The phrase “minigame compilation” has become something of an ugly subject these days. “Wii was nothing but bad minigames!” the masses cry. “Give us some proper games, why don’t you?” And while it’s true that Wii was often the dumping ground where all lazy minigames went to die, Nintendo Land for the big N’s upcoming Wii U console will make you rue the day you ever said a bad word against them. Yes, it’s another minigame compilation, but forget what you thought about it at this year’s E3– in fact, forget everything you know about minigames, because Nintendo’s new asymmetric gameplay really will knock your hardcore socks off.
But let’s just hold on for a second. Asymmetric what-now? This term’s been batted around ever since E3, but what does it actually mean? Well, asymmetric gameplay occurs when two players are having different experiences even though they’re playing the same game. With Wii U, this is made possible thanks to the ingenious GamePad, so the player with the GamePad will have one experience while everyone else with a Wii Remote has a completely different one.
Take Animal Crossing: Sweet Day, for example. The aim of this attraction is cram fifty sweets into your Animal Crossing shaped-hats without getting caught by the knife-and-fork-wielding Copper and Booker Miis (who must either have a vendetta against tooth decay or want to gobble them up themselves, the greedy mutts…). The catch, however, is that the Booker and Copper Miis are controlled by the player with the GamePad, who’s also able to move each of them independently using the right and left analogue sticks. It requires a bit of mental gymnastics before you get fully accustomed to it, but the further the GamePad player moves them apart, the wider the perspective they gain over the whole map on their screen, helping them to sniff out their sweet-guzzling companions.
The players with the Wii Remote, meanwhile, have a much more limited view of their surroundings on the main TV screen, and are busy trying to stuff themselves silly while avoiding the culinary clutches of their pursuers. As with most things in Animal Crossing, the sweets all grow on trees that are scattered around the map, and while some can be shaken from their sugary branches alone, most require two or three players to stand on nearby pressure pads before the sweets come tumbling to the ground, so you’ll have to work as a team if you’re going to succeed.
The problem with having eyes too big for your stomach, however, is that the more you eat, the slower you become, meaning if you get caught with your hands in the proverbial cookie jar, you’ll have to shed those pounds faster than a Mii on Atkins to get away safely, as you’ve only got three lives between you to reach your goal.
And it’s surprising, really, how often the GamePad player manages to win despite being desperately out-numbered. Out of every round I played (which was around five or six), only once did the Wii Remote players manage to outwit the GamePad player, but while this may hint at a slightly unequal distribution of power, it’s so ludicrously fun that it doesn’t really matter. The joy is in the hunt, whether it’s having to suddenly drop all your sweets and leg it down the other end of the map, or conquering the GamePad’s combination of an isometric view and its dual analogue stick controls to land a well-timed pounce on your helpless victim. It’s also in the gamble of each player’s individual strategy– just how many sweets can you get away with, and will that carefully thought-out double-prong attack actually work when it comes to catching your companion?
The same can be said of Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, which once again sees up to four players take control of Wii Remotes while another presides over the GamePad. Here, the GamePad player takes the form of a ghost whose job it is to spirit away the other players on screen, while the Remote players are out to expose the ghost’s dastardly tricks with their flashlights and deplete his life bar.
The only problem is that the ghost player is completely invisible until they’re caught in the headlights of someone’s torch or a brief flash of lightning reveals their location, although the Wii Remote will rumble whenever the ghost is nearby. You can’t have your torch on too long, though, or you’ll run out of batteries, meaning you won’t be bustin’ any more ghosts until it recharges.
Much like Sweet Day, the GamePad player has a much easier time than those with a Remote, but there is a certain thrill to playing with a Remote as you can never quite figure out when the ghost will strike next. The rumble, you see, only activates whenever you come into contact with the ghost’s circular aura, meaning they could easily be on the other side of a wall but they’d still manage to creep you out and send you into a flurry of excited panic. Throw in the chance to revive your companions by shining your torch on them as well, and there’s still plenty of time to turn the tide of battle, too, even though you’re more likely to become a ghost sandwich in the process. That said, Luigi’s Ghost Mansion is still an incredibly enjoyable experience nonetheless, even if it doesn’t quite reach the highs of Sweet Day.
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