How Nintendo Breaks New Ground with Familiar Faces

Tom Mc Shea explores how Nintendo Land goes beyond simple casual appeal.

by

The vocal minority bangs its fingers on keyboards while the casual masses float through life on a cloud fueled by their own blissful ignorance. Peruse the monthly sales charts to see just how much the desires of the typical consumer clash with those most immersed in gaming's culture. Demand for new experiences--previously unexplored worlds and unmet characters--populates message boards, while those in charge of delivering high-budget games continue to recycle tired franchises with the me-too gameplay we've seen for years. It's a troubling trend with no end in sight, but one company has artfully devised a way to appease both parties in one fell swoop.

Nintendo has been making video games for decades, and in that time, its strategy has changed very little. While technological revolutions and popular tastes are impossible to foresee, it has avoided the volatility of change by relying on a healthy stable of enduring franchises. On the surface, this might seem like the exact plan every thriving developer falls back on, and if you look at some of Nintendo's lesser efforts, you do see the occasional cut-and-paste release that has been so detrimental to innovation. But where Nintendo separates itself from the pack is in its ability to fuse wholly new experiences with worlds that people already love.

It's strange to look at Nintendo Land and deem it a paragon of smart game design. It is, after all, just a lowly minigame compilation, hardly something to get excited about. But even though our initial reaction may have been an exaggerated yawn, the beauty of what Nintendo accomplished in this clever package becomes apparent once you sit down with it for a few minutes, tablet controller in hand. By effortlessly introducing the discerning "I want something new!" crowd to the forgiving "I want something recognizable!" folks, Nintendo has proved that accessibility combined with novelty can open the door to entirely new experiences that anyone can enjoy.

Nintendo Land is composed of 12 unique minigames based on existing franchises within Nintendo's expansive oeuvre. With everything from Mario and Zelda to Balloon Fight and F-Zero covered, if you've grown up gaming, there's most likely at least one franchise you can dig into. And that's the first step in ensuring this game finds its way into as many hands as possible. The average consumer may not follow industry news closely, so even hallowed names such as Shigeru Miyamoto don't ring a bell. Instead of relying on knowing the names of the creators, these people fall back on familiar characters. The red-hatted plumber has been around for years, and because so many games Mario has lent his name to have been excellent, people have grown to trust the mustachioed man.

Nintendo Land offers an argument for how the tablet can change gaming, that it's more than just a simple gimmick.

Accessibility goes deeper than simple name recognition. Nintendo's most persuasive marketing tool for the Wii was getting people to try it out. It had such confidence in Wii Sports' ability to woo even the staunchest curmudgeons that it populated as many electronics stores as possible with ready-to-play kiosks in the hopes that one feeble racket swing in a crowded store would translate to one more sale for its fanciful machine. That same logic applies to the Wii U. Tablets have been around for years, so just hearing that the latest game system comes equipped with one is far from impressive, but once you get one in your hands, you understand instantly how this changes the way you play games. And that's why the controls have been streamlined so even less-skilled players can still have fun.

But we already know that Nintendo has figured out accessibility. What was surprising to me is that Nintendo Land is more than just a casual time waster. Like in Wii Sports, the appeal for the everyman is undeniably present, and there's a level of sophistication that makes it difficult to pull away from. This casual hook emerged in Wii Sports with easy-to-grasp controls set in recognizable sports everyone understood. And once you got a handle on the basics, varied course design urged you to perfect your swing on the putting green and there was always a few more pins you could knock down in the bowling alley.

This goes back to the original point. Nintendo may rely on big-name franchises to lure in casual players, but it pastes that recognizable facade into a gameplay style that's different from anything else out there. Nintendo Land offers a strong argument for how the tablet can change gaming, that it's more than just a simple gimmick, by introducing a number of gameplay situations that previously didn't exist. For those who, like me, search high and low for games that offer something different from the glut of predictable releases, Nintendo Land is equipped with an entire disc full of newness. Is novelty the Holy Grail? Not quite, but it's hard to deny the inherent joy in experiencing something for the first time.

Hyrule plays home to The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, a game that succinctly embodies the notion that new experiences can be found in old places. Get off your seat for this one and hold the tablet at eye level. Your Mii, dressed in garb that makes him or her look strikingly like a certain elf boy, has a bow in hand, which can mean only one thing. Pull down on the right stick to cock your arrow and then let fly a doozy into the belly of a scheming bokogoblin. Not too impressive sounding, is it? The beauty of Nintendo Land is its inventive use of the tablet. Ignore the television screen completely. The window into Hyrule is in your hands, and that alters how this basic rail shooter plays out. Twist your body, lean to the side, or spin around to cover your backside. By chipping away at the barrier separating you from game, a level of immersiveness is realized that simply isn't possible when pointing a controller at a television.

A similar transformation happens on the planet Zebes. Metroid Blast teams Wii Remote-wielding players in an arena designed for fast-paced combat. Grapple, leap, and roll around the playing field in your best impression of a intergalactic bounty hunter as you search for your elusive prey. While the gun-toting forces scramble on screen, the tablet holder embarks on his or her own mission. On board Samus' iconic ship, you soar through the skies, drifting behind pillars and above daunting precipices, keeping yourself hidden from view while you ferret out your enemies. It's a game of cat and mouse with an exciting twist. And it's emblematic of how a tablet can fundamentally change how we play traditional experiences.

Nintendo Land has morphed from a seemingly shallow launch game to the presumed successor to Wii Sports' almighty throne in my eyes because it understands that pandering to the casual crowd alone isn't enough to make people interested in this newfangled system. Instead, it merges two competing ideologies together so seamlessly that neither side quite realizes what's happening. Nintendo may strike gold once more, and it's because it understands that accessibility and novelty don't have to be perfect strangers.

Discussion

174 comments
advancedcaveman
advancedcaveman

I just don't care about motion controls or touch screens or cameras or voice commands, its all ultimately just "use the thing" novelty. Innovation should be done in terms of the actual mechanics and design in the game, not how it uses a bunch of ancillary features. 

 

Upside down platforming, levels broken up into planetoids with gravitational centers, a powerup that lets you do a "hole through the earth leading to china" impression, that's innovation. Mario Galaxy has the sort of innovation I want to see, its based on things in the game, not things in the hardware.

 

Willie_Dynamite
Willie_Dynamite

I love Nintendo.  They are always so innovative and this is coming from a PC gamer.  The Mario Galaxy series is absolutely phenominal.  I can't to get the new WII.

grasshopper6
grasshopper6

the damn system is sold out and I ain't standing in line hours before lunch why the hell they don't make enough in first place 

 

Thunderbear24
Thunderbear24

I will listen to all of your comments. Maybe Nintendo should be offering more and I am not going to rush out and buy the Wii U without seeing how it develops first. But do see their good sides. Try to also be open minded. For a start, I know people say that they don't offer enough games, but there will be enough surly. How many games would one person need? And don't forget the hardware problems that the xbox 360 and playstsation gave us in the passed. I onwed most Nintendos, and not ones did they break down, and had to buy a new console. I never owned a PS3 so I can't speak bad about it, but face it, there is no excuses for the xbox red ring. And when I owned a PS2, I had many problems with disk reading errors.

Megavideogamer
Megavideogamer

Nintendoland is a great 'Pack In' game for the Wii U. Those Wii U experiences from E3 2011 have been Turned into mini games for Nintendoland. Which is smart of Nintendo to include with the deluxe set. It does the job of introducing the Gamepad tablet controller. That is all it has to do.

Thunderbear24
Thunderbear24

Just read that next year there will be a new call of duty game called,....... {waite for it}.......Modern Warfair 4........ wow, I didn't see that one coming. Yes I'm sure that this game will hit the Wii U too, but again, Nintendo likes to be original. Yes they always bring out new Mario and Zelda games, but the game play changes.

Thunderbear24
Thunderbear24

I know what the problem is. The problem is that everyone is into war games these days, and you know what war game I am thinking of. {Begins with C} They all want to shoot each other's heads off with great graphic game play. I like war games to, and if your into that then fine, playstation and xbox is the best for you. But, it's about time we had a bit more imagination now. Something called, originality. What I like about Nintendo is that they always give you something refreshing and new. It is originality which will keep the gaming industry going. War games are good, but I am being honest, it lacks originally now. Don't you think we need something new too?

Thunderbear24
Thunderbear24

I don't know what is the problem. Nintendo is good, and it feels different from the rest of the consoles. Face it, they do stand out to be different from Playstsation and Xbox. Guess this is why people likes Nintendo so much. They are full of bright new ideas for game play? Isn't that a good thing. I don't understand this gimmick crap?

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

Hats off to Nintendo for doing it first again ....they are trend setters.

Regardless of my personal appreciation of the end result.

 

Unfortunatelly what I see down the road is another "race for the casual audience" full of useless games just like when Sony and MS went after the Wii movement controls...only this time with tablets.

 

What would hold Sony and MS back from integrating their existing tablets (Sony as a manufacturer and MS as an OS developer)? If that really happens, Sony and MS have the upper hand because their tablets would be usefull outside the living room where the Wii U tablet isn't.

But truth be told, that's not my problem because unless something really good comes out I know I won't buy it. When the first WII U Zelda is launched I may reconsider.

 

But doing some soul search I guess my main issue is when this gimmicks are forced in games that have nothing to do with it so the casual audience buys those just because there's a stamp in the box that says "tablet whatever" compatible.

nayrod247
nayrod247

oeuvre.  i remember the last time i looked up a word to use just so i could sound smarter than i really am.

Bog101
Bog101

He glances at the tv about every 5 minutes.  His focus is attatched on the tiny handheld

 

ekalbtwin
ekalbtwin

I'm really excited to try this game out.  As much as I love the deep and engrossing experience of more "core" games, I have been a huge fan of Wii sports and Wii fit for the past 6 years.  And Metroid land, or whatever its called, looks killer.  The Idea of a theme park that is based on Nintendo's best is such a cool idea.  Ten bucks says a Disney park clone of this tittle hit the shelves soon after this game drops.

vbritez20
vbritez20

Well this looks perfect for me to play with my kid, I have my PC for my games, this will be a family entertainment  system for me

mekentosh
mekentosh

I'll probably get the Wii U in about 4 or 5 years. In more important issues: I want to view this page with the black background and white font!

Dizzy1976
Dizzy1976

I don't want to sound all negative here. Maybe I'm just looking for answers but, the only thing I see thats new here is that this system will take my eyes off my new 55" TV screen and keep them aimed at a tiny 3 to 4 inch screen. To me it seems like I'm losing out on the deal here.

akoymakoyg
akoymakoyg

so what is the TV for now? that dude is looking at the controller the whole time

TecmoGirl
TecmoGirl

Looks pretty fun! I'm totally looking forward to it! 

Jestersmiles
Jestersmiles

more casual crap please, Wii-u launch = nothing but ports. Have fun carebears.

Korgamer84
Korgamer84

Finally something new. Playstation 3 is great and all, but after awhile it gets kind of old. The controller for example. Its the same old as controller i been playing with for 3 generation. Do i really want to play with the same controller for the 4th generation! I mean it was interesting to see how the graphics evolved since the playstation one. It brought new gameplay to the PS2 and PS3. But was it anymore fun than it was in the SNES. I remember playing MarioRPG and I never felt so much joy and excitement playing a video game. Maybe because It felt new to me and my imagination ran wild and the game came to life. The playstation one was a hit because it was something new. Something innovative. 2D to 3D was huge. So what now?  When games become photorealistic. Will they make games more fun than it is now? Or will it just be eye candy for a little while? I think whether it is Sony/Microsoft, sooner or later, they're going to have to change the way we play. Nintendo just started this trend.

bjvill
bjvill

Whiners may whine but the game has to be simple and enjoyable for reasons Tom mentioned.

But more importantly, it has to work well and have intuitive, responsive controls.

gamerok123
gamerok123

 @advancedcaveman Yeah, like how innovative Sony was being when they brought out they PSMove or when Microsoft brought out the Kinect? People like you only sees faults when Nintendo does it. And, personally, I am getting kind of sick of the usual shoot 'em up games, the fighting games and all the other games that are coming out right now for consoles.

 

I agree with you on Galaxy, but bringing out new and better hardware is what will take gaming forward, not making the consoles more powerful.

ekalbtwin
ekalbtwin

 @grasshopper6 Because A) shortages are a great way to get people all gaga over something (look at the PS2 and Wii) and B) It takes time to make these things. Its not like they have been piling up a bunch for years.

teknic1200
teknic1200

 @Thunderbear24 Monster Hunter is the only game I needed to pre-order the console. It could be the only game I play on the machine and it would justify the purchase.

Hopefully it does well and they bring us Monster Hunter 4.  With Nintendo hosting the game it makes the franchise loop promising for those of us here in the west that love the series.

 

Now I just have to figure out how to bide my time until March D,:

shoooshoo
shoooshoo

@Thunderbear24 I have owned every Nintendo console since childhood, but I skipped the GameCube and wii substituting them for xbox. earlier this year i bought a ps3, and its opened my eyes on how to be an unbiased gamer. Now getting the wii u on launch, first time having all three consoles, my wife says I'm spoilt, i say I'm blessed.

shoooshoo
shoooshoo

@Thunderbear24 Nintendo consoles are truly build to last. If you can budget for all three systems, you will get the best of every platform.

RBRTZZX
RBRTZZX

 @Thunderbear24 Nintendo obviously doesn't care about your opinions since they're trying to catch and release those titles. Oh and PS3 only for war? Journey, LBP, Mod Nation racers, Unfinished Swan, Limbo, Flow, Flower, Sound Shapes, Catherine, Heavy Rain, Shatter, Folklore, Echochrome, Lumines, Closure, Swarm, and every PixelJunk title are all great titles that are creative and not found on Nintendo that arent about war. But if you enjoy Rehashes from the 80's with new twists Im not here to judge you. Nintendo games might of been the inspiration for some of these games but other than nostalgia Nintendo can barely keep up.

superfakerbros
superfakerbros

 @oldschoolvandal 

The problem with the Wii was that the Wiimote was Nintendo trying to re-invent the wheel. It just didn't work with most games. The GamePad's screen is optional and is more like a traditional controller so developers would have to try and make "gimmicky" games. As for Nintendo appealing to the casual audience, have you SEEN the launch line-up? There are at best 3-4 casual games, games that are out-shined by titles like Tekken Tag Tournament II, Assassin's Creed III, DarkSiders II, etc. Besides, the price point is a bit scary for your average casual gamer and they've migrated to smart phones anyways and Nintendo's repeatedly said that they're more interested in going after the core audience this gen, something they're proving with titles like Bayonetta 2, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge, etc. As for Sony and Microsoft using Tablets to counter the GamePad, you're forgetting the fact that they don't have buttons or analog sticks or anything like that. At best, they'll be used like SmartGlass.

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

@nayrod247 I'm assuming you already looked it up so....what does it mean? :)

Giancarlo
Giancarlo moderator

 @Bog101 It depends on which player you are--some of the minigames demand that you look at the gamepad's screen.

LeftyxLaura
LeftyxLaura

 @ekalbtwin Disney already had a game like that for the NES. It was where you were at Disneyand, and there were certain ride mini games like Space Mountain, and some others. I forget what it was called. Magic Kingdom Park or something.

Dizzy1976
Dizzy1976

 @akoymakoyg guess I should have looked at comments before posting mine. I totally agree with you. At first glance this just looks like a new handheld plugged into a big screen so everyone can watch.

 

Either Gamespot really picked some bad footage to show off the "new" game play or there really isn't much to this new system. I just feel like I'm missing something  lol

rarson
rarson

 @Korgamer84 

 

"Do i really want to play with the same controller for the 4th generation!"

 

When it's that good, I certainly do. Besides, you're not giving Sony enough credit. They created a great design and evolved it into a top-notch gamepad.

 

I applaud Nintendo for their innovation, but there's nothing wrong with sticking with something that works, and for a standard controller the Dual Shock 3 is pretty darn good. After all, sometimes I just want to play with a regular controller.

snaketus
snaketus

 @Korgamer84 I love that controller (dualshock 3). I'm so used to play with it. When I play on Pc something that requires or simply is better with controller I find myself pressing wrong buttons, especially in quicktime events, for example when screen says to push X on xbox360 controller I naturally press X where it is on playstation controller and I die. Yes you can use to it with time, but why change something that works? Maybe they can improve some ergonomics and add features but I really hope Sony keeps the button layout. And I believe they do, because they have trademarked it.

rarson
rarson

 @ekalbtwin  

 

The ONLY reason for shortages is demand outstripping supply. It makes absolutely no sense to NOT sell products to people.

superfakerbros
superfakerbros

@RBRTZZX Only two of those games are made by Sony. Are you seriously going to put multiple developers against 1? Also, if you seriously think Nintendo hasn't made new IP's since then or changed any old IP, then you're living in denial

oldschoolvandal
oldschoolvandal

 @superfakerbros Hopefully you are right and I'm being the half empty kind of guy...but the lack of buttons can be solved with an accessory.

Honestly no, I haven't checked the launch line up with attention because the impression I got was that most of the games I heard about and I could care for can be found in current platforms (excluding Nintendo franchises, of course).

Well, again, I really hope you are right and they saw something I still don't.

ekalbtwin
ekalbtwin

 @LeftyxLaura And there has been others like that one as well, even as new as to be on the PS2.  Come one, come all.

Korgamer84
Korgamer84

@rarson Hey I give sony credit for what they have done so far. the SNES and PSOne was the most memorable system for me as a gamer. Hell, even the ps2 was great. Hats off to Sony for letting me experience Shadow Hearts 1-2, Final Fantasy 10, Metal Gear Solid, and God Of War to name a few. But the PS3 isn't doing it for me. It had some great games but at this point it's nothing I haven't really experienced before. The dual shock 3 was great but we been playing with it for 3 generations if you think about it the SNES had the first gamepad that pretty much created this design just without the analog which wasn't needed because games weren't in 3D. I think it's about time this industry tries something new. Maybe something like what Nintendo is doing or perhaps something different. But I'm talking about something innovative that will give us a completely new experience. That's why for now, I'm jumping to Nintendos ship. I like thier approach on gaming and I think, with thier motion controls issues being solved for the next generation and the combination of the gamepad and wii u pro controller, the system is going to bring new and fun experience overall. Although, this wasn't the best generation for Wii gamers, with the lack of games, and some issues with the wii remotes, I think that's about to change. While I will be focusing on the Wii U, I'll p my eyes open for what Sony/Microsoft has to offer for the next generation.

rarson
rarson

 @snaketus  

 

There are two things I really dislike about Sony's controllers: the face buttons and the triggers. The colors on the buttons are hard to see and too similar. Also, the buttons themselves, not the shapes on them, should be colored. That would make them a heck of a lot easier to identify via color. And I hate that they are labeled with shapes. A, B, X, Y, R1, R2, R3, etc. would be SO much easier to remember.

Korgamer84
Korgamer84

@snaketus I'm sure playstation will stick to the same control layout but I can't imagine they would continue with the dual shock for the 4th generation. I've been with sony since the ps1 but the games and controls are starting to feel dull for me. If they want to win me over on launch day they better have something innovative up their sleeves not just another "here is a super powerful system for 600 dollars. Take it or leave" you know what I'll say no thanks I'll wait for the price drop. And I'll enjoy my wii u for the mean time.

ekalbtwin
ekalbtwin

 @rarson I did not say I agree with either A or B (but looking at my post it looks like I do).  I was trying to point out two possible reasons.   I personally lean towards B as it is not like a million of those things are made each hour by some miracle machine.  

rarson
rarson

 @oldschoolvandal  

 

"but the lack of buttons can be solved with an accessory."

 

There aren't any decent ones. Nevertheless, the Nintendo controller is still the more elegant solution, the only one that doesn't require additional hardware, and the only one that will have any kind of software support because it actually comes in the box.

superfakerbros
superfakerbros

@oldschoolvandal While most games at launch are titles also available or soon to be available on the PS3/360, a lot of them have been improved either in stability or content or features. So there's that but, truthfully, I wouldn't buy a Wii-U just for that but there's the guarantee of Nintendo's top tier games so it makes the launch line-up look even more enticing. As for an accessory giving the Tablets extra control options, devs will have to assume everyone will buy it AND have a Tablet. It's a lot like the 3DS's Circle Pad Pro accessory, most games will simply not use it as the device itself doesn't come with those enhancements. Also, just remember this is still launch. No console comes with a ton of AAA games at launch, there will be more games later on.