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Nintendo Land is one of only two games that Nintendo developed and published alongside its brand new Wii U console. The game is a bit of a grab bag of everything, showing off what the Wii U does very well, but also touching on the things it's not so good at.
This one isn't designed to win any prizes for aesthetics or great production values, but it doesn't need to - and it certainly doesn't disappoint. Your task is simple: Learn the Wii U's features while mucking around and earning Coins and Stamps.
For your entry price, you are able to check out 12 assorted mini-games, from team exercises to competitive adventures to solo efforts - each one dotted around the circular hub you find yourself in. Each game features a well-familiar cast of old friends, hand-picked from previous Nintendo outings.
...so, what are we looking at?
Pikmin Adventure - you use the GamePad to control Olimar, in charge of a bunch of tiny Pikmin. Four additional players (red, blue, yellow and white Pikmin) are able to control larger Pikmin with Wii-motes. It's a bite-sized snippet of the original games, well-translated to the new hardware, as you work together to navigate levels and defeat enemies. There's even a boss battle at the end! Very, very nicely done.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest is an on-rails shooter. GamePad controls a character who brandishes a bow and arrow and can use the new controller to pick out enemy snipers. Four others - red, blue, yellow and green - use swords to fend off waves of enemies. Again, stunningly refined controls, it's difficult to put down.
Metroid Blast bucks the trend a little. Four Wii-motes control Mii characters in Varia suits, playing with - or against - Samus' Gunship, controlled by the GamePad. It's a little over-complicated, with controls that feel like they were crammed in just to take advantage of the new controller, when a more simple, conventional solution would have done just as well.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day is one that I first played at E3, after checking out an earlier version at last year's show. It's an interesting little thing, where four gamers run around trying to eat candy while being chased by a knife and fork, both controlled through the GamePad. There's a bit of a learning curve on this one, coordinating two characters at once, but the idea is solid.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion uses the same concept, but is better executed. Four characters are placed into the titular Mansion (armed with a flashlight each), while the GamePad controls a scary ghost (who perishes when exposed to light). The ghost can see the entire map, the characters can only see their immediate surroundings, and the task is simple: Scare or be Scared.
Mario Chase is the best of the bunch, reversing the mechanic: Four players with Wii remotes chase the GamePad player, who again can see the entire map and strategise accordingly. For something so simple, it's remarkably fun, with solid gameplay, solid graphics, and the sort of team gameplay that might be drowned out by something more complex.
Octopus Dance marks the return of Game & Watch Octopus, in a rhythm game where you can use either the control sticks or the GamePad's Gyro Sensor to control the arm and body movements of an on-screen diver. Admirable idea, poorly executed.
Yoshi's Fruit Cart - guide your favourite dinosaur (that's Yoshi, of course) to the finish line, collecting all of the fruit in the level. There's a catch: The fruit is only visible on the TV screen, while your path is traced out on your GamePad, so it takes a little more thought than just scribbling a few lines. Worth checking out for something a little bit different.
Balloon Trip Breeze is another one that is let down by slightly awkward mechanics. You need to be spot-on accurate, which is somewhat awkward when using the GamePad's swipe control. Needs quite a bit of patience to get right, and we're not quite sure if it's worth it when there are so many other shiny things to do.
Captain Falcon’s Twister Race sees you turn the GamePad vertically and use the in-built gyroscope to steer your character down a race track avoiding obstacles. It's a nice try, but - again - misses the mark a bit, and after we played it once, it's not high on our list to play again.
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course also relies on accurate controls, as you carefully tilt the GamePad to guide your little cart down a track, just like those patience games with ball bearings through a maze. To add a bit of interst, you can use the analog sticks to activate switches and pull levers, which will change your outcome.
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle was featured in very early Nintendo promotions - it's the one where you flick ninja stars at waves of enemy ninjas (or, if you'd prefer, stationary targets). Tilt the controller to adjust your trajectory, and pull out a sword when the going gets tough. It's a bit fancy, but not quite as exciting as it could have been.
Included as a pack-in title with the Premium Edition Wii U (the black one), Nintendo Land is an impressive starting point for the console. The bite-sized gaming experiences are just enough to give gamers a taste of what's in store - and what the Wii U is capable of - but it falls short in a few places (impossible to please all the people all the time, right?).
It looks great and sounds awesome, the design work is solid, and multiplayer is almost consistently strong. Even though single-player leaves a little to be desired, this is definitely a good one to check out with your mates (or with your kids) while you're figuring out what elements of the console you like best. After that, there are 23 other games available for the Wii U right now, so your choices are pretty open.
I like video games and music and cups of tea and noodles and beagles and colour-cycling LEDs.
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Jimmy the Geek