Nintendo Land – Hands On Preview

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Nintendo Land is Nintendo's key launch title for its Wii U console, we take a look to see if it's a place we want to visit.

I’ve already gone to some length in stating just how intrinsic Nintendo Land could be to the Wii U’s success, and indeed Nintendo’s, but what I didn’t do with any great detail was describe how Nintendo Land’s collections of mini-games actually play.

Divided into sections based on its most popular franchises, Nintendo Land is perhaps as close as we’ll ever get to the Big N opening a theme park of its own, complete with mechanical goombas and clockwork piranha plants.

So far I’ve been able to check out nigh on half of the included mini-games (assuming Nintendo don’t pull a fast one and announce multiple minis within each ‘land’). Games from which inspiration has been drawn include Zelda, Metroid, Pikmin, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Mario Land, Donkey Kong, F-Zero, Balloon Fight, Yoshi’s Island and Animal Crossing, though as of yet it’s unclear how each are linked with Nintendo yet to show off any of the game’s interface; might we, for example, be treated to a fully rotating world as opposed to a more predictable options screen?

What I can confirm is that some of the experiences I’m referring to as ‘mini’ aren’t anything of the sort, with Nintendo readying whole campaigns for action in some cases. Even where the mini-game is relatively simple there are still multiple stages to keep players engaged, while the presence of stamps (achievements by any other name) have been added too in a bid to increase the number of challenges.

Everywhere you look there’s nuanced interplay with the Wii U’s secret ingredient, the Wii U GamePad too, with its much discussed touchscreen. As you’d expect of a company which prides itself on fun and innovation there are some brilliantly inventive touches, such as the use of the Pad’s on board camera to record a video of the user’s face which is then superimposed on the TV screen during rounds of ‘Mario Chase’.

Here are some first-hand impressions of the games I’ve played so far:

Mario Chase

The most simple of Nintendo Land’s attractions is also one its most addictive, not to mention a good starting point for enticing gaming novices for a bout of multiplayer due to its relative simplicity.

As you might infer from the title what is depicted is essentially a digital game of chase-me, as up to four Miis dressed as Toads, pursue a fifth Mii (this time dressed as Mario) across the maze-like stages – which resemble adapted versions of the balloon fight courses found in Mario Kart.

As with most Nintendo Land games the GamePad user has a unique role to play, and here it’s to be the fifth Mii dressed in Mario’s iconic red overalls. Though outnumbered you have an advantage over the toads in that you have a map which displays their locations in real-time; other than that your only other weapons are a head-start and your wits (though the tactical collecting of invincibility stars can make all the difference between being captured and escape).

All the toads have in order to track down Mario is a gauge displaying how far they are from him and their communication skills – so don’t be surprised to hear your gran screaming ‘He’s in blue! He’s in blue!’ at your next family gathering. So begins a game of cat and mouse which is simple, fun and ultra-addictive.

Metroid Blast

‘Metroid Blast’ places your Miis in combat against Samus’ iconic foes, think space pirates and so on (though so far no sign of her nemesis, Ridley), as wave after wave of increasingly tough hostiles must be pushed back in gaming’s equivalent of the Zulu stand-off.

Teamwork is the key, with the enemies’ weak spots often well-guarded and so exposed only when they’re distracted by one of your mates. Players using the standard Wiimotes can aim freely with the ‘A’ button held down, in what is essentially a control scheme lifted directly from Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

Players on the ground can also access high platforms via elevator beams, and can even tether on to a spacecraft piloted by the GamePad player, who is also able to deal death from above (though be careful, you’re a big target).

Players have three health points – though healing heart icons are left behind by eradicated aliens – but, as is the case with ‘Zelda Battle Quest’, progress is surprisingly tough with enemies having a knack of picking out your armour’s weak spot.

Once you have conquered the hostile threat however you can then turn on your former teammates. The extra mode shown demonstrating ground player versus spacecraft pilot for example, and we’d expect (though it wasn’t there to see) traditional deathmatch modes too – maybe even some capture the flag and such if we’re lucky.

Pikmin Adventure

‘Pikmin Adventure’ captures about half as the Olimar experience – Nintendo presumably keeping something back with Pikmin 3 following along soon after the Wii U’s launch – by forgoing the game’s treasure collecting in favour of a focus on combat and exploration.

Here Olimar is controlled by the GamePad user – with other players assuming the form of Miis dressed as pikmin – and while each player has much the same to do in terms of dealing out damage to foes and environment, it’s Olimar, through his pikmin-organising whistle, who is able to marshal the players’ efforts.

Through the whistle he can call any and all pikmin to him, the shrill tone instantly pulling over normal and Mii-pikmin alike, so that he can throw them on top of nearby foes and so assist his super-cute critters to deal out maximum damage while avoiding being eaten.

There’s also a huge amount of environmental destruction required, with normal pikmin (i.e. non-player pikmin) contained within boxes scattered about the level. More pikmin equals more damage, which is something you’ll be glad to have during boss battles which, as in the Pikmin series proper, deal out huge damage and require no small amount of tactics to overcome.

There’s just enough of the classic Pikmin formula here to whet the appetite for Pikmin 3 and Nintendo will no doubt be hoping that come the game’s expected spring 2013 release, the number of fans clamouring for the title will have swelled considerably.

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest

Multiplayer is nothing new to The Legend of Zelda, with the brilliant Four Swords long since pointing the way to how cooperative and competitive gameplay makes a fine addition to the franchise. Alas, from what I’ve played at least, ‘Battle Quest’ doesn’t go to quite the lengths of adventuring seen in Four Swords, instead pushing players along predetermined paths – no doubt to ensure newcomers aren’t immediately bewildered by long-standing Zelda idiosyncrasies.

Wiimote players, handed swords and shields, are the shock troopers looking to take the fight to classic Zelda bad guys, which the GamePad player is handed a bow and arrow which is aimed via use of the on board screen and can also be used to move (with all other players moving automatically).

Here the players share a pool of six hearts per stage and brilliantly each lost heart is covered by an image of the Mii who lost it forming a wall of shame of sorts showing who the guilty party was should you fail to make it.

The game’s surprisingly tough too with working together the only way to progress unscathed. For example, the timing of when to hit explosive barrels with arrows is particularly important in softening up large groups of foes before the sword-equipped players reach them.

Boss fights are similarly tough, requiring lots of blocking and a fair amount of persistence; and though initial puzzles didn’t seem particularly troubling I look forward to seeing what later stages bring.

Balloon Trip Breeze

As a single player experience ‘Balloon Trip Breeze’ is something of a rarity in Nintendo Land (most games unabashedly showcasing the local multiplayer benefits of the Wii U). That said I still came away from the game begging for another go which can’t be a bad indication of its quality.

All you have to do is swipe across the GamePad’s touchscreen in order to create gusts of wind and so propel a floating young lad (kept aloft through the presence of two tied-on balloons) through the game stages which contain any number of spiky obstacles.

Coloured balloons litter the courses and the goal is to collect them all in order to generate score multipliers, miss one and all your hard work is undone as your multiplier resets to zero. Outside of balloons, points can also be amassed for taking out ducks and the like from above, while stages end at podiums which must be landed on perfectly to top your score up further.

From the six or so stages I was able to complete (before I was torn away by event organisers kicking and screaming) I also saw night stages and then windy stages – which made it twice as difficult to guide our balloon-clad friend.

He’ll also occasionally be able to pick up bricks, attached by long ropes, which make it easier to collect balloons, but at the cost of weighing him down; and given that below is an ocean which is home to a monstrous Moby-Dick-inspired whale, it’s best not to get too close if you can help it if you’re to get up that all important leaderboard.

Nintendo Land will be available on 30th November 2012.

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