Wii U Passes a Critical Test: The Family Test

One of the biggest challenges facing Wii U actually comes from Nintendo: how do you follow up a system like Wii that was such a huge phenomenon with the mass market while still adding the features and capabilities necessary to deliver deep multi-platform experiences? In reaching out for that “hardcore” audience, Nintendo would by necessity have to step away from those things that pulled in so many people last time around. I never thought Nintendo Land could serve as an adequate follow-up to Wii Sports because frankly, despite all the promise I placed on its shoulders, I simply couldn’t see people getting that into it.

Curiously enough, Nintendo Land managed to prove me wrong. I’ve shared Wii U with my inlaws’ on two occasions now, and on both occasions we not only were playing the game long into the night, but they say that they’ve never had this much fun with a video game before. Not even with Wii Sports, the biggest gaming phenomenon of all time.

What’s more, I expected there to be a few minutes of hysterical fun with each attraction before the new game smell wore off, but Nintendo Land did me another one: we must have played Mario Chase, Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, and Pikmin Adventure (as well as that pachinko mini-game) for at least an hour or two each. I’ve always scoffed at the notion that Nintendo Land is a “mini-game collection” because most of the games inside it have as much content as full-size arcade games from back in the day, but that’s still much more longevity than I expected.

Yes, some games definitely “got old” quicker than others. Even Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, which I thought would be a nice and sustainable change of pace from Mario Chase (which everyone is addicted to), wound up being put aside after a few rounds. On the other hand, the fact that those select few games kept us occupied for a grand total of about 7-8 hours speaks volumes. And that includes my father-in-law, who hasn’t played video games in any kind of intensive capacity since the NES.

I think the nature of our three favorites speaks volumes about the kinds of experience that tickle the gaming itch of the less dedicated gamer and the family of gamers.

The thing that stuck out most about Mario Chase was just how frantic and hysterical each round was. If you give that commercial clip a watch, you’ll notice that it focuses on communicating with your partners and your opponents… except in practice the family you see here is completely unrealistically subdued. My take-home experience with Mario Chase involved a lot more screaming – screaming that you’d just avoided a tight scrape or that you’d spotted Mario somewhere in the maze and were tailing him through the various colored zones and regions of the map.

Mario Chase was the game that could have single-handedly carried Wii U for my entire family. Every single person gave it a shot when I initially debuted it with them – including my mother-in-law, who on a good day still won’t touch a game controller to save her life – and we all walked away with the consensus that it’s not only the best game we’d played on Wii U, but up there with the best time we’ve had in our entire gaming lives.

Like I said in my pre-release impressions, I think a lot of its appeal has to do with how accessible the concept is. There are no complicated weapon and skill sets, killstreak bonuses and perks, and so on – just the simple, primal thrill of the chase. That’s a kind of gameplay that anyone can understand and doesn’t require a learning curve. Even my sister-in-law, who’s played maybe one or two games in her entire life, took to Mario Chase like a fish to water. It was an absolute joy to watch.

For Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, the appeal is largely the same as it was for the original Donkey Kong in the arcade days: the game just keeps pushing you forward, despite how absurd the obstacles get along the way. Before you were jumping over barrels, climbing ladders, and avoiding fireballs – now you’re clearing gaps, manipulating ramps and elevators, and looking out for moving parts that could easily crush you if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The compelling thing here is the addictive nature of trying to make it further and further through the maze. It’s the same drive that circulated so many quarters 30 years ago, except now it’s right there in your living room. So far I’ve only made it past the first full course, and the only thing keeping my from playing it as I write up this article is the fact that I haven’t written anything for GenGAME in three days and I have tons of reading to catch up on for school. I hope Nintendo realizes this and continues providing those same “home console arcade” type games going forward.

As for Pikmin Adventure, it’s exactly what I said in my preview: “the simple joy of smashing stuff.” While a number of video game developers shoot for sophisticated blends of tactics, button combos, and flashy kills, Nintendo’s hit a hot button by dumbing the action down to a few basic jumps and hits and leaving it at that. As it turns out, you don’t really need much more than that to have a fun game.

Even with five players, Pikmin Adventure also happens to be fairly challenging once you make it into the second set of initial stages. Despite this, we tried using an “Assist Block” to help us progress through one of the tougher levels, only to realize that it actually was too steep a handicap and made things too easy to be fun. Needless to say, we decided to replay it and ditched the help completely, and while it took us several tries, we managed to pull through in the end.

We didn’t quite get to finish, but I have no doubt that we’ll return to the game as soon as we all get together again. I can’t say when that will be – now that we’re all grown-ups, we don’t necessarily get opportunities to just sit back and enjoy time together like the Thanksgiving holiday every day or even every weekend – but I know that we’re all in agreement that we can’t wait for the next time we’ll be able to venture forth on a Distant Planet together.

Now that I’ve shared Nintendo Land with the family, one thing has become clear: Wii U isn’t going to be the same kind of family phenomenon that Wii was. No, it has potential to be something much greater. I don’t think we’ll see too many Wii Us collect dust this generation – I think Nintendo Land could actually keep family gatherings occupied in full force for the next five or six years without breaking a sweat. That’s a critical test for Nintendo to pass if they want to gain and maintain a terrific reputation with the demographic that they most need to score with: the mass market.