In some ways, Nintendo Land is to the Wii U what Wii Sports was to the Wii. Packed in with the premium console, it also acts as a carrot to entice people to the more expensive of the two Wii U systems, as if you buy the basic version, you don't get a free copy of the game.
Made up of twelve games, most of which leverage a variety of Nintendo characters, you'll find yourself interacting with the system (and your friends / family) in all sorts of ways as you play. The characters, too, are often presented in ways that are a little outside of where you might expect to see them...
Realistically, Nintendo Land is more about demonstrating the abilities of the console and less about delivering a game that will set the world on fire. Recognising this, then, I was interested to explore capabilities of Nintendo's new toy.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day
This is one we saw at the press launch of the console. It attracted quite a crowd, with Wii Remote players trying to outwit the one with the Gamepad, who in turn had an expanded view and could control two guards. The players using Wii Remotes had to avoid the guards while running around the screen picking up fruit.
Despite the game's simple premise, it is a lot of fun to play - especially with the right group. Of all the competitive games, this was our favourite by far.
Catch me if you can! One player (using the Gamepad) plays as Mario, attempting to flee, while those using Wii Remotes try and chase him down. There's no karts here, however; it's a foot race.
Mario Chase is a good, competitive game and one I would recommend as being the first you try when introducing the new console to your mates. It's relatively simple to play, but entertaining nonetheless.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion
Presented via a mostly top-down point of view, Luigi's Ghost Mansion is like a modern version of Pac-Man. There's one ghost and up to four humans, in one of the more interesting asynchronous game types on offer.
The ghost must attempt to disable all four humans, using the fact that he's invisible (except on the Gamepad) to his advantage. The humans, meanwhile, need to work together, using their torches and their wits to overpower the ghost before he takes them all out.
Yelling warnings to teammates and trying to corner the ghost are the order of the day here. This game again explores how asynchronous multiplayer can really spice up the types of experiences possible in videogames. It's great fun to play and, with the right group, a potentially endless source of engaging entertainment.
Battle Quest - Legend of Zelda
Set in Zelda's world, Battle Quest is an interesting game. Players using Wii Remotes play your typical melee version of Link, hacking and slashing through enemies with a sword and shield. The player with the Gamepad, meanwhile, is all about the bow & arrow, and is often focused more on enemies and objects in the distance than those that are up close.
The game was quite challenging at first, particularly if you were using the Gamepad. You need to get your mind around the fact that the controller is both your eyes and your targeting device. Switching between the TV and the controller screen can get a bit disorientating, but overall it's a good example of how the Gamepad and TV can interact.
Another unique experience, Pikmin Adventure is also quite similar to the actual Pikmin Gamecube games. The Gamepad player controls a Mii in Olimar's suit, and can command tiny Pikmin to do his bidding. The Wii Remote players, on the other hand, control individual (and much larger Pikmin), as the team attempt to get through the enemies and get to the exit.
The game has wide appeal, even to younger members in the family, with a lot of on screen action, as well as lots of colourful objects to destroy and interact with. Older members might like to give this one a miss, and save the embarrassment of being beaten by the kids...
Metroid Blast actually sports three quite different modes: the coop Assault Mission (a wave-based mode), Surface-Air Combat (on-the-ground players face off against the one person in the space ship), and Ground Battle (the second PvP mode, but all players are on the ground and fighting each other).
The Gamepad player takes control of Samus' spaceship, and can fly freely around the level. Ground-based players, on the other hand, are controlled with Wii Remotes, and have rather more limited means by which to traverse the level.
Designed with the more experienced player in mind, Metroid Blast - despite the controls - is quite conventional in content. There's not much unusual about shooting things in a videogame, is there? That said, it works well, and the option to mix up the balance of power in multiplayer again proved to be a compelling twist.
With clan Gunn, it quickly devolved into a player-versus-player game, and we felt that the person controlling the spaceship had a distinct advantage. It's also an ideal game to solve (or create...) a family argument.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle
Based on a game that was released in Japan in 1986, Takamaru's Ninja Castle is (essentially) a first person throwing star simulator. Laying the Gamepad flat, you use the touch screen capabilities to flick shuriken at the bad guys.
It's tricky, at first, to get the aiming right, but eventually you will be flicking a barrage of shots down range. The game starts of pretty sedately but eventually it gets pretty full on with the pesky Ninjas shooting back. While there are rewards to earn by being very precise with your shots, lesser skilled players can still proceed by flinging throwing stars around like they're going out of fashion.
It's a simple game to understand, but there's challenge there if you want it. We did find, however, that the difficulty ramp meant it could get frustrating for younger members of the family.
Yoshi's Fruit Cart
A puzzle game, Yoshi's Fruit Cart challenges players to collect fruit and avoid traps by drawing a path on the Gamepad. The trick here is that the fruit and traps are only visible on the TV screen. The purpose, then, is to relate the two displays (TV and Gamepad) together, by using background elements as a guide when drawing your path on the Gamepad.
By itself, it's a fun distraction; as a technology demonstration, it's another unique example of the way in which a second, handheld screen can potentially spice up videogames as we know them.
Based on a handheld Game & Watch LCD game from 1981, Octopus Dance is a rhythm-based memory game that sees you jiggling your controller to match the onscreen antics. A diver performs a series of actions which you must then repeat by using the thumbsticks or the motion-sensing capabilities of the Gamepad.
It progressively get faster and faster and, while it was initially interesting to see how motion control and the thumb sticks could be used in unison, the rising difficulty and jarring soundtrack meant that it all became a bit annoying in the end.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course
A unique spin on the original Donkey Kong game, Crash Course initially looks very similar to its 21 year old predecessor. It's actually pretty different to that game, however, as here you have to maneuver a vehicle through a complicated maze of ramps and physics-driven hazards.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course really shows off the motion control capabilities of the Wii U Gamepad, and you can blow into the microphone to control some of the onscreen items.
The game is strong enough to stand all by itself, and is probably the best of the entire package. This fresh new take on the classic "marble drop" game type can be quite challenging, and is one that the whole family really enjoyed playing.
Captain Falcon's Twister Race
Based on F-Zero, the game's inclusion probably comes across as bittersweet to hardcore fans of the franchise. Despite persistent online community support for a sequel, Nintendo have - so far, at least - ignored the franchise since the release of F-Zero: Climax (for the GBA) in Japan (only!) in 2004.
A racing game, steering and up and down movement (to avoid obstacles) are the order of the day with this one. The tracks are, at times, pretty tight and it can be a bit tricky at first getting your head around the controls.
Balloon Trip Breeze
Based on Balloon Fight (an arcade game from 1984), your goal is to traverse a side-scrolling level and collect balloons, all by generating gusts of wind that guide your on-screen pal around. The view on the Gamepad is zoomed in, giving you precise control over where the wind goes, while the TV shows a greatly expanded view of the level, which you'll need when trying to collect balloons or avoid enemies.
It's not a bad little game, with the challenge being more about surviving than actually gathering all of the balloons (a deft hand is required if you're to progress to later levels.) You end up largely ignoring the controller, and instead spend most of your time watching the TV screen action. An easy game to get into.
Considered in isolation, the twelve minigames included in Nintendo Land aren't super exciting, and it's pretty obvious that the games are largely in service of the wider goal of demonstrating the console - rather than being created around gameplay ideas first and foremost.
As a package, however, they do a great job of introducing you (and, in all likelihood, other developers) to the wonderful array of interface options and player interactions that are possible thanks to the new Gamepad controller.
It may not be at the top of your play list in the long term, but as an ensemble it's well worth a look - particularly if you have a fondness for the various included Nintendo franchises.
Platform: Wii U