Reaction: On First Glance, Nintendo Land is No Wii Sports
Posted by Mike Mason
Nintendo made claims that it had a Wii U title that matches Wii Sports in appeal; a title that sells their new console, both conceptually and literally, just as well as the motion sports game did for Wii. At E3 it presented the proposed title: Nintendo Land, a virtual theme park which incorporates Miis, Miiverse and mini games featuring several Nintendo franchises in deformed chibi form.
It seems like an appealing, friendly title that is probably a good deal of fun. Split between single and multiplayer distractions, it attempts to put across Wii U's ethos that it is a system for everybody and also shows off the potential of asynchronous multiplayer. Each game uses either the Wii U GamePad alone or a mixture of the GamePad and Wii Remotes.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion bears resemblance to Pac-Man VS., pitting one player as ghost and others as torch-wielding ghost hunters. Animal Crossing: Sweet Day follows the path started by Wii U E3 2011 concept Chase Mii as several players try to sneak around the ever-vigilant Booker and Copper, controlled with the GamePad, to steal fruit.
Elsewhere The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest hands the holder of Wii GamePad an arrow and three Wii Remote users MotionPlus-controlled swords, throwing them together to take down enemies in a cloth-like world. Donkey Kong's Crash Course is a single player throwback to DK's original headlining role in which Wii U GamePad's gyroscopes guide a fragile cart through an obstacle course. A further single player game, Takamaru's Ninja Castle, uses the GamePad to flick shurikens at enemies.
Seven more games are yet to be revealed, but on first glance at the ones revealed it's tough to see how Nintendo Land could hope to achieve the same effect as Wii Sports. While it might communicate the point of Wii U to some degree, it doesn't hold the same instant appeal as motion controlled bowling, tennis or boxing in your living room. It so far comes across more like a new attempt at Wii Play: an eclectic collection of games that, somewhat enjoyable as it was, was not necessarily a system seller.
Part of the problem was displayed obviously in the press conference. It took Katsuya Eguchi a solid few minutes to explain Luigi's Ghost Mansion, a game that is supposed to be as easy to pick up as any of the Wii Sports, a game that is part of a package intended to explain Wii U. It looks decent, but it's not streamlined enough to be what Nintendo intends. Wii Sports worked not only because it was a game that immediately showed what Wii was all about; it was also because it required no explanation. Pick up Wii Remote, take a swing, understand instantly. The necessary immediacy is not present in what we have seen of Nintendo Land so far.
Then there's the split between single and multiplayer games. It's something for everybody, the single player games presumably aimed towards the 'core' gamer and the multiplayer games shooting to capture that Wii Sports demographic. But this structure in itself could end up being confusing – some games use one control method, others a completely different one. Surely the effect would be better to keep a single control scheme and concept mapped across each, perhaps even releasing two entirely separate compilations? Keeping Nintendo Land all in one will provide value for money for sure, but splitting the focus between two ideas and set ups could cost it and prevent it from achieving its intended goal.
Finally, whereas Wii Sports felt open to all thanks to the one-two punch of an enticing fresh controller and being able to slot yourself in the game through a Mii, there is the possibility that Nintendo Land's extensive use of existing Nintendo IPs could dent its appeal to the new gamer. Would newcomers prefer to play with cartoonish versions of themselves or with Samus and company? We'll see.
On the other hand, the last few years have taught us never to underestimate Nintendo, never to misjudge the general public. Perhaps this variety is just what people need to keep them interesting nowadays. There is a chance that the rich worlds of Nintendo franchises, reformed into something more stylised and light, could have the opposite effect. Maybe new players will embrace them and Nintendo Land ends up being the greatest bridge game of them all, opening the doors of several Nintendo franchises to a whole new audience of players that would previously have never looked at them twice. We've not seen enough yet to convince us that this is a Wii Sports equivalent, but our ears remain open.