I wasn't exactly sure how to go about writing a formal review for Nintendo Land, since it is more a collection of minigames than a full-fledged retail release. At the same time, however, some of the minigames are more fully realized than others and stand strong on their own. At present, I am not sure that will in fact be writing a traditional review (or any review, for that matter) of Nintendo Land, simply because it is too different a beast for me to tackle when compared to most other games I review. However, I do feel that some of the standout games in the collection deserve recognition, and I have thus decided to compile a list of my five very favorite games from the bunch. These are listed in no particular order, though all but one places an emphasis on the multiplayer experience.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion - This game plays quite differently depending on which role you adopt. For the (up to) four players that take on the role of Luigi, Mario, and company, they must play defensively, watching each other's backs and keeping an eye on the battery reserves in their flashlight. They are able to sense where the single ghost is due to vibrations in their Wiimotes, but are only able to see him/her when the ghost chooses to dash or when lightning flashes outside the mansion and temporarily illuminates portions of the halls. Playing as the ghost hunters requires a tactical approach, whereas playing the role of the ghost requires he/she who controls the game pad to formulate a means of overcoming said strategy. The ghost can freely roam the area without being seen (save for the aforementioned dash and lightning), and can choose to charge an attack that drains the batteries from all the flashlights. This attack is a gamble, however, since the time required to charge it is quite lengthy and could leave the ghost exposed to attack. Also, the ghost is relying on players to be restricted to a small enough area that they cannot dodge the attack once it is cast. While the ghost does take damage gradually and can run away after each hit he takes, one touch from him and a ghost hunter is downed. At the same time, fellow ghost hunters can choose to revive their fallen comrade, knowing that the ghost could still be nearby to attack them too.
Metroid Blast - The progression of enemies in this game's Assault Mission mode feels very natural, as one wave after the next challenges a team of bounty hunters. One player controls Samus' gunship, and is granted the advantage of flying wherever he/she chooses. The catch is that some enemies will move between buildings and are thus more difficult to hit. The other bounty hunters move around on foot, leaving themselves more exposed but also having greater accuracy up close with enemy Geemers and Zebesians. Those players that roam the area on foot can choose to grapple onto the gunship to get a free ride to another part of the stage, making the ascension up a tower much faster or simply making a narrow escape when their health is low. Both player types can collect power ups and health, which are handed out by the level every so often, and are acquired by players on a first-come, first-serve basis. While Metroid Blast does restrict players to a small area when fighting foes, it does well to capture the spirit of the Metroid games through the decoration of the environment and the music that plays as bounty hunters fight back.
The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest - An on-rails quest to find the Triforce, Battle Quest is nowhere near the caliber of a fully-realized entry into the Legend of Zelda series. However, it does borrow heavily from the combat mechanics introduced in Skyward Sword, and is all the better for it, as early skirmishes against Moblins are a cakewalk but later fights against Stalfos require accurate swings of the sword and careful timing when raising the shield. The role of archer is granted to the player using the game pad, and syncs perfectly with everything occurring on the television screen.
There are some stages that feel more appropriately designed for full teams of four, while the collective health bar is meant to teach players to work together. However, Battle Quest is rather forgiving, placing extra hearts at the place your team last fell with each consecutive attempt at completing a stage. Some stages are revisited, though parties will traverse them via a different route, so the challenge never feels too familiar. Battle Quest is also one of the best looking games in all of Nintendo Land, and the lighting in caves and dungeon areas allow the archer to spot target from a significant distance. The puzzle element is essentially limited to hitting certain switches in the proper order, but the element of wind in a few stages presents an extra challenge for the archer as he/she will need to aim and time their shots differently.
Pikmin Adventure - Though there is a versus mode where the Pikmin scramble to collect more candy than Olimar, the real meat of the experience comes from the adventure mode. The core gameplay of Pikmin Adventure is rather similar to the two Gamecube titles that preceded it. Olimar controls small Pikmin, and collecting nectar allows them to level up, grow buds/flowers, and become stronger. Though the Pikmin can be killed, Olimar has no means to revive them, so the game automatically restores them after a few seconds. Meanwhile, other players (using Wiimotes) play as individual larger Pikmin and are in charge of their own destinies, though the group still needs to work together to defeat enemies, unlock pathways, and complete levels.
For anyone who has played the original two Pikmin titles, the controls should feel very familiar. Aside from tapping the touch screen to launch Pikmin, the trigger is used to whistle and gather your Pikmin back to Olimar's side. The inclusion of new items that can boost or alter the way in which the Pikmin attack make boss encounters all the more interesting. The game is easily the best looking of the entire Nintendo Land collection, with lighting effects and shade dancing beautifully off the environment as well as the clockwork designs of enemies feeling both fresh and familiar. If this minigame is something of a teaser of what is to come in Pikmin 3, I am all the more excited for its release.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle - One of the more challenging games in Nintendo Land, Takamaru's Ninja Castle acts like a shooting gallery with ninjas moving about each stage. As you hold the game pad sideways, you flick throwing stars at enemies, and are eventually able to upgrade to temporary use of clay bombs, triple throwing stars, and the ability to briefly slow time. The first few areas feature mostly defenseless and slow-moving targets, but as you progress, enemies begin to take on the offensive, tossing clay bombs and occasionally coming close-range with katanas. Though the ninjas are meant to look like paper dolls, the castle and the area that surrounds it is quite colorful and nicely detailed. Meanwhile, the boss fight requires you to keep a keen eye and be prepared for attacks from any of a mobile statue's four cannons as it spins about the room.