The Legend of Zelda-themed minigame in NintendoLand. Image: Nintendo
LOS ANGELES — There’s no theme park called NintendoLand, but one of the key launch titles for Wii U imagines what life would be like if there were.
NintendoLand, set to be one of the key launch titles for Nintendo’s new game machine that it will launch later this year, is a collection of 12 minigames that each feature a unique spin on the console’s most distinctive new feature: The “GamePad” controller, which has a large tablet-style screen in its center that can be used to interact with the TV.
Each of the games is a twist on a classic Nintendo franchise; some well-known and some obscure. Wired got to try three of them in advance of the E3 Expo’s official opening.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest is an action game for multiple players that gives them quite different experiences depending on whether they are using the GamePad controller or the standard Wii remote controllers, which work with some Wii U titles.
Players who use the Wii remotes play as Mii avatar characters dressed in Zelda couture and holding swords, which they swing with full precision control to wipe out enemies. The player with the GamePad is an archer, and must hold the pad up in front of his or her face, aiming and firing by moving the screen around and targeting enemies.
As if they were on an amusement park ride, the characters walk forward automatically. An archer doesn’t move when he is pulling back an arrow, so you must be careful not to just walk around charging an arrow or else you’ll be separated from your friends and be unable to protect them. The archer will hustle to catch up after you let the arrow fly. It is possible to hit other players with friendly fire, which you definitely do not want to do since you all share a single health meter.
At times, the archer must take out enemies that are on high ledges, in towers or flying. Characters with swords are more able to defeat swarms of ground enemies. Occasionally, characters must hit a series of switches in tandem to proceed.
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle is based on a Japan-only 8-bit game called Nazo no Murasame-jou. It’s actually quite faithful, in terms of its general structure, to the obscure original: You play as a samurai apprentice who infiltrates a castle protected by ninja, attacking with throwing stars and a katana.
But unlike the top-down, 2-D original game, in this Wii-make you hold the GamePad in a vertical “portrait” orientation and point it toward the television. A shuriken appears on the control screen, and you flick the screen with your fingers or a stylus to throw the stars at the screen. You aim using an on-screen reticle, which you move by pointing the GamePad. You can throw the stars at an angle or vertically by twisting the GamePad accordingly. You can do this to get the stars to fly through narrow slits in a wall, for example.
Cute little ninjas that look like extras out of an episode of South Park serve as your primary targets. They might pop up and bop around the screen harmlessly at first, but they soon graduate to throwing projectiles at you, which you have to destroy with stars. If they get in close, you can swipe them to slash with your katana. If you lose health you can throw stars at vases, et cetera to find heart pickups.
If you hit enemies in the order they appear, you’ll rack up an increasing combo multiplier. While you can just throw stars willy-nilly, you’ll score better if you get a higher percentage of hits to stars thrown at the end of the level.
The sheer amount of variables at play here — twisting the GamePad for angle, pointing it to aim, flicking your finger faster or slower for speed and distance — made Takamaru quite a deceptively complex little game. It seems like it should be easy, but while it’s easy to learn it is a challenge to hit everything and stay alive.
Donkey Kong's Crash Course. Image: Nintendo
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course seems like a game that had Donkey Kong grafted onto it after it was already designed, but it’s tough to quibble about that when it’s as fun as it is. The television screen shows a massive twisting roller-coaster made of girders and elevators, and you control a triangular contraption consisting of two wheels connected by three axles to your Mii’s head.
Your job is to roll this unstable mess of a vehicle up, down and around this coaster, tilting the GamePad to give it momentum. You’re simply meant to look at the GamePad, which shows a zoomed-in view of the area of the coaster you’re currently negotating. Other people in the room are invited to watch the full view on the television, but you can do it too.
Sometimes you need to go slowly or you’ll wipe out and break apart. Sometimes you need to go more quickly or you’ll get caught up on some machinery and break apart. I broke apart a lot.
Soon you reach a series of elevators that you operate by pressing the L and R buttons on the GamePad. So now you have to roll down these while making the environment move. This is basically where I lost all of my lives. There are checkpoints scattered throughout the coaster where you can retry, but you only have 5 chances to finish the whole shebang.
Although NintendoLand might seem like a game aimed at kids, it’s actually quite challenging. I wasn’t able to get all the way through a single one of the minigames. Nintendo says this is sort of the Wii Sports of the launch lineup, in that it is a collection of minigames that give potential customers a rundown of how the Wii U GamePad facilitates new experiences.