What’s most striking about Nintendo Land is how old-fashioned some of it is. Several of the twelve games included in it are positively state-of-the-art – and showcase all of the features of the Wii U Gamepad superbly – but others have clearly been inspired by classic diversions invented several centuries ago. Donkey Kong’s Crash Course, in which you manoeuvre a triangular tricycle down a hazard-ridden ramp, is reminiscent of one of those old wooden marble labyrinths; the kind of thing you might have found nestling behind the bar in a 19th century pub. Similarly, Yoshi’s Fruit Cart – which is almost certainly the best thing here – is reminiscent of that old fairground sideshow that involved a bronze hoop, and a snake-like piece of bent metal tubing hooked up to a buzzer. They say the old ones are the best, and in this instance, they have a point.
The aforementioned Yoshi mini-game really is something of a classic, and is the kind of thing that’s guaranteed to ensnare the interest of anyone in the vicinity. It’s incredibly simple: you draw a line on the Gamepad from A to B, ensuring that you pick up every collectible in your path (sometimes in a specific order) whilst avoiding the increasing number of hazards and traps on the ground. The problem is that everything – aside from your character and the endpoint – only appears on the television screen, and the only assistance you’re given is via some scarce customisable waypoints, which are only unlocked periodically. As with all of the games in Nintendo Land, you’re persistently reminded of the existence of a local high-score table, and in some cases (such as in DK’s Crash Course) you’re perpetually doing battle with other player’s ghosts. There’s a single-player option available for many of these games, but this is a multiplayer experience through and through.
It’s certainly one of the most user-friendly multiplayer games in recent memory. Nintendo are well aware of the fact that pads and Wiimotes are going to be passed around pretty constantly, so you’re given the opportunity to switch controllers (and Mii profiles) at every available juncture. All of Nintendo Land’s attractions appear in an open hub-world which you are free to peruse at your leisure. At first this plaza area is a pretty drab and empty place, but as you progress through each game the environment steadily comes to life; innumerable Miis show up to populate it, and statues and trophies signifying your in-game achievements bring much-needed visual colour and variety. During play you’re constantly earning coins which are then used to buy credits for a Pachinko machine, and it’s here that your environmental prizes are (randomly) awarded to you. If none of this is of any interest to you however, you can instead access every attraction via a simple, single-screen menu.
Despite the simplicity and immediacy of things like Fruit Cart and Crash Course, two of the more complex attractions are similarly compelling. Metroid Blast is a first-person shooter, and one of the most enjoyable outings if you’re playing with two people. One of you – via the Gamepad – flies around the sky in a spaceship, utilising the gyroscope and both thumbsticks in tandem (to navigate both your ship and your fire) whilst your ground-based partner uses a Wiimote and Nunchuck. It’s fast-paced, challenging and although it’ll take younger players a solid while to get fully used to, it’s pretty exhilarating for a mini-game. Similarly Zelda: Battle Quest, in which you brandish either a bow and arrow or a sword and shield, is generally less complicated than Metroid but single-handedly reminds you of how thrilling one-to-one swordplay is with the still-miraculous Wiimotion Plus.
Three of the other games – Mario Chase, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion and Animal Crossing: Sweet Day – are best experienced with three players or more, and are all largely successful variants of Hide and Seek. Frequently hilarious, this trio represent the most accessible part of the package, and should be the first port of call for anybody who owns enough Wii equipment to allow for simultaneous four-way play. Other attractions are solid if uninspired. Takamaru’s Ninja Castle is a decent if repetitive light-gun game which uses the Gamepad instead of a pistol. Captain Falcon’s Twister Race is a fluffy F-Zero racer that features gyroscopic controls, and Octopus Dance is an instantly forgettable rhythm action game that’s easily the package’s weakest link. Balloon Trip Breeze is the best of this second-tier bunch, with satisfying controls that owe a clear debt to the Wii indie platformer Lost Winds.
So whilst there are no duds here, there are a couple of attractions which won’t warrant substantial revisiting beyond the Wii U’s launch weekend. But the really good stuff – and there is more than enough of it – is nothing less than classic Nintendo, and succeeds in offering players some of the same boisterous sense of freshness and delight that Wii Sports once did. Regardless of whether or not you fall head over heels in love with all of the twelve games on offer here, Nintendo Land is a near-perfect introduction to Nintendo’s latest console.