Minigame collections are not, in my humble opinion, one of the strongest or most integral parts of the video game universe. The genre could be wiped from the map completely, with very little consequence. Minigame collections, in almost every instance I have ever seen, are rarely more than party game fodder. There’s not really anything wrong with that, as those games do have their place, but I would argue that no minigame collection is a work of art.
All that said, here comes Nintendoland. This game confused me for quite a while, because Nintendo was so sure that it was worthy of the closing of their E3 conference, and of being a premiere launch title for the system. What could make this thing so great, I asked myself, that they can put so much trust in it to be a big seller? Is Nintendoland a theme park full of wonderful attractions, or is it the rusty, abandoned “Super Fun Land” park at the far end of town, where the local homeless people like to hang out? Is it Disneyland, or Great America?
Nintendoland offers 12 minigames to play, all available right off the bat. These games vary from single player-only games like Balloon Trip Breeze and Takamaru’s Ninja Castle, 1-5 player games like the Legend of Zelda Battle Quest, and 2-5 player competitive attractions such as Animal Crossing: Sweet Day. All of these games have multiple stages and difficulties, as well as different methods of gameplay depending on your controller of choice.
I played mostly with the gamepad, but made sure to try each game with the Wiimote and Nunchuk as well. In some games, these yielded very different kinds of gameplay from each other, while others just felt like easier or harder versions of each other. Metroid Blast, although one of my favorite titles on the system, is a little bit easier with the gamepad, where you pilot Samus’ ship, but comes off as feeling mostly the same.
In the end though, the gameplay really shines with the gamepad more than the other controller options. In The Legend of Zelda game, using the gamepad puts you in the role of an archer, giving a sort of sniping mode to the game. Takamaru’s Ninja Castle has you using the gamepad as a surrogate Wiimote, flicking the screen to send ninja stars flying into enemies on the TV. Some games aren’t exactly as revolutionary as others, like the F-Zero game where you simply tilt the gamepad like a steering wheel to drive Captain Falcon along, but each game feels unique and enjoyable, with far more depth than any of the games in Wii Sports, the game’s spiritual predecessor.
What’s a little remarkable about the controls is the idea of “Asymmetrical gameplay”. In a nutshell, this concept, which Nintendo has been throwing around since E3, relies on the idea of one player using the gamepad, while the other players use Wii remotes or classic controllers. The idea is that the player on the gamepad will be using the gamepad exclusively, working towards different goals than the other players and sometimes working against them. This is demonstrated beautifully in Nintendoland. In Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, for example, the player on the gamepad controls two guards, whose purpose is to stop the other players from stealing fruit. I got to play this using the gamepad, and my friends were actively conspiring and strategizing on how to evade my efforts to end the highly illegal act of Grand Theft Grapes which they were committing. Similarly you have Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, in which the gamepad player plays a ghost that the other players have to hunt down Ghostbusters-style. These games proved to me that Asymmetrical gameplay works, or at least can when executed properly.
On the flipside, there’s something else remarkable about Nintendoland. Something most minigame collections get wrong. Playing Nintendoland single-player is actually just as fun as playing multiplayer. Sure, not every game is single-player, but neither is every game multiplayer, so it works out. If you want to play on the Wii U and don’t have any buddies around, you’ll still have loads of fun fighting your way through a makeshift Hyrule, or combatting the space pirate forces on Zebes and beyond. You can fight your way through hundreds of ninjas, or command Pikmin as you fight your way across hostile gardens to make your way home. And none of these games are the same every time, not at all. Several of Nintendoland’s games have over a dozen vastly different levels, all worth playing through a few times. Wether you’re choosing to play solo or with others, Nintendoland has plenty to enjoy. You can even spend coins collected in the game on a Pachinko-style minigame, which unlocks setpieces and items from the games in Nintendoland’s main hub.
The console’s HD capabilities are pretty nice, too. Nintendoland rocks a simple style similar to Wii Sports, but has fine-tuned it to look beautiful in crisp HD. Playing Metroid Blast in full 1080P made me very wishful for a Metroid Prime to come to the Wii U very soon, representing the cold, alien battlefields more sharply than ever before. Nintendoland doesn’t need to try too hard in the visual department, and it knows it, but it still creates a very visually appealing landscape.
If there’s anything bad to say about Nintendoland, it isn’t what I expected it to be. It’s not too easy, nor too shallow. What Wii Sports did for the Wii, Nintendoland doesn’t quiet do as well for the Wii U. Wii sports demonstrated perfectly how motion controls could work in gaming, creating a simple game that anyone could enjoy. Nintendoland shows various ideas of how the gamepad works, but doesn’t feel like the definition of the gameplay its system offers. This isn’t even a bad thing, not really, but it could make the game less appealing to some. This isn’t really a game to sit down and play with your grandma. It’s complex enough to be fun and not grow tiresome, at the cost of universal accessibility. One other small disappointment is the lack of online multiplayer, but this is a small matter. Nintendoland is clearly meant to be a party game to play with a room full of friends, which a lot of people prefer anyway. The Nintendo Network does come into play, though, as the Miis of other players enjoying the game will appear in your game’s main hub, spouting messages those players have left about specific minigames.
All in all, Nintendoland is…oh, this is going to hurt coming out…a very, very good minigame collection. Oh god, that was painful to admit. I think I’m bleeding.
In all seriousness, though. Nintendoland provides great experiences whether you’re more of the solo gamer type like myself, or someone who has to have the newest game to play with buddies. And both sides of that proverbial Mario coin provide an amount of depth nobody really saw coming. Not every game has that going for it, though – One play through Octopus Dance will be enough for me, thanks – but you’ll have your favorite two or three games to continue pressing on through by yourself, and your friends will all know which games are the most fun to play with you. The game successfully demonstrates a wider variety of ideas than Wii Sports did, at the cost of a little accessibility – we won’t be seeing the members of any old folks home playing Metroid Blast any time soon – but that’s a very worthy sacrifice for the amount of fun to be had in this game. Nintendoland is worth the time of anyone who has a Wii U, and if you’re holding out on which model of the console to get, the Deluxe version comes with Nintendoland, making it a crime not to pick it up. Nintendoland gets 4 heart-pounding, pants-soaking rollercoaster rides out of 5.
P.S: If anyone was offended by my earlier insinuation about Great America, I advise you to rethink your life. Great America is the absolute worst and needs to be destroyed for the good of mankind.
P.P.S: If you work at or own Great America, please disregard the above statement.