Nintendo has promised that the new GamePad controller will revolutionize gaming the same way that the Wii Remote unleashed motion controls to the masses in 2006. The controller with a giant touch-screen, motion sensors, a microphone, dual analog sticks and a microphone would change the way we play games. Very few launch titles even made the slightest attempt at incorporating these features. Except for Nintendo Land, which stands out as this console generation's Wii Sports.
You start off in an empty circular platform with your Mii character. A question mark box sits with an ephemeral voice saying "hello?" right in front of you. If you poke the box with your stylus on the GamePad screen, a robotic computer screen named Monita appears and explains the world to you.
Nintendo Land is a theme park full of themed attractions from the Nintendo arsenal of games. Nearly every major franchise is accounted for here: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Animal Crossing, F-Zero and even retro games like Balloon Fight that haven't exactly been relevant to the current generation of gamers. It's a cool salute to the company's heritage while still managing to progress with the times.
Nintendo Land has a circus-like feel to it. Each mini-game has a tent that you enter to start playing. After you play your first game, a tower shows up out of nowhere where you can redeem coins for prizes. An NES-style mini-game similar to The Price is Right's "Plinko" lets you earn these prizes by dropping the coins down pegs to designated zones on a board. The prizes vary from Nintendo theme songs to statues that decorate your theme park.
The mini-games are extremely well done, managing to both act as a tech demo for the system and having adequate depth to remain interesting for extended periods of time. Not all of them are even mini-games, per se. For instance, the Pikmin game is really a bit of a short co-op adventure where one player can play as a Pikmin, attacking enemies using a Wiimote, while another person plays as Captain Olimar, controlling CPU Pikmin to attack enemies using the GamePad's touch-screen.
While cooperative play is required in three of the games, another set of three are competitive. These include an Animal Crossing mini-game where one person attempts to round up candy and return a set amount to designated points while other players try to stop them by tackling. Another mini-game uses a Mario-themed character hiding while the other characters seek him out. Finally, a Luigi's Mansion mini-game challenges Luigi to hunt down ghosts in his haunted mansion while other players, acting as ghosts, try to do the same. The competitive mini-games are definitely shallower but are still fun, especially to try out the different perspectives that come from playing with either a GamePad or Wiimote.
Then there are the single-player mini-games which excel at using the GamePad. Yoshi's Fruit Cart has you draw a safe path to collect fruit for the dinosaur character while avoiding obstacles. The catch is that your GamePad does not have the fruit on the screen. Instead you have to look at the television and then use different landmarks and color variations on the ground to draw the best path. It's an ingenius, simple little game that shows off the potential of a GamePad/TV combination.
The GamePad touch-screen is used in Takamaru's Ninja Castle to throw shurikens at incoming waves of ninjas. You hold the GamePad flat with the long end facing the television screen. Flicking the shurikens with your finger, you can tilt the GamePad left and right, up and down to aim in the direction of the enemies. I could easily see this being adapted to use with a bow and arrow in a new Zelda game.
The last game that I wanted to highlight was Captain Falcon's Twister Race. Just like the shuriken mini-game, you hold the GamePad like you would an iPad, giving you a long view of the track. Tilting the GamePad left and right, the gyroscope is used to control the direction of the vehicle. I was a big fan of F-Zero GX on the GameCube. Hopefully the Wii U will see a new F-Zero in the near future. Until then, this is a decent consolation, albeit much slower.
One thing that Nintendo Land lacks is online multiplayer, although you can share messages with your fellow gamers using Miiverse. The fact that there are so many multiplayer games here that can be enjoyed with friends sitting next to you on the same couch will more than make up for the lack of online play. The best part is that you can use the Wiimotes and nunchuks that you already own. Be aware, though, that some of these (including the Zelda and Metroid mini-games) requires a Motion Plus accessory.
One last thing about multiplayer: you can actually play with up to five people for some of the games. In fact, everyone can play the single-player mini-games using nothing but the GamePad. You take the train tour and set the game up based on how many mini-games you want to play. Everyone will get a chance to play the same mini-game, accruing points based on performance. At the end of all of the mini-games the numbers of wins are added up and someone is crowned the champion.
No game at the launch of the Wii U does a better job of displaying the potential for the console than Nintendo Land. The twelve quality mini-games, support for multiplayer with up to five people and ranking system that encourages you to beat other people's high scores will keep you coming back for a long time to come. Nintendo Land is a family-friendly affair that will appeal to young and old alike. It's the most fun I've had on the Wii U so far.