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Nintendo Airstream 2012: Nintendoland - Sean's Impressions

by: Sean Colleli -
More On: Nintendo Wii U Nintendo Land
Nintendoland is one of those games that is very east to underestimate. When Nintendo showed off the game as their big finisher to their admittedly lackluster E3 press conference, I was rolling my eyes so hard I thought they were going to spin back into my skull. The whole thing looked like yet another big pandering minigame collection that was milking Nintendo’s aging IPs for a few more dollars.
I’m happy to say that I’m at least partially wrong about Nintendoland. The first party IP amusement park theme still grates on me a little, but now I can see how Nintendoland can be a far more effective pack-in than Wii Sports ever was at bringing a new generation of gamers into the fold.

The problem with Wii Sports was that its greatest strength—the familiarity of age old sports like bowling, golf and tennis—was also its greatest weakness. As soon as the fabled “new demographic” of boomers, housewives and senior citizens grew understandably bored with the shallow minigame collection, they went back to their old hobbies and promptly locked the Wii in the closet to collect dust. Sure, Wii Sports let them explore this new-fangled videogame thing that their kids and grandkids wouldn’t shut up about, and even let them play games with those grandkids too, but it was all something they’d seen before. Why play Wii bowling when you can just do the real thing, which is more fun anyway?

I still maintain that the real strength of videogames is that they let you do things you have never done and could never do in real life—that’s kind of their whole point, in my opinion. While they downplayed that idea on the Wii, Nintendo is embracing it with Nintendoland.  Rather than start with familiar, non-threatening but ultimately redundant sports minigames, Nintendoland takes that same friendly, easy-to-pick-up and play aesthetic of Wii Sports and transposes it onto the fantasy worlds of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, all in a sickly-sweet amusement park setting that is at once new and exciting and comfortably rooted in the Wii’s now-familiar framework of Miis. It’s something that won’t scare off that “new demographic” with a lot of up-front complexity, but it also gives them something a little deeper to explore in the shape of Zelda, Mario, Metroid, etc.

Case-in-point, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion. It was the first minigame we played from Nintendoland and while I was practically puking with disappointment during the E3 livestream, the minigame is a lot more engaging in person. Chuck took hold of the GamePad, while Jeremy, two of the Nintendo reps and I all used Wiimotes. Chuck was the invisible ghost, stalking me and my Mario-hatted allies, as we explored an overhead spooky mansion maze, trying to shine a light on Chuck and drain his health before he could pick each of us off.
When one of us went down someone else had to slowly revive the downed team member, sacrificing flashlight battery, but unless all the remaining team members were back to back in the same place, it was very easy for Chuck to take out anyone helping another team member up. We won our first round, but with a little practice, Chuck came back next round to divide and conquer. Incidentally, I think I recall “spooky haunted house flashlight” as one of the concepts demoed in that TGS reveal trailer for the Wii way back in 2005. It’s curious that Nintendo is just getting around to using that idea.

The second minigame we tried out was a Zelda rail shooter of sorts. Chuck still had the gamepad so it was up to him to cover the rest of the team by firing arrows at switches and out of reach enemies. Jeremy and I had Wiimotes so we were on hack and slash duty, and surprisingly the sword motion control felt even more precise than in Skyward Sword. Hacking away at Ganon’s goons was nothing new but again, the team dynamic was the novel element; there’s been a few cases of Zelda multiplayer in the past but it’s never been like this. The difficulty level also surprised me—we got rather far but died about halfway through the level, not something I was expecting from a minigame.

We were running a little short on time so we decided to close out the Nintendoland demo with Animal Crossing Sweet Day. I’ve never really “gotten” the Animal Crossing series, but this minigame only used the theme and the setting. I took the GamePad for this one, controlling two guards mapped to each analog stick, while everyone else desperately tried to collect candy from around the town square. It was a little disorienting, controlling each of my guards with a different control stick, but I got it down in a minute or so and got to work tagging the other players. As they collected candy in their mouths they got slower, making it easier for me to catch them, so they had to decide whether to spit out the candy and get away or go for broke and try to collect it all before I caught them. Once I tagged a player three times the round was over, and I managed to win both of the rounds we played.

It’s obvious that Nintendo is trying their damnedest to demonstrate the wide variety of things you can do with the GamePad. Wii Sports was an inspired little bit of programming but at the end of the day, all it told consumers, and more importantly third party developers, was that you could waggle this weird little controller around in place of pressing a button. Nintendoland, however, has a lot of novel, weird and truly innovative uses of the GamePad. One thing’s for sure, I’m glad the Wii U pack-in that every third party studio and their dog are going to clone over and over for the next five years has some Metroid in it instead of bowling and golf.