Let's start this review with what you start this game with: your controller. Because with the new Wii U, the Nintendo guys and gals have decided to shake things up a bit. Sure, you can still use the old Wii motion-sensing remotes on some games, but the new wireless kid in town is a two-handed gizmo that's about 10 inches wide, six inches high and carries all sorts of extras—including a 6.2-inch touchscreen, a camera, a microphone, its own speaker system, a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer, analog thumbsticks, buttons, triggers …
I haven't actually found the right button combo yet, but I'm pretty sure when I do I'll be able to tell the thing to put a leash on my dog and take her for a walk. In truth, it's more of a tablet device than a standard controller. And with some games you can even leave the TV off altogether and just play them as if you were using a handheld console.
So, if you were a big video game powerhouse like, say, Nintendo, and you were just hitting the market with your super-snazzy, next next-gen gaming system, what would you do, um, next? Well, it makes sense that you might want to find a way to let people know what types of fun that fancy new system of yours could facilitate. And what better way to do that than with a step-right-up-and-try-it variety-pack game. The casual-gaming Wii system got people into the motion-sensing swing of things with Wii Sports, and now the Wii U is hoping Nintendo Land can fill that same role.
Step Right Up, Kids of All Ages! No Lines Here!
The game is set up as an amusement park full of minigames and attractions to visit as you see fit. You start off in a colorful hub full of visitors, and you can stroll up to any of 12 different playfully decorated kiosks. Six of the attractions are single-player only, three are designed for single- or group-play, and three more are grab-the-gang-and-a-bunch-of-controllers party fare. Many of the games mirror Nintendo favorites from the past—including Mario and Metroid. And there really isn't a boring activity in the lot.
One of the easier titles is a ninja star-throwing game. It's called "Takamaru's Ninja Castle," and it's reminiscent of an old 16-bit arcade title. Players turn the touchscreen controller lengthwise and slide their finger across it to flick ninja stars at drums, paper windows and colorful cardboard ninjas who block their path. Another of the more laid-back games is a cute map-your-path activity called "Yoshi's Fruit Cart." You use the controller's stylus to draw a pathway for your avatar to drive along while collecting fruits and prizes. The trick here is that you can only see the fruits and journey-ending potholes on the TV screen while you must draw your pathway on the smaller—and in this case blank—controller screen.
Other single-player romps include the tilt-a-ball styled "Donkey Kong's Crash Course" and a time-your-moves game called "Octopus Dance." In the latter, you mirror a dance instructor's moves with button and trigger punches. The side-scrolling "Balloon Breeze Trip" has you swiping your stylus across the controller touchscreen to create a breeze on the bigger screen that will loft your balloon-bound Mii away from floating spikes.
What Direction Are We Going?
Group game "The Legend of Zelda Battle Quest" lets you see what it will be like to play new Zelda games on the Wii U. One player tilts the main controller to shift the view and move his character, while friends can join in with older Wii remotes to take up the roles of swordsmen. Note that in this game, unlike, say, "Yoshi's Fruit Cart," there are lots of fallen foes as weapons find their marks. (No blood or mess.) Similarly, the tilt-and-weave "Metroid Blast" lets friends take turns piloting a gunship, or you can all jump into Metroid-inspired landscapes for some sci-fi shoot out action. (Again, no blood and guts.)
If you're hankering for non-shooter multiplayer fun, there's plenty of that too. "Luigi's Ghost Mansion," for instance, is a kind of hide-and-seek game that's a real hoot. One player with the Wii U controller sneaks invisibly through the halls of a haunted mansion—only seeing himself on the controller's video screen—while other players watch the TV screen and wander the hallways, trying to find him with Wii "flashlights" in hand. (Beyond the whole "ghost" setup, there's no real spiritual content.)
Another likeminded attraction is a hide-and-seek tag game called "Mario's Chase." The player with the Wii U controller is Mario, and he can see the whole map of places to run and hide. All the other remote-carrying Toads, however, can only see their small piece of the map on the TV and must somehow track Mario down before time runs out.
Now, you may be reading all this and wondering, "Uh, what about all that jump-up-off-the-couch-and-wave-your-arms bowling and baseball of the Wii of old?" You can still play those active-casual games with older remotes on this unit. But it does appear that Nintendo is making a U-turn here, taking gamers back to the past, with a more traditional controller style, and into the future of touchscreen mania.