Nintendo Land Has Failed In its Mission to Become the Next Wii Sports

Back before the Wii U Experience event in September of last year, I declared that Nintendo Land is the gutsiest move Nintendo has ever made. They were trying to cast it as Wii U’s unique answer to the Wii Sports phenomenon of the last generation, saying that its demonstration of the power of the Wii U GamePad would do for Wii U what Wii Sports did for the Wii Remote. My response was that while Nintendo Land certainly does try to re-create the “arcade” experience with the Wii U GamePad, a number of factors might hold it back from success.

Now that the Wii U launch has come and gone, and the extent of the system’s loss of momentum in 2013 is finally visible, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo Land was no Wii Sports successor. The game failed to drive sales in any way that even remotely resembled the Wii Sports phenomenon. And I say this as a massive self-declared Nintendo Land junkie.

Before, I said one of Nintendo Land‘s biggest strengths and biggest claims to the “Wii Sports successor” name was its focus on arcade-like action and structure… but there was a caveat: I didn’t think Nintendo Land appropriately captured the look and feel of the arcades – or even the games on which its attractions were based.

I can understand that one of the motivations for adding in the cutesy kiddie touches was to make the game more family-friendly and fit in with the “theme park” thing the game had going on, but let’s get real: Metroid and F-Zero didn’t need to look kiddie back in the day, and they certainly don’t need to now. Does Nintendo really think that fans of the franchises are going to enjoy the way they’ve been butchered to dumb them down to an audience that they were never really meant to appeal to directly in the first place?

Not only that, but these are video games. A virtual theme park doesn’t need to look like it was pieced together mechanically – it can actually feature the characters and scenes from the games the attractions represent. For example, I thought it’d be pretty cool to see the world of Balloon Fight explored again as a progression through different times of day, but the “cloth” art style of the game wound up being an odd mis-match. As a result, while the game played pretty nicely, it didn’t really look like a new and improved Balloon Fight. It looked like what a lot of people read it as: a Balloon Fight themed mini-game.

balloon-trip balloon-trip-breeze

Similarly, the F-Zero, Metroid, and Mario attractions look like something out of a toy box, Zelda looks like dolls, the Pikmin world has been relegated to cardboard cut-outs and those crappy little toys you get out of those capsule dispensers at the mall. They don’t look like Nintendo is testing out some ideas for its franchises using the GamePad – they look like Nintendo has reduced its franchises to “themes” to be slapped onto tech demos.

This wasn’t how Nintendo wanted people to see Nintendo Land. Nintendo made these games to each have the design potential to stand on their own due to their arcade-like nature. However, that concept seems to have been lost in translation based on the Nintendo Land brand image. They look like gimmicky, substance-less GamePad-based mini-games rather than arcade successors that take advantage of the GamePad.

Compare that to Wii Sports, where the presentation of the game’s sports was pretty neutral: the golf courses looked like golf courses, the bowling alley looked like a bowling alley, and the tennis court looked like a tennis court. No fancy visual “creativity” or thematic gimmickry. They look like sports games… that happen to be played with brand-new motion controls. And that’s exactly how people approached them – as a home entertainment sports pack. Wii Sports became the face of Wii and went on to become the best-selling game of all time.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think the games are tons of fun. But they by and large miss the appeal of their parent franchises. And it’s about more than just the aesthetics.

For example, Balloon Trip was supposed to be this never-ending high score mode, where you’d just keep going and going through a mostly randomized course until your balloons popped. Balloon Trip Breeze plays similarly, but instead involves a series of pre-set levels. The two are not the same.

Metroid was a shooter, yes, but it also involved players finding their way through a series of labyrinthine tunnels using a variety of weapons and tools. Metroid Blast has none of that. It’s all shooting, and literally zero exploration. Not the same.

nintendo-land-zelda-archeryZelda is all about diving into a virtual garden to play in at your leisure… but not in Nintendo Land. Instead, it’s an on-rails experience that has you re-visit the same places over and over and over again, just from different angles and with different enemies. There’s very little combat variety, and absolutely zero “overworld.” Battle Quest is not The Legend of Zelda.

Of all the attractions, the only one to really capture its core franchise in terms of concept and feel is Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, which oddly enough is also the one that sticks closest visually to its source material. The mansions all look just like something out of Luigi’s Mansion, and the use of flashlights to stun ghosts, while it’s missing the “vacuum” element, is still pretty comparable to catching ghosts in the main franchise.

The kicker is that because none of these attractions is particularly representative of the franchises they’re supposed to be based on, they actually do a very poor job of introducing these franchises to new players. If you’re already a fan of Zelda or Metroid, you might appreciate the way the series’ basic controls adapt to the GamePad and Wii MotionPlus… but other than that, Nintendo Land isn’t a very good game for showing off the potential of these franchises on Wii U, either gameplay-wise or visually.

That’s a problem. That’s potentially a big problem. If the Wii U brand doesn’t match up with the Nintendo gold standard for quality that exists in many previous fans’ minds, Wii U is unlikely to be something that they’re interested in. As we’ve seen with Nintendo Land, people don’t actually seem to be sold on the idea of a Nintendo-themed game compilation – what does that say about the strength of the Nintendo brand, or of the potential benefits people see as far as Wii U delivering on enhanced gameplay?

I’d say it looks like the Nintendo brand is in trouble if Wii U’s flagship games can’t move systems.

  • Erimgard

    Nintendo Land is a great game, but from a business perspective, yeah, it’s not doing it’s job.Wii Sports launched with the Wii as a sort of “Look at this! This is the kind of stuff the Wii has to offer” game, and people just GOT it. It clicked.

    Nintendo Land does the same thing, showing off lots of fun ways to use the fancy new GamePad, but it’s not drawing as much attention. It’s arguably a better game, but it’s not making the purpose of the system sink in with most people.

  • RestlessPoon

    The thing is, Wii Sports was simple, which is why so many people could just pick it up and play it. Nintendoland is much better, but it’s a lot less simple. It shows off the Wii U in a ton of different ways. There’s no simple waggle anymore.

    • Power

      According to 30m of 30.10 million users, Wii Sports is much better. I think it varies in the opinion and tastes of each person, but don’t state your opinion as a fact.

  • ……..

    Really the only reason it’s sales aren’t like Wii Sports is because it’s not a bundled game like before, except for the Deluxe Version in America only. I literally spend only a week or so playing Wii Sports while NintendoLand I pick up every so often (as long as there isn’t a cool new game out). Not many people would have bought Wii Sports if it wasn’t bundled, and not many are eager to spend $60 on simple mini-games, even as fun as they are.

    • Alex Plant

      Wii Sports wasn’t bundled in Japan, yet it was the best-selling game for the platform besides NSMB. Also, given that very little was released in Wii’s early months, and the system was still sold out (with no particularly standout game sales-wise), it’s pretty clear that a lot of people were buying Wiis to get at Wii Sports for the first two years it was on sale.

  • Zeta

    the reality of it is that nintendoland is not as simple as wii sports, it’s not just the mindless controller waggling, it actually requires some sort of skill to play the attractions. Also, your argument falls flat, nintendoland was never meant to be anything but a nintendo themed amusement park with mini games representing different franchises. I would complain if the next metroid or F-zero were made in that style, but here is completely understandable. It’s an amusement park, of course the visual style of the games is going to be artificial props and costumes, that was the whole theme of the game. The game was still fun and entertaining, why complain about the aesthetics if they don’t intervene or hinder the gameplay in any way or form?

    • Alex Plant

      Because they don’t have universal appeal.

      Also, Nintendo said several times that Nintendo Land is not supposed to be seen as a mini-game collection.

      • Frailties

        He didn’t say “mini game collection”. If anything, you’re the one making it seem like that’s what you were expecting. The way the article is written it almost seems like you were expecting entirely new metroid and zelda games (like wind waker, ocarina of time) to be included in nintendoland, which obviously wasn’t going to happen. The mini games are just that; mini games. They are not there to represent the entire franchise. And the amusement park theme was extremely creative of them, in my opinion. I wish Xbox had something like nintendoland, really.

        • Alex Plant

          It doesn’t matter if “they are not there to represent the entire franchise.” If they have the franchise’s name on them, they DO represent the franchise.

          As it stands, I think small demos, even of old games running with added Wii U features, would have been a better way to demo Wii U’s capabilities.

          • Frailties

            Yes, but they only represent as much as a mini game would, which pretty much sums it up to characters and environment. Also if they had done demos of previous games it most likely would not have gone over very well. For old fans it would mostly be a “been there, done that” feeling, multiplied because there’s more than 1 of them. Who would really want to go out and buy a game consisting mostly of DEMOS of old games for a new console? Almost nobody. No, they had to make something new that would hold peoples attention and be replayable if they wanted it to sell at all. And yes, these mini games are largely replayable assuming you have friends with you.

  • Vitamin E

    Maybe it’s a better game, but Nintendo Land sounds like Wii Play with Nintendo characters to me. The way this describes Balloon Trip Breeze reminds me of how its Shooting Gallery came across as a really poor substitute for Duck Hunt. I was playing Balloon Fight on NES the other day, actually. It’s really hard to imagine shelling out $350 to play a version of the game which ends after a short time.

    • Zzen

      you can by the game seperate from the console and if you by the console just for this game then you need help..jeez man

  • Demonsxlr8

    Wii sports came with EVERY wii, that’s why it selled so much.. srsly wii sports is fun when you first play it then it gets boring, Nintendo Land doesn’t. it’s stupid to compare a game that basicly nintendo makes you buy it, with one that isn’t bundled with EVERY FUCKING CONSOLE.

  • tanto

    “I’d say it looks like the Nintendo brand is in trouble if Wii U’s flagship games can’t move systems.”

    HAHAHAHA new super mario bros U was the highest selling game on the system globally. The brand is in trouble? LOL

    nintendo sold the most hardware and software globally last year. Stop dooming and glooming, stop generalizing, stop making articles soly for hits

  • labecula

    Ever played pikmin in Coop Mode? Its the best and its better than Luigis Mansion. And it has a lots of levels.

  • kfd3d

    I don’t know, I find maybe it’s too early to say Nintendo Land is a failure. Wii U different from the Wii has a one year advantage compare to the competition and with that we’re seeing a lack of marketing from Nintendo with the Wii U and more specifically Nintendo Land. In the advertisements, back in November. They did show Nintendo Land in commercials, but it was very quick and they did not take the time to explain it more clearly to the consumer. For example if you compare Nintendo Land’s advertisement to Mario Party 9 TV Ad. Mario Party 9 was more explained if you ask me.

  • jballaviator

    give me a controller, I want to play my game, not exercize, I want to play for hours, not charge my controller every hour. I want to play zelda U til my thumbs bleed not replay windwaker.