When Nintendo started prepping a successor to Wii, one would have thought it would have made sense to launch it with a new sequel to the super-popular Wii Sports, the best-selling game of all time. But, in keeping with their recent tradition of bucking trends – even their own – that’s not what happened.

Instead, they pulled back the curtain on Nintendo Land, a compilation of various prototype games based on a fusion of the possibilities offered by the new Wii U GamePad and classic Nintendo franchises like Metroid, Zelda, and Balloon Fight.

With Nintendo Land poised to be Wii U’s answer to Wii Sports, there’s a lot riding on it being a hit with the expanded gaming audience. But does Nintendo Land‘s fire set itself up to fizzle out after a few plays, or is it the kind of game that has enough longevity to become one of Nintendo’s infamous evergreen sellers?

Because Nintendo Land is made up of twelve smaller games called “attractions,” each of which offers its own gameplay style, it’s a very diverse package. As a result, there’s a lot to love – but this also makes it hard to rate it as a single game. We’ll break it down by focusing on its various strengths first, and its weaker moments afterward.

The GamePad Makes Local Multiplayer Come Alive Again

Nintendo’s betting big on the local multiplayer space by basing most of Nintendo Land‘s multiplayer experiences around tapping into the frantic fun of playing with friends and family in the same room. Sure, it’s an age-old proposal, but this time they have something on their side that hasn’t been done before: a dedicated second screen in the form of the Wii U GamePad.

Thankfully, the GamePad does its job well. Each of the three Competitive Attractions more or less constitutes a variation on that most infamous of childhood games: tag.

everything-nintendo-land-luigimansioncreenRemoving one player from the action happening on the TV and instead immersing him or her in a completely different style of play allows for a new kind of gameplay balance. One one side you have teamwork, as you work together with partner players to defeat your opponent, and on the other you have the thrill of going at it alone, but with tools and advantages that your foes don’t.

Team players have to rely on solid communication with their partners to track down – or stay away from – the GamePad players. When using the GamePad, however, they have to work on thwarting their opponents’ strategies. It’s an addictive kind of play.

Another way to keep the craziness going involves finding fun ways to take turns. My family and I came up with an interesting way to regulate who gets to use the GamePad next. In Mario Chase, if someone catches the player dressed as Mario, they get to be “it” the next time around. The same goes for Luigi’s Ghost Mansion – whoever gets the ghost will become the ghost for the next round.

As you pass the GamePad to different players, it changes up the team breakdowns and the strategic dynamic. For example, some GamePad players are totally ruthless in Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, meaning it’ll be much better for the ghost hunters to stick together to guard one another; others might be easier to beat if the trackers divide and conquer.

It’s definitely as fun as advertised, though some games have more longevity than others.

nintendo-land-onlineMario Chase’s bare bones simplicity may not seem like anything particularly genius, but throw five (or more!) people together in a room and pit them against each other, and it won’t be long before they’re screaming at each other to chase him into the red zone and howling hysterically at the extended replay at the end of the match. On the other hand, some players might be frustrated at how much more difficult and complicated it is to catch the ghost in Luigi’s Ghost Mansion or to control two characters at once in Animal Crossing: Sweet Day – but others might appreciate the challenge.

Each of the Competitive Attractions has its own set of maps to choose from, each with its own layout and special features, like mud that slows players down or slides that can lead to a quick capture or speedy escape. Mario Chase and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, however, could have used some more maps – there’s not much to unlock for either of them.

And while the standard Wii Remote actually works pretty well for the TV players in these games, some may wish they could use the more comfortable Nunchuk or Pro Controller configurations instead so they could have analog stick input or controller grips. At the same time, Nintendo’s done a great job making the games functional with your existing Wii controllers, and we can’t begrudge them for the effort.

Want to find out more about the Competitive Attractions? Check out our detailed overviews:

Asymmetric Co-op Adds Tremendous Replay Value

Apart from the three Competitive Attractions, there are three more multiplayer games: the Team Attractions, based on The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Pikmin. In terms of the way they use the GamePad, they’re similar in nature to the Competitive Attractions, with one key difference – you’ll be playing together instead of against each other.

everything-nintendo-land-battlequestscreenThe Zelda attraction will seem very familiar to fans of the recently-released Skyward Sword and Ocarina of Time 3D. Up to four players can wield Wii MotionPlus-controlled swords while the GamePad player packs a bow and arrows that he or she can aim with the built-in gyroscope on a quest to vanquish Ganon’s minions and reclaim the Triforce. Both styles of play work well – I’d say they’re even better than the games they came from originally – and the arcade-style on rails action actually does a good job at capturing the series’ spirit.

Metroid Blast’s two styles of play have Wii MotionPlus control Samus and her Arm Cannon and a number of her other classic abilities, including the Morph Ball and Grapple Beam, while the GamePad player pilots her gunship using a combination of the dual analog sticks and the gyroscope to ascend, descend, and aim its cannons. Players will move through a series of wave-based combat missions, each featuring classic Metroid enemies and bosses like Kraid and Ridley.

Pikmin Adventure puts the GamePad player in control of Captain Olimar. Tapping the touch screen will make Olimar toss his Pikmin partners at enemies from a distance, in much the same way that he does in his home franchise. Up to four other players can control individual Pikmin using Wii Remotes – they’ll bash enemies up close. The whole game is played from a top-down perspective, and players can break objects in the environment to find nectar and other items that they can use to power themselves up.

Unlike the Competitive Attractions, which don’t all offer a whole lot of levels to play through, the Team Attractions each have a ton of content to explore – in the form of dozens of levels. They’re surprisingly tough, too – and they only get tougher once you complete the main campaign and unlock the extra stages.

everything-nintendo-land-metroidblastscreenYou can also play each of these attractions solo, choosing either playstyle, offering tons of replayability. They also have unlockable Master Ranks which force you to complete each level under certain conditions, such as never taking a hit or finishing them within a certain time limit. Can you achieve Master Rank on all of them with both styles of play?

Those who want more competitive play options will still find opportunities here, too: Metroid Blast and Pikmin Adventure both have head-to-head modes. Metroid Blast features two deathmatch modes – a traditional ground-vs.-ground shootout mode and an air-vs.-ground mode. Pikmin Adventure features a lighter collect-a-thon battle mode where the GamePad player has to scramble to pick up more nectar than the other players while both groups avoid the enemies that periodically drop into the stage.

Want to find out more about the Team Attractions? Check out our detailed overviews:

Like an Arcade, Except Without the Quarters

That’s six attractions so far, and six more to go: the Solo Attractions, each of them built like a classic arcade game – only this time, you won’t need to keep a bunch of quarters on hand. They’re simple to understand, but ramp up the difficulty as you progress so that it’s tough to master them and get to the end.

They’re all challenging and addictive, but in different ways. There’s a Donkey Kong-themed tilt-based obstacle course, a Yoshi-themed coordination game that has you try to sketch out a route on the GamePad using information from the TV screen, a Game & Watch-themed rhythm game, a ninja star shooting gallery based on the Japan-only The Mysterious Murasame Castle, an F-Zero-themed gyro-controlled time trial course, and a stylus-based Balloon Fight sequel.

everything-nintendo-land-balloontripscreenSome of these games have more appeal than others: the Yoshi game is addictive if you’re an obsessive completionist, but far from the most fun of the bunch. Similarly, rhythm game lovers will go for the Octopus Dance attraction, but it might not be so appealing for more traditional gamers. All of them share one thing in common, however: they’re engaging score attack style games that make great use of the Wii U GamePad’s unique capabilities.

There’s a lot of potential to keep getting better. It took me probably 50 or so tries to get to the end of the first stage of Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, and even then my run took a minute and a half or so. Meanwhile, the current world record for the same level is around 34 seconds. This same kind of obsessive score-based metagame was a heavy driver of gaming culture back in the 80s and 90s – remember the high scores section in Nintendo Power? – and when you couple Nintendo Land‘s solo attractions with the all-new Miiverse social network, it’s clear Nintendo’s made a terrific effort to recapture that same magic.

Want to find out more about the Solo Attractions? Check out our detailed overviews:

The Other Stuff

In the center of Nintendo Land is a great plaza that connects the attractions. Here you can do three things: access the game modes, unlock collectibles, and see other characters’ Miiverse comments.

You have two options for play – the standard single-attraction mode and the Attraction Tour. When you play the Attraction Tour, you’ll get to play a tournament-style set of games with your friends. You’ll compete both in multiplayer modes and try to beat your friends’ high scores in solo games to be crowned the Nintendo Land king. The shorter rounds make it a good way to get started with the games.

nintendo-land-attraction-tourAs you play the various attractions, you’ll rack up Coins that you can use to play a Pachinko game to unlock themed prizes to use to populate your plaza. These can include items, enemies, and setpieces from the various attractions like the Deku Tree, Bullet Bills, or Ridley, as well as soundtrack clips for your plaza jukebox. There are tons of things to collect, and the Pachinko game is actually pretty addictive on its own anyway.

If you have Miiverse enabled, you’ll see Miis from your system, from your Friend List, and from the Nintendo Land Miiverse community, as well as their most recent Miiverse comments. You can see people from all over the world, including Nintendo’s developers, so it’s a great way to follow the Nintendo Land buzz and share hints and secrets with other players.

It’s not exactly the highlight of the game, but the Nintendo Land Plaza’s still a unique approach to social connectivity and serves its purpose as a bare-bones hub and collectible gallery.

In terms of sound, the game’s got a surprisingly extensive soundtrack, including tons of Nintendo’s most popular songs from over 30 glorious years of gaming, many of them with terrific re-orchestrations. It also draws from the sound effect backlog – you’ll recognize many of the in-game noises as coming straight out of the games you used to play as a kid.

As far as graphics go, it’s nothing impressive – it’d be fair to call it the Wii Sports of HD – but there’s a lot of added detail in terms of costume fabrics, draw distance, and a crisp, clean framerate that does well to remind us that Nintendo’s more than caught up with the times. Each attraction has its own visual style, with lots of fun, unique details to spot all over the place.

9Out of 10

The Bottom Line

There's just so much to Nintendo Land that players of all tastes are bound to find something to love, and enough content and play options to keep you coming back to your favorite attractions for a good long while. It's been over a month since Wii U launched, and my family still keeps bugging me to bring the Wii U to our weekly gatherings! That's more than I could say for the Wii and Wii Sports a few years back - and that's an impressive feat. Will it be the next Wii Sports? Probably not. Is it something that's actually worth picking a Wii U up for? If you're still into Nintendo-style fun and want to get the most out of the innovations offered by the Wii U GamePad, you'll be missing out if you skip this one.

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