We took a quick stroll through Nintendo Land today, shortly after Nintendo implicitly positioned the game as the Wii U's educational answer to Wii Sports. It's launching alongside the hardware this holiday – though not necessarily inside a bundle – and breaks down all of the Wii U's standout features into friendly, easily digestible mini games.
Unlike the tennis and bowling in Wii Sports, the games here are embellished with Nintendo's vibrant characters and history, set within the context of an elaborate theme park visited by your Miis. When you enter the The Legend of Zelda section, dubbed Battle Quest, you and your friends don Link's iconic tunic in green, red and blue.%Gallery-157153%
Battle Quest is one of the more fleshed-out games in the batch being shown off at E3. Your party moves through the 3D environment automatically, and you initiate sword swings with the Wiimote (including MotionPlus). A few enemies require deliberate angles to cleave apart, a la Skyward Sword, and projectiles can be deflected with a shield mapped to the B button.
The player using the Wii U gamepad is an archer, and aiming works simply by tilting and turning the screen as a viewfinder. Pulling back on the right analog keeps the bowstring taut, and releasing it sends the arrow flying. Your quiver can be refilled by lowering the pad to a horizontal position for a few seconds.
The archer aids the others by eliminating distant or elevated enemy towers (this is a really elaborate theme park, with no expense spared!). In one instance, arrows can reach high orbs that lower a drawbridge for the other players. There's no real sense of moment-to-moment cooperation beyond that – Battle Quest is, like some of the other Nintendo Land games, geared toward making the Wiipad player's participation feel special.
In Luigi's Ghost Mansion: Haunted Hijinks, the portable screen shows a top-down view of four impromptu interlopers, none of whom can see the ghost stalking them through the hallways. With the ghost's location only visible on the gamepad screen, the other players must rely on their flashlights and the vibration of their Wiimotes to suss out the specter's locaton. They have reason to venture into the simplistic layout of the mansion, without accompaniment if they dare, to collect batteries for their flashlights. It's an amusing chase that leads to spontaneous teamwork, although I can't imagine it sustaining the life of a party for too long.
There's a solid solo experience in Donkey Kong's Crash Course, in which you tilt the WiiPad left and right to steer an elastic, three-wheeled cart through an elaborate track. There's an almost Trials-like instinct at play as you attempt to keep your cart upright and rolling at a manageable speed without having it fall over.
Further down the track you also activate slopes, elevators and bridges with the pad's left and right triggers, at which point Crash Course requires a little more concentration than you might expect. The game also demonstrates more obvious longevity, with a leaderboard pushing you to take bigger risks and shave seconds off your time. The TV's participation is mostly perfunctory – it only provides a zoomed-out look at the entire track.
I also tried Takamaru's Ninja Castle, which marks a polished return of last year's shuriken-tossing tech demo. By sliding your fingers across the WiiPad toward the television, you launch throwing stars at various targets in a cute, ninja-themed shooting gallery. A faster slide ejects the stars at a much faster speed (ideal for distant targets), and a more precise aiming can net you a better score and even let you knock incoming projectiles out via mid-air shuriken collision. It's another simple game of point-and-shoot, but it does a competent, entertaining job of showing off the Wiipad as aiming device.
There's not much substance to this selection of mini games – certainly less so than the activities featured in Wii Sports – but they're a fun novelty. If the other games in Nintendo Land follow the same approach, they'll be worth checking out ... provided they end up in a day-one hardware bundle.