E3 2012 Hands-On: Nintendo Land

Nintendo's Wii U mini-game collection.

Whether you’re playing alone or with friends, Nintendo Land introduces Wii U’s capabilities in a bright mini-game collection based on familiar franchises fans are sure to love.

Nintendo Land brings together twelve different Nintendo franchises and builds an interactive “theme park” based around them that your Mii character can visit. We checked out five of the twelve mini-games on the E3 show floor this year.

The first two mini-games are single-player only. Donkey Kong’s Crash Course takes the franchise back to its roots. In it, players control a trolley through levels of platforms, tilting the GamePad left and right to navigate your Mii through the course. However, the trolley is sensitive and if you cause your Mii too much discomfort by crashing, you’ll lose lives. Surpass checkpoints and navigate the course and as quickly as possible without dying to win.

The next mini-game, called Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, is based on a series introduced in the 1980s that never released in the United States. This game’s premise is simple: hold the GamePad perpendicular to the ground and slide your fingertip across its touch screen to toss ninja stars at enemies hiding behind bamboo shoots. Tilting the GamePad back and forth will change the trajectory of your ninja stars. Enemies will fight back by throwing ninja stars, or running at you. You’ll need to earn as many points before your three hearts are depleted.

The next three mini-games explore the key term “asymmetrical gameplay,” which refers to players simultaneously interacting with one game through different controllers (one with a Wii U GamePad, the others with standard Wii controllers). Basically, the role of the person playing with the GamePad is different than the up to four other people using Wii remotes. This is the core of the mini-games offered in Nintendo Land. Rather than teaming with the GamePad player, you each have different challenges and advantages, and it quickly becomes a case of GamePad versus Remotes.

Luigi’s Ghost Mansion was fully demonstrated during the press conference. In this mini-game, based on the Luigi’s Mansion series, up to four remote players wander with flashlights within a space while the GamePad player manipulates a ghost. The ghost is invisible to the players on the main screen, but their controllers vibrate when it’s nearby and the flashlight can ward it off. You can also resuscitate attacked players, but then your character becomes more vulnerable to ghost attacks. If the ghost knocks out the other players within the time limit, it’s game over.

Animal Crossing: Sweet Day takes place in everyone’s favorite little town, based on the Animal Crossing series originally for Gamecube. In this mini-game, Wii remote players’ Miis dress as animal townsfolk and attempt to gather all the candy in town without being caught by the guard dogs, who are being manipulated by the GamePad player. Success depends on how well the GamePad player can navigate two characters at once using both control sticks. I found it extremely challenging, but other people I played with seemed to take to it very easily. However, if the Wii remote players work together and warn the other players, it’s not hard to avoid defeat.

I looked forward most to The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, where three players navigate a Zelda-themed course. The three players share one health bar – basically, five hits and you’re all dead – however, crossing checkpoints in the course will heal any damage taken thus far. The Wii remotes control a sword which can be used to attack forthcoming enemies, and they can also block enemy attacks. The GamePad player has a bow and arrow and sticks to the back of the troop, taking out aerial enemies. They are also the least likely to be hit by enemies so long as the swords are doing their part. Unlike the previous games, where players were pitted against one another, players must work together to reach the the end of the level and defeat the boss in Zelda.

After getting my hands on Wii U for the first time with Nintendo Land, I’m still a little curious as to more intense games utilize the GamePad’s capabilities. But what was presented with Nintendo Land clearly shows that the developers are still considering how to make video games more interactive and enjoyable for groups. It initially reminded of Mario Party, and when you consider the multiplayer games I described, Wii U will no doubt bring a lot of fun new challenges for that series.

Even though it’s technical specs have been upgraded so much that Wii U is indeed a next generation system, it’s obvious why it still attaches the “Wii” to it’s name rather than something new altogether. Not only are the physical motion activities its major component, but the Wii remotes are still compatible with it. To me, it’s really just an upgrade that includes using a Nintendo DS as a controller. Which isn’t bad, I liked when the GameCube included GameBoy Advance connectivity, and this seems very akin to that. But I don’t feel like Nintendo has reached it’s full potential with the system – at least not yet.

A F-Zero-themed world will also be present in Nintendo Land, and judging by the game’s trailerMario and Yoshi worlds, as well. If we’re lucky, maybe this title will be included with Wii U much like Wii Sports was with Wii. Though it exemplifies the capabilities of the Wii U GamePad technology, the title has only twelve mini games. That’s seven more than Wii Sports, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to sustain players once they’re accustomed to it. However, it looks like a fantastic title for showing off what’s to come, and will probably help to sell the Wii U to the more casual audience.

If you missed the E3 screenshots, check them out here.

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