Poor Nintendo Land. It may have sold moderately well and was something of a high-quality party game, but it set never set Wii U on fire as did Wii Sports for Wii. While intended to show off what the GamePad could do, asymmetric gameplay just didn’t provide the hook motion controls did. But we can’t pin all of the Wii U’s problems on one title; indeed, Nintendo’s lack of success in communicating the Wii U GamePad’s appeal to audiences has been well-documented, not the least of which are clumsy E3 presentations and brand confusion.
If anything, I perceive Nintendo Land as being Wii U’s unsung ideal. Confusing as it may be to the non-gaming masses, the game’s overall execution of integrating GamePad features into its host of games was fantastic. That Nintendo Land could stand on its own as a single-player venture despite being a minigame collection is to be commended; whereas the appeal of Wii Sports ran dry for me fast, the insane challenge of the gyro-operated Donkey Kong’s Crash Course and the touch-controlled Balloon Trip Breeze solo affairs always had me coming back for more.
Of course, Mario Chase, Animal Crossing: Sweet Days, and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion remain the star attractions at Nintendo Land gaming parties, and for good reason. All three had players pitted against whoever controlled the GamePad, leading to hilariously innovative multiplayer sessions. Be it controlling two utensil-wielding guard dogs at once or stalking hapless Luigi Miis as a ghost, each led to new levels of teamwork and strategy unlike anything seen before. Animal Crossing: Sweet Days is probably my personal favorite for bringing my childhood Animal Crossing conspiracy theories to life (law enforcement carrying giant utensils of death? Hmm…), but my family’s fondness for the source material certainly propelled its local popularity.
Perhaps I could fault Nintendo Land for its lack of online, as Nintendo’s irritating policy of putting local multiplayer first even reached its hands here. Indeed, I know several gamers who dropped interest in the launch title upon learning this sad fact. Their loss, I say, because the game’s hefty amount of unlockables and achievements always kept pushing me to achieve 100 percent completion. Indeed, Nintendo Land was constructed not as a mere tech demo, but a polished, full-fledged launch title. A game that could potentially not only pave the way for a revolutionary control experience, but to once again bring together family and friends, gamers and non-gamers all, into the living room as they played and watched at awe at the wonders of the special controller…
And we never got that.
The failure to prove the GamePad’s worth in Nintendo’s HD library is one of the top Wii U criticisms, and as much as I’ve enjoyed its offerings, that failure is key to why I feel Wii U is the most disappointing Nintendo console yet. While obviously not every game should’ve been retooled to match the GamePad, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse are the closest they’ve ever gotten to actually utilizing it. Good as they were, isn’t it more than a little troubling that budget titles that arrived two years after launch are the best effort Nintendo’s made? If anything, it only proves the GamePad is far too nebulous of a product to expand upon. In that sense, the GamePad amounts to little more than a big paper weight.
And maybe that’s for the best. Remember how sick many gamers got of motion control by the time Microsoft and Sony hopped on the bandwagon? For all we know, the pervasive advent of asymmetrical gameplay and expensive screen-equipped controllers could’ve been met with the same scorn. I imagine the latter would’ve rustled gamers’ jimmies, and certainly even more so if, like the Wii U GamePad, they weren’t available at retail.
…and yet whenever I return to Nintendo Land, I can’t help but dream. Despite the controller’s bumbling introduction, here’s a game that was on fire with it from the get-go, only to be drenched with droughts and same ol’, same ol’ soon afterward. And what a shame that is, when it delighted into reimagining Nintendo’s franchises all for the sake of a new control scheme. But what if that flame kept going? As unlikely as it would’ve been for Nintendo to catch lightning in a bottle twice, I can’t help but ask, “What if?”
Had it not been for confusing presentations and console names, could Nintendo Land have carried Wii U into success? Perhaps not to the extent where the company would have accordingly shifted gears in their Mario and Donkey Kong projects, and definitely not to the stratospheric heights of the Wii, and certainly not in a way that’d win every gamer’s heart (or their wallet), but simply to the point where the system was relevant in the living room? Could it have captured that same Wii Sports magic? What if…what if…what if….
As of this writing, we know nothing of what will come from the NX. Maybe there’ll be another wacky control scheme, or maybe it’ll just return to the standard. All I’m asking is that whatever Nintendo does, keep the torch going. Much as I love showing off Nintendo Land to friends, it’s sobering to realize the groundwork it laid was never built upon.