Preview – Nintendo Land – Bridge Over Casual Water

When you first go hands on with Nintendo Land there’s one thing in particular that hits you with  all the weight of an obese Rhinoceros; Nintendo Land’s twelve so-called ‘mini’ games are surprisingly good. And not good in the ‘thought they were going to be trousers’ kind of way, good in the ‘dayum, I gotta get my friends on this’ kind of way.

They’re also not ‘good’ in the same ‘proof of concept’ manner that helped Wii Sports win so many fans. Not that Nintendo Land doesn’t do an excellent job of showing the benefits of the Gamepad, it absolutely does, but its games are bigger than that. They’re better than that.

They’re more important than that.

Example time, and let’s start with Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. You know the set-up by now – one Gamepad player takes the role of a lone ghost stalking four Miis all playing on the TV using Wii Remotes. The ghost is invisible to players but they can ‘feel’ his presence through their controller’s rumble (leading to many amusing outbursts, as you can imagine). The ghost wins if they manage to grab all the Miis, causing them to faint, while the Mii’s attain victory if they can deplete the Ghost’s health using their torches.

Simple, right? Not exactly. The Mii’s torch is an atrocious piece of power guzzling equipment that gets progressively weaker the more you wave it around, until it’s emitting a beam that a tea-light would be embarrassed of. This means that you need to be cautious and thoughtful in the use of your weapon, which is easier said than done when you’re chasing an invisible assassin and your controller is dancing a jig in your palms.

But it’s this inability to keep calm under pressure that the Ghostly player feeds on. A circle around their spectre shows them exactly when a Mii’s controller will start rumbling, even when they’re in an adjacent room, allowing them to plan attacks precisely and try to misguide Mii player’s into wasting their ‘ammunition’. Playing as the Ghost is half skill, half psychological warfare. While it’s obviously cruel that the game has you toying with a Mii player’s nerves it’s this sort of thoughtful playability that proves Nintendo Land’s quality above and beyond any Wii Sports or mini game comparisons.

We haven’t even gone into the way Mii’s can strafe to cover corners, or the way a random lightning flash can scupper a ghost’s plans, or how the ghost can intentionally reveal themselves to coax brash players into foolish manoeuvres, or how it takes vocal co-operation for the Mii team to succeed…

It’s multiplayer survival horror vs. lone stealth warrior, and it’s brilliant. Merely a visual mod away from being the best multiplayer Alien game in existence.

Then there’s the Willy Wonka fever dream Animal Crossing Sweet Day. A similar co-op vs solo set-up again, with Gamepad player using a pair of oversized cutlery to chase four sugar hungry Miis before they snaffle fifty sweeties between them.

Again, communication is key if team tubby want to succeed as the Gamepad player is capable of some rather sneaky pincer movements through the twin stick controls (left stick controls fork, right stick controls knife). Also similarly it’s a game with sneaky nuances – eat too many sweets and you run slower, meaning you’ll need to drop your stash should the heat catch up to you before leading them on a merry dance while a friend swings by to reclaim the goods.

Metroid Blast is a multiplayer arena based, third person shooter in which a group of football shouldered Miis can work together against AI, fight against each other, or team up to take down someone playing as a powerful airborne spaceship. The game’s health system bears more similarities to laser quest than Counter Strike but its arenas are suitably obstacle filled. Add to this the ability to jump around and escape through Samus’ trademark morph ball transformation and the potential of this little arena shooter starts to shine through.

This is where Nintendo Land truly starts to assert its importance, however. We’ve talked about three games of a total twelve and we’ve mentioned – amongst others – survival horror, Metroid, stealth, twin stick controls, Luigi’s Mansion, third person shooter, Animal Crossing, and co-operation. These are words that mean everything to us as gamers – we know these franchises, we can handle these control styles, we’ve all tasted these design concepts – but things that mean much less to casual gamers who are largely less knowledgeable of the wider medium of gaming.

This is where Wii Sports failed. As a proof of concept it was excellent, and it got a lot of people interested in owning a Wii for a spot of bi-monthly bowling and dancing, but did those people go on to buy Super Mario Galaxy? Possibly. Zelda: Skyward Sword? There’s a slim chance. Metroid? No.

Nintendo Land actively works to get three important things into the minds of the casual player – key Nintendo franchises, different control styles and different gameplay concepts. It entices players in through the comfort of the ‘Nintendo’ name and the bulbous headed Miis, then it acts as a lesson in the merits of nuanced, compelling games in the playing. Wii Sports made Wii owners, Nintendo Land will make gamers.

Everyone who plays Nintendo Land will know Pikmin, and if they enjoy the Nintendo Land attraction they’re more likely to pick up Pikmin 3 as a result. Everyone who plays Nintendo Land will know Luigi’s Mansion and is more likely to grab Dark Moon. Everyone who plays Nintendo Land will know F-Zero and, well, we can only hope that this means there’s a new one of those in the pipe…

Nintendo Land then. Half quality game and half psychological warfare. You may consider it cruel when you imagine that this game exists largely to help casual players realise what they’ve been missing all these years, but Nintendo Land is an unquestionably strong compilation of games that effortlessly transcends any Wii Sports or mini game collection comparisons. Don’t think you know how good Nintendo Land is until you’ve gone hands on because, well, it might just surprise you how good it actually is.