Mr. Hands-On: NintendoLand, the Pac-Man Vs. of E3 2012
Nintendo devoted five demo stations with rather large TV screens at their Gaming Lounge to showing off NintendoLand for the Wii U. It was also the final game shown in their E3 press conference this year, where it elicited responses ranging from, “… okay, that’s nice, I guess,” to “What in the fuck is Nintendo doing?” Well, one thing they appear to be doing for certain is pushing the game fairly aggressively, if such prominent positioning betrays anything. What they also appear to be doing is repeating the Pac-Man Vs. situation, where a very fun but unspectacular (meaning not much of a spectacle) game was used as the keystone of the conference. Oops, did I just give away my impression before the body of the article? I’m a terrible writer! Read on for more!
Each station was devoted to one of the five announced
minigames “attractions” being demonstrated out of the 12 that will be in the final game. Three of them had a multiplayer focus, while two were strictly single player affairs. Might as well talk about them one by one!
Takamaru’s Ninja Castle- The first single-player experience was this shuriken-flinging shooting gallery game, themed after a Famicom title that never came out here. The Wii U GamePad is held in the palm of your off-hand while you use your main hand to fling shurikens by swiping your fingers forward on the touch screen. Fast swipes make the shurikens go faster and farther (of course.) You aim at areas on the screen by tilting the Wii U GamePad around to move an aiming cursor. This position and the required movements marked the one time I had some difficulty with the GamePad, as the dimensions of the thing come into play when holding it gripless in one hand. I also had a tendency to press too hard on the touch screen, I believe, meaning friction caused my finger to move slower and send shurikens embarrassingly dribbling out like [REDACTED]. Both of these issues were resolved with simple practice, and I got better on subsequent playthroughs.
The game itself is fairly standard: cardboard cutout-looking ninja pop out of the environment and you try to shoot them before they run away. As it goes on there appear ninja who throw shuriken and bombs back at you, which must be knocked out of the air by your own weapons or you’ll take damage. These ninja also take more hits to defeat. Scoring has a simple combo basis, where you get more and more points for each successful hit in a row without missing, discouraging haphazard flinging if you want to improve your high score. A solid game, nothing you really haven’t seen if you’ve played a light gun game since Duck Hunt, but it’s cute and naturally encourages mastery. If the last shooting gallery game you played WAS Duck Hunt, though, this will BLOW YOUR DAMN MIND.
Donkey Kong’s Crash Course- The other single-player affair was this side-view obstacle course game whose sole tie to Donkey Kong is the iconic girder-laden construction site appearance. The goal is to guide a fragile cart that looks to be made out of tinker toys or K’nex to the end of the course in the allotted time by using the Wii U GamePad’s motion control, with occasional gimmicks (gates, elevators, unfurling a rolled-up section of track) on the course controlled via the ZL and ZR triggers and the right control stick. A zoomed-in view of your position in the course and which you’ll probably never look at is displayed on the GamePad screen. Theoretically other people can look at the big screen and backseat drive/yell at you but there wasn’t much of that going on at the event.
This game definitely encourages practice and it is not unlikely that someone in your household/group of friends will become addicted to it for a period of time, especially if there are more courses than the one present in the demo. The cart can take a small amount of abuse, but it is quite fragile, and slamming into a wall due to failure to control your speed properly, or closing a gate before you pass through it or some other incident of imperfect timing or positioning will result in the cart falling apart and being sent back to the last crossed checkpoint flag on the course, which sometimes is forgiving and other times is quite far back. It’s a lot tougher than it may seem at first glance, especially when that glance is watching one of the Nintendo representatives blaze through the whole thing after several days of practice.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest- That would be a terrible name for a full Zelda title. That aside, in this game one player always uses the GamePad and plays as an archer, while up to three others can also force their Mii characters to dress as Link and join in on Wii Remote Plus controllers as swordsmen in splitscreen. Anyone who played the Showdown mode in the swordplay section of Wii Sports Resort should find themselves in familiar territory here, as it’s the same basic concept with a handful of tweaks, especially for the swordsmen. Players automatically move along when not attacking and must defeat enemies as they approach by shooting them with arrows or swinging their remotes to attack with the sword in the appropriate direction. The whole team shares a heart meter and has to work together to cover each other, especially the archer as they are the only player who has full control of their own field of view. Everyone can block attacks using their shields by pressing the trigger (I forgot which trigger on the GamePad.)
This one was pretty fun, and I had a chance to be both use the sword and the arrows. Swordplay was a lot like the swordplay in Wii Sports Resort, except holding the Wii Remote vertical or level for a few moments would charge up a devastating spin attack of the respective orientation. Enemies eventually start blocking in certain directions, forcing sword players to attack with the correct motion. One of the fun things about playing as the archer is that this requirement isn’t in play, as you only need to aim where the enemy isn’t blocking, so it’s a bit easier to deal with those enemies using arrows. There are other enemies and switches that only the archer can hit, usually flying or up high. Reloading the quiver is down by holding the GamePad flat for just a moment. When I played as the archer with two Nintendo reps as swordsmen, we managed to charge through the demo level and reach the boss rather quickly, and proceeded to mercilessly beat the tar out of him. Pretty funny. The whole thing has a cloth/stuffed animal appearance to it, with enemies bursting at the seams to reveal stuffing when injured.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day- The final two games are where the Pac-Man Vs. analogy really felt strong, as both feature the same all-vs.-one asymmetric multiplayer concept embodied by that title, and both promise to be a blast at parties. Sweet Day has the GamePad player controlling two guards (Miis dressed as perennial Animal Crossing lawdogs Copper and Booker, naturally) in pursuit of up to four others (dressed as other Animal Crossing residents, including Peanut!) as they try to collectively obtain 50 pieces of candy in a top-down perspective orchard maze. The GamePad player has to make three tags total on the players before they succeed in order to win.
Controlling both guards is done by moving each individually with the left or right stick on the GamePad, with the ZL and ZR triggers triggers being used to send the respective guard lunging to make a tag. Simultaneously moving both guards is rather intuitive, though not without some natural mental challenge to it that makes things interesting. Strategy-wise, attempting to surround another player in a narrow hallway is the obvious course of action, but initially it’s very useful to move the two guards in opposite directions as this will cause the camera to zoom out on the GamePad and reveal more of the stage, while everyone else is limited to the splitscreen views on the TV. After acquiring a target this way it’s time to zero in on someone and make a tag.
Cooperation is absolutely essential for the other players to succeed. While some candy is just laying around and some is in trees waiting for one player to step on a switch in front of the tree to release it, most of the candy is in trees that require two or three players to stand on switches. Gathering in one area, of course, tends to leave the team more vulnerable as it gives the GamePad player more targets at which to lunge in a small area. Furthermore, if one player is doing most of the candy collecting they’ll eventually be weighed down by all of the candy, and their head/hat will swell up to indicate this fact. Acquired candies can be jettisoned behind a player back onto the playfield one at a time by pressing the B trigger on the Wii Remote, especially useful to lighten the load when being pursued by one of the guards- slightly reminiscent of a gameplay tweak made in the “Modern” version of Octopus in the Game & Watch Gallery series.
This game seemed weighted heavily in favor of the GamePad player, based on the fact that the team of animal villagers didn’t win a single match any of the times I played. As said before, co-op is really key for the team to stand a chance in this one, and it was hard to get a good group dynamic together and develop anything resembling a strategy in the context of a demo. It was fun, though, and the desire to figure out how to win on the villager team made me want to play it some more.
Luigi’s Ghost Mansion- On the flipside this one seemed to be weighted a bit in favor of the team based on the way things played out. Four players control slow-moving Miis wielding flashlights while the Gamepad player controls the ghost. Everyone has a full top-down view of the mansion layout, but only the ghost can see his position at all times on the Gamepad screen. However, the other players can sense when the ghost is near them by the pulsing rumble of their Wii Remotes, which quickens the closer they are to the ghost. The ghost tries to grab every player and put them all to sleep, while the other players attempt to catch the ghost in their flashlight beams and whittle his health down from 100 to 0. There’s also a countdown timer, set at five minutes in the demo, but I’m not sure what happens when it reaches zero.
The ghost can run/move faster by holding B, but this makes him visible to the other players on the TV while B is held. When he grabs one of the players he is also momentarily visible, and runs away for a bit while holding the player and putting them to sleep. Dragging the soon-to-be knocked-out player away from the others is a good idea, as the knocking-out can be interrupted by another player shining their flashlight on the ghost, and furthermore a knocked out player can be revived by another player shining their flashlight on the sleeping player for several seconds. The ghost is also revealed occasionally by lightning flashing outside the mansion and illuminating part of the interior. Players are prevented from simply walking around with their flashlights always on, as the battery drains fairly quickly and needs to recharge. Furthermore, a player creeps around slowly with their light on, and there’s a slight lag in turning around at all times. There are battery pickups that randomly appear which temporarily increase the capacity of a player’s battery on pickup, and flicking the flashlight on and off rapidly keeps it from draining while still providing a degree of protection.
This game is TENSE and promises to be the most fun at a gathering of friends. The ability of both sides to attack each other and the surprise when an attack happens make for a lot of “OH SHIT!” moments punctuating periods of unease for the four ghosthunters. When the ghost gets caught by the flashlight beams he pauses for just a split second for some guaranteed damage and then takes off running, usually escaping in a couple of seconds, and the hit-and-run cycle starts anew. All of this is of course highlighted with appropriate sound effects and the ersatz heartbeat in the Wii Remotes. The fairly slow movement and Luigi’s Mansion setting and music do a fantastic job of setting up the tense atmosphere. Play with friends who like to scream (and don’t sit too close to them) for an extra fun time.
Closing thoughts: NintendoLand may not be a Metroid Prime or Super Mario Galaxy in terms of “WOW!” factor, but if the other seven games shape up as well as what was demonstrated here it will be a solid package of fun little games with a bit of longevity to it. The similarity to Wii Sports Resort in overall concept makes me hopeful that a similar degree of depth (Easter eggs, stat tracking, and achievements/goals) will be present in the final product. Again, Pac-Man Vs., despite the poor E3 showing, entranced a group of my friends in college, and at the very least NintendoLand seems to carry that same potential. NintendoLand is slated for a Holiday 2012 release, putting it in the Wii U launch window.