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Opinion:  Nintendo Land  fails to rekindle the  Wii Sports  flame
Opinion: Nintendo Land fails to rekindle the Wii Sports flame
June 5, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi, Kris Graft

June 5, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi, Kris Graft
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The tennis game in Nintendo's Wii Sports was perhaps a perfect showcase for what Nintendo was trying to accomplish with the original Wii. It defined the system -- and its intended audience -- by offering a control scheme that addressed the button anxiety that non-game players suffered by nearly eliminating them entirely.

Players being handed a Wii remote for the first time intuitively knew how to hit a tennis ball. It might have taken a second to acknowledge that actually swinging a video game controller would do something on screen, but it immediately clicked.

So when Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime said on Tuesday that the company's launch-bound virtual theme park Nintendo Land "does for Wii U what Wii Sports did for Wii," we decided to put his claim to the test.

Neither of us were convinced at last year's debut showing that Nintendo's GamePad represented much in the way of an effective use of the tablet screen, as far as game design is concerned. Much of what we saw seemed superfluous, with experiences that could easily be translated to more traditional input schemes.

At a private showing immediately following this morning's presentation, we spent some quality time with a handful of Nintendo Land minigames, to see if we might be convinced otherwise, as Fils-Aime seems to think the general public will be when they get their hands on the games this holiday.

Unfortunately, even Nintendo's best first-party efforts -- assuming as we are that Nintendo Land is meant to be the console-defining showcase piece at launch -- can not recreate that magic moment of immediate intuition that Wii Sports provided six years ago.

The bulk of the games we played could easily have been done on other systems. For example, Takamaru's Ninja Castle was a simple target-shooting affair that offered nothing that the original Wii Remote doesn't. Players tilt the GamePad, much like a Wii Remote, to manipulate a reticule on screen as they throw ninja stars at on-screen characters. The only use of the touch screen was to swipe forward to throw a star, an action that could have easily been accomplished with a button press.

The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest was a showcase for cooperative gameplay with the GamePad-wielding player having the advantage of a different point of view. While two players using Wii Remotes march forward automatically and slash at enemies, a third player using the GamePad is able to quickly look around the environment and see things that the others cannot, such as upcoming hazards.

We suppose this was meant to communicate that the GamePad offers a new way of playing together, but in reality this was nothing more than a typical spit-screen cooperative game with two players having their viewpoints artificially limited. It was as if three of the four players in Left 4 Dead could not look up or down, and had to rely on communication from the fourth to see what was ahead.

Donkey Kong's Crash Course showed off the GamePad's gyroscopic tilt function, as players manipulated a wheeled kart across an obstacle course by tilting the world and occasionally manipulating switches with button presses. It plays out much like Sony's LocoRoco.

In fact, we're left wondering why this game bothers with a television, when it easily could be a 3DS game. While the player sees a zoomed-in view of where their avatar is on the map, the television displays the entire course statically. We suppose that in theory onlookers could either be entertained by a different view on the television or perhaps offer help in the way of verbally communicating upcoming hazards, but it felt more novel than innovative.

The most practical new use of the GamePad, and one that we expect to be a game design trend early in the system's life, is in offering the player holding the tablet a strategic advantage in competitive living room games. Two games offered a take on this: in Luigi's Ghost Mansion, the tablet wielder played as a ghost that was invisible to four other players who worked together to narrow down the ghost's location down. Similarly, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day played out like a game of tag with one player having a better vantage point than the others.

The highlights of last year's demos had a similar gimmick and, like then, these were the most fun to play. This is the only function we've seen that would be difficult to reproduce without the GamePad, and the only that could be more than a novelty.

At the very least, the example games from Nintendo Land that we played did a more than adequate job of highlighting the various Swiss army knife functions of the GamePad, and should be able to introduce players to all of the different things it can do. However, it's missing the magic of Wii Sports, that "aha" moment that makes the system click for just about anyone playing it, that caused lapsed or even non-gamers to actually purchase a new video game system in droves.

Nintendo Land explains what the Wii U is capable of, but unlike Wii Sports, it doesn't explain why it does what it does. And if Nintendo is hoping to expand its audience even further or, at the very least, recapture those that it convinced with the original Wii, this probably isn't the game to do it.


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Comments


nicholas ralabate
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The return of same-room separate screen gaming is exciting, if it can capture the magic of their early GBA-GC attempts. Pac Man Vs. is a great game that not enough people got to play, and Crystal Chronicles was an innovative action RPG for its time.

Personally, I am more excited for the cross-pollination that is about to occur between Kyoto and App Store developers. The past four years of iOS touch controls have been fine, and I realize that Nintendo has technically been developing touch games since the DS but it's cool to think that EAD and Joe Hamburger are both going to be designing to the tablet for the next N years.

Fernando De La Cruz
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Couldn't agree more- especially regarding Pac Man Vs. and (at least for me) Zelda Four Swords. Every time I talk about asymmetrical game play I say "We've been here before. Pac Man Vs. is the perfect example and was extremely effective- loads of fun"

Unfortunately, they were never going to convince that many people to buy a GBA, a connector and the game just to try it out. A shame, really.

Samuel Batista
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Now all they gotta do is convince people to buy a $300+ dollar console + 4 wii remotes. Still, the concept of asymmetric gameplay is novel and very interesting to me. I hold my breath for more interesting and well developed games that employ this concept.

Eric Geer
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@Samuel....to be fair...probably a majority of families in the US have AT LEAST 2 wiimotes in their homes.

Kevin Fisk
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Is that baseball game part of this collection of games? Showing the perspective of the pitcher/catcher on the 2nd screen was something I thought would trip people out.

Merc Hoffner
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I think the situation is a little bit similar to the reveal of the DS. Nintendo threw a whole load of new input ingredients out there but it wasn't immediately obvious to us, or even to them what concoction could be made with it. Nevertheless, it was a melting pot of magic, and we got things out of it like Feel the Magic, Ouendan and the progenitors for most of the games we seen on iOS now.

Nintendo's trying the same again. I'm disappointed that they didn't have that 'aha' moment like with Wii, but the raw potential for new types of play is there, if only someone makes the imaginative leap. Usually it's Nintendo itself, but it doesn't have to be. Like so much at E3 this year, it looks like Ubisoft is stepping up to the plate...

Eric Geer
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Ubisoft grabbed me good with ZombieU---(terrible title) but it was probably the most intriguing title I saw at the press conference....

Between a single bite, inventory managment, and puzzles and "uh oh" moments...I was sold.

One game they should have shown at the presser but didn't was the Platinum
Games/Nintendo game.

Project P-100.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mr4D4YZQ9uY

Merc Hoffner
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http://www.zeldainformer.com/news/comments/zombiu-impressions-on-
the-e3-floor

They should have made more of this and less of batman, because it looked pretty wicked.

Russell Carroll
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Kotaku also jumped on the ZombieU is fantastic bandwagon:
http://kotaku.com/5916078/zombiu-sprinkles-dead-island-with-a-lib
eral-dose-of-dark-souls-in-other-words-its-rad

I personally am really excited about Project P-100, looks right up my alley.

A W
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Spike did a great ZombiU interview that you can find on Youtube. Everything in that commercial was there and worked flawlessly. I say they give it a romantic sounding name and throw in a bit of dramatic diolog and they got a hit right out of the gate. The game mechanics is just there with that game. Very impressive.

Cary Chichester
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When I first heard of Nintendo Land, I thought it was an online game park where you could interact with other Miis and play games together, and that you could make friends this way while sharing your experiences on the Wii U social network. I thought this because the whole message they're sending with the Wii U -- "Together Better" -- would definitely fit if that was how Nintendo Land worked. I was quite disappointed when I found out that it was just meant to be a collection of short games similar to Wii Sports.

Thus far my favorite experience with the 3DS had nothing to do with the retail games, but rather with encountering random Miis at gamer gatherings and playing that silly Mii RPG. I'd really like to see that social experience come to the Wii U.

Nathan Demick
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Your argument seems to boil down to "the same can be done with traditional control schemes." The same can be said about all games, but new forms of interaction can take existing mechanics and make them interesting again. I'll suspend judgement until I get my hands on one of those tablet monstrosities.

Fernando De La Cruz
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I feel the same way. Plus, I feel like this article is romanticizing Wii Sports to some extent. While tennis and golf (and to a lesser extent, bowling) had a decent amount of fun factor and replayability... the other modes were mostly forgettable. He has already called out two modes as being more compelling than the others. That's perfectly fine. Not all the demos are meant to display asymmetric gameplay as that's just one application of the GamePad.

Pressing a button to throw a ninja star or swiping... which approach FEELS better when playing? I don't know. But I intend to find out for myself.

Russell Carroll
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Agreed, I thought the same thing, wasn't this the same argument against the Wii when it was first being played?
"You could do this without motion controls"
That argument missed the point last time around, this time, like every time, I look to play myself instead of using other people's experience and biases to determine if I'll like something.

I want to play for myself :)

Glad this article was listed as 'opinion.' It's sad that the only articles about WiiU on gamasutra so far are opinion pieces that seem negative, other sites are doing a lot better job of weighing good and bad in my opinion ;).

TC Weidner
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IMHO, Too many companies are making " simple" too hard. By that I mean, casual gamers want to game, but they want simple controls , not gimmicks. They want to be able to understand the game, the story , the controls, and get playing in under2 minutes. Personally I think the future is the past. Bring back the control pads and schemes of the original nintendo and possibly genesis. 3 buttons max.

Gimmicks and 645377 button controllers are not for many people, too boring, or intimidating.

The human mind likes choices of 3. When we move to 4 and beyond, the mind doesnt like it, ask any marketer.

The power of todays hardware, combined with the controllers and originality of yesterday. That is the future of massive casual gaming IMHO.

Bob Johnson
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Ah the Wii did that.

Bob Johnson
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I think it will probably be difficult to grab folks the same way Wii Sports did. That was such a home run for Nintendo. And so I agree that NintendoLand wasn't an aha moment.

But I think the gamepad has shown enticing functionality like the ability to continue a game on the gamepad without the tv or using it as an IR remote for your tv or the 1 vs 3 gameplay possibilities or the 1v1 Madden etc possibilities and just having a touchscreen for inventory etc to make gameplay less tedious.

The article's comment that playing with a private screen vs the public screen is just split screen gaming with limited views doesn't seem well thought out.

It does sound like the ninja star game is gimmicky though.

TC Weidner
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wii, did not do that fully, Hardware was weak, the controllers were sort of OK, but could be complicated especially with nunchcuks, and as far as originality? the software for the system was very weak.

The sports series was fun and well done, but besides that? few and far between, I do agree however it was a step in the right direction, and I guess my point is , they didnt build upon it, making even more accessible games and hardware, they are sort of cluttering things up again.

Keep it simple.

Ian Uniacke
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I'm certainly not claiming that what I've seen of the Wii U has made me a believer either, but the old "you can do that with a button press" argument is missing the point completely. If we follow that argument to its extreme we may as well ship all consoles with a keyboard and be done with it. Obviously it's the whole package that people are looking. None of the games in Wii Sports were original in and of themselves (the exact opposite in fact). It was the experience of controlling them in a different way that made it stand out.

TC Weidner
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it was an experience for sure, and fun...for a time until it wasnt fun anymore. A gimmick of sorts. And sure there is room in the genre of gaming for such gimmicks, but this jump in front of your tv like an idiot is not going to remove the button push as the main ui feedback anytime soon. But as I said, I agree, wii was a step in the right direction for making gaming more accessible.

Ian Uniacke
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A slippery slope argument would be "lets not do this because the end result is total world destruction". The argument I'm making is that the original argument is silly because it doesn't hold up to its logical extreme. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductio_ad_absurdum is what you are looking for and it's a valid form of disproving a formal argument.

warren blyth
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WiiSports and NintendoLand have different goals, because the systems have different goals.

The Wii was about simplifying games down. So the simply titled "Sports" showed you how to enjoy various classic games with just one, or zero, button presses.

WiiU is about complicating games again. All the NintendoLand games sound easy to start, but hard to finish. The name is clearly a nod to Disneyland, and tied into the idea of taking your family into a shared playland. but the games don't seem focused on simplicity. look at how long they let the developer ramble about the ins and outs of cornering a ghost in the Luigi game.

Many say that WiiU's tablet isn't offering the same level of mind bending 'game change' as the original WiiMote. But it totally is. It's just too weird for people to latch onto it.

* They really should have coined a new term, instead of running with "Asymmetrical Gaming." While technically correct, few people seem excited by the point they're making with that term. (And I'm still seeing tons of comments confusing it with 'asynchronous' gaming).

I would have gone with something cute and memorable, to complement the "wiiU" name. Like "Crooked Gaming" (playing up the idea of unbalanced advantages for competing gamers?) or "Awry Play" (playing up the idea of "wry" personalities?).
Or maybe throw out something like "U-askew" design technology?
Or try for words that make you think of dungeon masters ("master screen")?
Or connote 1 parent taking 4 kids to the park ("wini-Van")?
(kind of interesting to note that there are many simple synonym words for balanced. look in a thesaurus. But there are almost no short simple words for for unbalanced or asymmetric.)

I think they really want the conversation to be about asymmetry. but the masses aren't following.

warren blyth
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I also thought it very telling they started off by basically saying "look, the fucking thing can support two pads. Stop asking for that. Now, back to what we're actually trying to convey here." I expect this will turn out similar to the Wii's ability to use two Wiimotes. Remember that drum demo when Wii was unveiled, where one person used two wiimotes? notice how that was never really used in any game?

The fact that people feel relieved that multiple wiipad experiences are even possible shows that Nintendo hasn't explained the WiiU's main 'asymmetric' selling point well enough.

warren blyth
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maybe they should've call the WiiU's gamepad the "unbalancing board"

Isaac Chandler
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I don't know, it just seems weird to me. I mean, I feel like I could just get a Vita for cross play support with my PS3, which would be a lot easier to hold and use. In fact, that's almost exactly what the WiiU controller reminds me of: a Vita. The only advantage I see to the WiiU controller is that it'll be easier to read inventories and maps on a bit more, and that's not too important

A W
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Sony put Vita's touch pad on the back, and not a touch screen on the front. Not a good design choice but they went with it. Also Vita was designed to be a new PSP, not a controller extension of the PS3. So you got that too. Vita is basically the Gameboy Advance of the PS3 and we know that connectivity never really caught on too much because there was some obstructive resource that had to be used to get it to work. I think some of those things still hinder that type of experience today which is why connectivity is still not catching on despite Sony, Nintendo, and now Microsoft having those options available on their current systems.

One last point where the difference lies is in the products. PS3 doesn't ship with a Vita because it was never intended to be a game controller for the PS3. Vita is made to be used separate from the PS3. It's just a novelty that you can sink it with some games on the PS3. The Wii Pad is a controller and it uses is with the system itself. It's not made to leave the area. That's the 3DS' job to be the portable Nintendo. You can use the Wiimote controller with just the Pad itself and exclude the TV all together because they built in the sensor functions into the pad itself. So its like Nintendo though about the fact that the only thing they don't control in a living room is a display. They have a game system that hooks to a TV but has no display of its very own out side of that. It's not the most innovative thing ever done and could have been done some years ago, but the extra designs with the use of its external technology makes it very much an innovation from their business experience side.

Duvelle Jones
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@ A W: The last time that I checked, Vita has a touch screen and a touch pad but still you point holds. Vita was never intended on being "the controller" the primary input device.

warren blyth
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- Vita was used in Sony's press conference, as a controller, for their smash brother's tribute game.

- i think there's a big difference between "I could just get a Vita for cross play support" (emphasis on "could"), and "every single game will be designed from day one to take advantage of the WiiU gamepad's features".

I agree that Vita could be a kickass competitor. but the very nature of "maybe a single PS3 user doesn't own the vita" ruins it. history has proven this every time (light guns to Eyetoy to GBA Link cable to TrackIR to Novint Falcon to Wii MotionPlus to Kinect Enhancement) (and one day, to smartGlass I expect).

Chris Hendricks
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If the main purpose for NintendoLand is to be a primer to explain how the Wii U tablet works, the solution should have been a Mario Party game instead. Minigames galore, a name brand that people already know, and a familiar board game setting would have sold everything about the Wii U perfectly (especially the asymmetric gameplay).

A W
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Did Mario Party ever go the online route? I though it was always intended to be a party game among local play and not a online meet and greet. Besides Nintendo showed off 3 Mario games at that event. I think that was enough.

warren blyth
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I think people aren't giving NintendoLand enough credit. It's clearly trying to be Disneyland. It's playing into the concept of taking your family to a magical place filled with more than one brand.

I'd say they should have made a wizz-bang trailer that offered the idea that this was a new zelda game AND a new donkey kong game AND a new Animal Crossing game AND a new Luigi game AND ... whatever other mascots. and they should have ended this trailer with the idea that an adult was taking his family there with his wiiU gamepad, while the kids all still used wiiMotes.

it could have just been a CGI filled sizzle trailer. just like microsoft and sony like to toss out all the time in their press conferences. It would have been much better to skip the 10 minutes demo of luigi's Ghost Vs. mini game, and instead end with reggie saying "oh, one more thing. we also have 12 goddamn games coming at launch, and i think you might recognize a few old friends in some of them". People should have left the theatre saying "what is this NintendoLand?! is it a real place?"

I'd bet nintendo thought it would be too big a let down when people realized it was just WiiSports. but. I think this was a huge missed opportunity.

Instead Nintendo smoked the bad crack, and ended with a shitty fireworks screen saver instead. ... SO &$%@ING BAFFLING!

Daniel Campbell
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NintendoLand looks pretty cool to me. The only thing I think it's lacking from my cursory glance is scale. What I mean by that is the main hub. It simply looks too much like what it is; a hub. I honestly think they need to up the scale of the hub. Make it a much bigger world with roads, buildings, ETC. Basically, they need to make it like a real theme park.

Heck, they already have a gift shop design made, they might as well put it in a building rather than just a menu.

warren blyth
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agreed. they could keep the central courtyard, and let you walk between games to get to obscure-er theme park concepts. make it feel even more like Disneyland.

they could have a trophy room (perhaps treated like a waterworks lounge. maybe your mii could wander there on it's own, after a few minutes of inactivity, as sort of screensaver function).

they could have a hall of presidents room ("hall of precedence"), with animatronic-esque Nintendo personalities explaining the concept of Asymettric game design, usage of the WiiU, the history of nintendo, and the design philosophies behind each console they've ever made.

... and now I'm trying to think of a bathroom concept. (hard not to think of a suite of horribly tacky japanese urinal games, which you control with your wiimote).

I'm also very curious if we'll see Nintendo mascots wandering around in the hub area. so your miis can rub elbows with donkey kong, princess peach, kid icarus, etc. Maybe even let the WiiU Gamepad holder take photos? ... this sort of thing seems so obvious that I feel like we should just wait and see what other tricks they've built in.

NintendoLand is a GREAT idea.

Leon T
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People need to understand something here. The Wii U is launching with a 2D Mario game. 2D Mario is one of the few games that can move hardware like Wii Sports can and it was doing it before Wii Sports was a thought. When NSMB Wii launched the Wii sold more units in a month than any console in history. NSMB DS helped the system sales explode. These games are close to selling 30 million copies each. This is only the second 2D Mario game on a home console in about 20 years so I have no doubt that it will still sell hardware. This is Nintendo's Pokemon for the home console.

Nintendoland being a success would just be icing on the cake.


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