Nintendo Land was no doubt Nintendo’s most important game announcement at this year’s E3. From the creator of Animal Crossing, Nintendo Land takes players through a virtual theme park filled with attractions/mini-games that are based off of classic Nintendo franchises. Each of these mini-games (12 in all, 5 playable at the show) were crafted to be simple pick-up-and-play experiences that still provide a great amount of depth and replay value to casual and hardcore gamers alike. Throughout the show, I heard the same thing from Nintendo’s staff time and time again: Nintendo Land is to Wii U what Wii Sports was to Wii. And, while I was skeptical of the project’s depth at first, after playing through each of the mini-games multiple times in both Nintendo’s media booth and in the real-life theme park that they had set up on the show floor, I was sold.
The first mini-game that I had the opportunity to play on the show floor was The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, a co-op action-puzzle game for three players. Two players use Wii Remote Pluses to control sword-wielding Miis dressed as Link with controls that are nearly identical to Skyward Sword‘s. The third player uses the Wii U GamePad and plays as an archer. All three heroes share a single life bar and if one of them falls, they all do (on my first run-through of the demo, I learned this the hard way). At the end of the demo, we were treated a boss battle with a massive Moblin. According to Nintendo Land producer Katsuya Eguchi during the Wii U roundtable on Tuesday evening, the E3 demo was a combination of the first few levels of Battle Quest tailor-made for E3 and the final game will have several levels for Link wannabes to run through with their friends. For a better idea of how this game worked, check out Nintendo World Report‘s run-through of the demo below.
Next up was Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, a shuriken throwing mini-game that was based off of the Famicom classic Nazo no Murasame-jō. The game, which was actually teased during the Wii U’s first reveal at E3 2011, is very simple: swipe on the Wii U GamePad towards the TV screen to throw shurikens at incoming ninjas. Players can throw as many ninja stars as they like but are rewarded for precise and consecutive shots. The game starts off very easy but gradually grows more challenging as you will eventually have to throw stars at incoming projectile attacks in order to block them and slash away at ninjas who get to close for comfort and block your attacks as well.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, the mini game based on everyone’s favorite life simulator starring woodland creatures, was my personal favorite “attraction” in the package and the one that I found myself coming back to play and the end of each E3 day. Four players using Wii Remotes control Miis dressed like animal villagers that run around the environment and collect candy from trees. However, eating candy makes the villagers fatter and slower, so players really have to work together as a team to collect the candy instead of letting one pro player collect all of it by himself. The player with the WiiU Gamepad controls two guards with the left stick and right stick and has to catch three of the villagers before they collect 50 pieces of candy. It’s an absolute blast to play and, based on my experience with the game and other players on the show floor and in the media booth, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the game in the package that will keep people coming back for more well after the other games in the package grow tiresome.
That said, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, a game with a relatively similar premise, comes very close to matching Sweet Day‘s level of strategy and replay value. In this game, the player with the Wii U GamePad controls a ghost whose task it is to take out the four Wii Remote players who are wandering around the mansion. The four Wii Remote players are armed with Luigi’s signature flashlight and vacuum cleaner and need to shine light on the ghost and drain its HP down from 100 to zero before it kills them all. The flashlights have limited batteries too and will drain if overused (at least until the player picks up another battery). Players who fall victim to the ghost can also be revived but if the players doing the reviving are not constantly watching their backs, they’ll become sitting ducks for the ever-prowling ghost.
The final playable Nintendo Land mini-game at E3 this year, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, was my least favorite of the bunch. By tilting the Wii U GamePad, players guide a flimsy car through a giant retro Donkey Kong themed maze without, you guessed it, crashing. The L and R buttons activate switches that tilt walls and platforms. Crash Course was definitely a challenge; neither Chase nor I made it past the third area of the multi-leveled maze. However, much of the challenge had to do with the game’s finicky controls. I can totally foresee this game finding its fans but it was definitely the lowlight of my Nintendo Land experience.
Overall, I walked away from the Nintendo Land experience completely and utterly sold, despite my heavy initial skepticism of the title. Many of the mini-games, such as Sweet Day and Ghost Mansion, were highly addicting and extremely fun with multiple people and I can see myself replaying Takamaru’s Ninja Castle for a new high score and the sheer novelty of throwing ninja stars from the GamePad to the TV. And, based on the F-Zero mini game preview that we got during the Wii U Developer Roundtable on Tuesday night of E3, it looks like the other currently unannounced games in the package are shaping up to be just as fun and nostalgia heavy as the ones at the show. If Nintendo Land comes packaged with Wii U (and based on the seemingly endless amount of comparisons to Wii Sports during the show, I’m betting it will), Nintendo will have another massive hit on their hands.