donkey Kong's Crash Course, for example, is played entirely through the GamePad. You could keep the television powered off as you tilt your system to guide a rolling cart through a trap-filled obstacle course. Balloon Trip Breeze is another game that could be played almost exclusively on the TV. While playing these, I couldn't help but think "why can't I just play this on my 3DS instead?" And, it's not like either takes advantage of Wii U's powerful GPU. Other games implement two-screen interactivity in such a shallow way, that it's hard not to walk away with the impression that this is all "just a gimmick." Octopus Dance, for example, simply shows your character from two different angles: the front on the TV, the back on the GamePad. Captain Falcon's Twister Race shows a top-down view of the track on the GamePad, and a more traditional behind-the-car view on the TV. Never does switching between the two screens make you think "wow, this is a true innovation in gaming." One game does seem "magical" at first: Takamaru's Ninja Castle. In this game, you throw ninja stars by aiming your GamePad at the screen and swiping. Once the "gee whiz" novelty wears out, however, it's easy to see this game could have been recreated simply by having the player aim a Wii Remote at the screen. Many of the games included in Nintendo Land aren't very substantive, either. In fact, many of these games feel like apps you'd be able to download for a buck on other touch-enabled devices. Yoshi's Fruit Cart is probably the most egregious example: in this game, you simply draw a path from start to finish, collecting fruits along the way. Were this available on the 3DS eShop, you would not pay more than a dollar for this not-even-a-tech-demo. The "bigger" experiences in Nintendo Land are undeniably more polished, but they're mere shadows of the games they're inspired by. The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest has all the iconic trimmings of a real Zelda game, from the enemies to the music, to the environment. But, it plays nothing like a Zelda game should. In single-player, the game is just a watered down version of Link's Crossbow Training--a game that was included for free with a Wii peripheral. Pikmin Adventure is fun for a little while, but its aggressive simplicity will leave you wanting. Yes, it's fun to throw player-controlled Pikmin at enemies--but there's almost no strategy involved. Whereas in the original game, the type of Pikmin you used was crucial to make progress, Adventure simply tests your reflexes. It is, essentially, the most superficial translation of the game possible.

Animal Crossing Sweet Day is the best game in the collection

Metroid Blast is the most complex of the games on the disc, but not because of the depth offered by the title. Instead, it uses a cumbersome control scheme that feels like a step backwards from simply using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. The challenge of the game comes not from fighting the enemies (as they're largely brain-dead). Instead, it comes from simply maneuvering your vehicle. The game's three "competitive attractions" prove to be the most worthwhile in the collection. Luigi's Ghost Mansion shows how much fun asymmetric multiplayer gameplay can be. The player with the GamePad sees everyone on the screen, as he tries to hunt down players armed only with Wii Remotes. Not only is it fun, but it is absolutely charming. Mario Chase and Animal Crossing Sweet Day are variations of the same hide-and-seek gameplay. Animal Crossing is a bit more thrilling, especially as it is the compilation's only six player game. Two players can take control of two different characters using the two analog sticks on the GamePad. As with Luigi's Ghost Mansion, the game is both fun and filled with personality. Nintendo Land was supposed to be the Wii Sports of the console: a showcase title that converted gamers and non-gamers alike to the Wii U experience. Instead, Nintendo Land is this generation's Wii Play: a shallow collection of mini-games bundled with Nintendo hardware--and promptly forgotten.
This Nintendo Land review was based on a retail Wii U version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on November 18th. Local multiplayer requires additional Wii Remotes with MotionPlus and Nunchucks (up to four each). Online functionality could not be tested, as Nintendo Network was unavailable before publishing.