Wii Sports, packed in with many Wii systems, was a great way to introduce people to the new and unusual suits of input options afforded by the (then) new console. NintendoLand, which Nintendo themselves are describing as the Wii U's Wii Sports, aims to achieve exactly the same goal, with a series of minigames that focus on using the Wii U's new input options in a variety of interesting ways. Based on what I've seen, I'd also expect it to serve as a great inspiration to developers who are looking for new and interesting gameplay mechanics to exploit.
The structure of the game, as implied by its name, is much like a theme park. A series of minigames are built around a central hub, which you can then build up by unlocking statues and other interactive elements that you purchase using currency earned in the games.
While there will ultimately be twelve games to choose from, there were five playable on the show floor, with a sixth - seemingly based on F-Zero - hinted at during Nintendo's press conference. Most of the games seem to be based around a Nintendo franchise, with mechanics that are simultaneously familiar and fitting, yet also new and different. Let's take a look at them, one by one...
Luigi's Ghost Mansion
Conrad and I played this one in what's called asynchronous multiplayer, as one player would use the Gamepad to play as the ghost, while four other players (one of us and three people from Nintendo) would be running around as different coloured Luigis.
As Luigi, your goal is to detect the ghost and zap him with your torch, reducing his health over several encounters to zero. You can't just keep your torch on, however, or else the battery will run flat. Fortunately, your controller (a Wii remote) vibrates when the ghost is near, giving you some clue as to when you should be using your torch.
If you get caught as a Luigi, you faint, and must wait to be revived by another Luigi shining their torch on you. If all of the Luigis faint, the ghost wins.
The ghost, on the other hand, must attempt to evade capture by the Luigis, sneaking around behind their beams and carrying them away from their pals.
It was a lot more fun playing as the ghost than as a Luigi, but the pac-man like level layouts were still fun to explore as Mario's erstwhile companion. A skilled team of Luigis would probably be more fun to participate in, but even with a bunch of people that had just met, it was pretty entertaining. Much like Wii Sports, this will be great to play with a bunch of friends.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest
From a first-ish (very close third) person perspective, this multiplayer game puts Wii remote players in charge of a sword & shield wielding link, while the gamepad player (should there be one) is in charge of a bow & arrow. Your goal, then, is to work as a team to clear an on-rails dungeon, taking care to block incoming shots, shoot ranged targets, and swing your sword (via Skyward Sword-style swinging of the Wii Remote) at anyone that gets near.
There are also puzzles to solve, with targets that need to be hit at the same time, ranged switches to shoot, and other switches to stand on. Overall, I got a serious Four Swords vibe from the game, with the mostly brand new mechanics fitting into the Zelda ethos so perfectly it was like they'd always been there.
Nintendo promise many levels to the action of Battle Quest, including bosses and dynamic difficulty / level configuration to ensure an optimal level of enjoyment for any number of players. I can see myself spending a lot of time in this one once the Wii U is out.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course
This gem of a game, while initially appearing simplistic, is absolutely genius. Singleplayer only, the concept is simple enough: manipulate a little bike-like vehicle along a complex course of platforms in the Donkey Kong universe by simply tilting the gamepad either right or left.
Our initial impression was that the game is very similar to the old marble-based Labyrinth games, but once you get further down the course, the combination of funky puzzle sections and twitch-based platforming takes on an identity all its own.
Sharing aspects with the likes of Elastomania / Trials HD and The Incredible Machine, it's a complex thing to explain, but ludicrously simple to understand. And once you do understand, you won't want to put it down!
Nintendo wouldn't reveal if there will be more than just the one map we played once the game releases, but their smiles hinted that there's much more to come. From what we've seen of it, the game is strong enough for a full retail release on its own, so we can only hope Nintendo have big plans for it.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle
Based on a Japan-only Nintendo game from 1986, this minigame is also the latest iteration of the shuriken-flinging game shown at last year's E3. To play it, you hold the gamepad sideways, and slide your finger up its screen to targets you're aiming the gamepad at (kinda like a Wii remote).
The targets are generally little ninja guys, who might be peeking out from behind the trees, running across the screen, or hanging from a roof. Should they get a shot off before you dispatch them, you can also shoot their shuriken out of the sky.
Again, the game has multiple levels, with an escalating difficulty and combo-based scoring system that keeps things interesting as you both improve and progress. It was good fun, and the one-to-one relationship between your actions and their impact in-game was thrilling. This is another game I'd like to play quite a lot more, when I finally get a Wii U to call my own.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day
On the surface, this one is similar to Luigi's mansion: four players run around on the screen, while a fifth uses the Gamepad too attempt to catch them. The Wii remote players are all trying to collect fruit from the gardens of animal crossing, while the Gamepad player controls two guards (simultaneously - one with the left analogue stick, one with the right) in an attempt to catch them.
This is the most likely evolution of the Catch Mii minigame we previewed last year, and proves to be an interesting experience in its own right. The guards move slower than the animals their trying to catch, which necessitates some careful planning and positioning if the chasing player is to make any arrests. It's hard to express in words just how mind-bending controlling two characters simultaneously like this is, so just trust me: this is one seriously challenging task! It's good fun, though, and will likely result in an interesting and varied dynamic, depending on who is playing.
Overall, our experience with NintendoLand was a good one. With just 12 minigames, I was worried that there just wouldn't be enough too the title. But the five games we've played are all very strong, with each good enough to stand alone as at least a digital download game, and a couple (particularly Donkey Kong) something I'd gladly pay full price for.
Exactly how we'll get our hands on the game is unclear at this point, with Nintendo as yet undecided as to whether the title will be a pack-in with the console or something to be purchased separately. Chances are good, however, that this is going to be a game all Nintendo fans will want to add to their collection when the Wii U releases later this year.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
The Good: Surprising depth and fun
The Bad: Some bits less fun than others
The Ugly: Won't appeal to everyone