Nintendo knows a thing or two about crafting worlds that have memorable, immediately recognizable characteristics. Perhaps, for you, the five-note theme that often accompanies Samus' appearance in Metroid games always conjures memories of many happy hours spent exploring alien landscapes. Maybe a glimpse of the Triforce is enough to stir the heart of the legendary hero residing in you. In Nintendo Land, the storied developer leverages the fondness many players feel for some of its most enduring series, while also employing some properties you probably haven't thought about in decades, or you never even knew existed. But while the window dressing at this amusement park of Nintendo-based attractions lends the game a good deal of personality, the real attraction is the gameplay.
There are 12 attractions accessible from the plaza that serves as Nintendo Land's hub. Six of them are for one player, three allow for both solo players or groups, and three are multiplayer only. The most serene attraction is the single-player Yoshi's Fruit Cart. Here, your Mii is placed in a cart modeled on the titular lovable dinosaur. The screen on the tablet and the screen on the television both show a green environment from a top-down view. On the TV, however, you can see fruits to collect and sometimes hazards to avoid, while the screen on the tablet shows only your starting position, the exits, and any patterns or shadows that might be on the stage's surface. You must draw a line on the tablet that takes the cart from its starting point to the exit, eating all the available fruit and winding your way around hazards.
It's a pleasantly absorbing exercise, trying to draw a safe path on the tablet using the information on the TV, sometimes relying on the shadows of clouds or other environmental features for reference. Completing stages is quite easy at first, but the challenge ramps up steadily as fruit starts to move in circular patterns and pitfalls become more prevalent. On these harder stages, it's a bit nerve-racking to hit the Go! button after drawing your line, and then watch the cart follow your path and hope it safely navigates its way through the hazards surrounding it.
The solo attraction Octopus Dance picks up the pace a bit. (Who is Octopus, you ask? Why, he's the star of the Game and Watch game Octopus, of course!) In this attraction, your Mii becomes a deep-sea-diving dancer who tries to keep up with the moves demonstrated by an instructor. (Octopus is content to watch from the background, and occasionally squirt some ink that obscures your view on the tablet but leaves the TV unaffected.) The left and right thumbsticks on the tablet move your left and right arms; you can tilt the tablet to lean, and shake it to jump. That's all you need to do to perform all of the dance moves.
The moves come in sets of three and sometimes come at you very quickly, so just taking note of what you need to do and then doing it along with the rhythm gets tricky. Making matters trickier still is the fact that your Mii sometimes gets spun around by the dance instructor, which encourages you to shift your gaze between the tablet and the TV. It's easier to mimic dance moves when you're viewing your Mii from behind; if he or she is facing you, you have to flip everything around in your brain, which is difficult when things are moving quickly. Octopus Dance is rather simple, but it's nonetheless a fast-paced and fun test of skill that makes interesting use of the Wii U's capacity to show you different things on the tablet and the television.
In Donkey Kong's Crash Course, your Mii is creepily morphed into a roller (a vehicle with springy wheels and the face of your Mii) and placed into an obstacle course whose color scheme and chalk artwork recall the original Donkey Kong. The object is to get your roller safely to the end of each obstacle course by tilting the tablet to roll left or right. Navigating the courses is quite difficult and requires finesse. It's satisfying to guide the roller safely to the goal at the end of the course, but the extreme fragility of the roller, as well as the bothersome need to blow on the microphone occasionally to move platforms, makes Crash Course one of the lesser attractions at Nintendo Land.
Takamaru's Ninja Castle takes its name from a 1986 Famicom game that never saw release outside of Japan. In this first-person on-rails attraction, you infiltrate a ninja fortress to rescue a kidnapped princess. You hold the tablet with the screen pointed at the television lengthwise, and slide your finger along the screen to toss throwing stars at the cute cardboard ninjas who stand in your way. The action is fast, the star-throwing motion feels natural, and the environments have an endearing handcrafted look.
Captain Falcon's Twister Race tosses you into the futuristic purple racer of Captain Falcon. The television displays a traditional behind-the-vehicle view common to many racing games, which is great for any spectating friends. In the driver's seat, however, you're usually better served by the top-down perspective provided on the tablet, which gives you a much better view of upcoming turns, speed-boosting arrows, and obstacles. Your racer always heads straight up on the tablet; tilting the tablet to steer, you try to find the speediest route along the twisty track. The controls are terrifically responsive; if you go careening off the track or speed straight into a hazard, it's your fault, not the game's. The course starts out simple but gets progressively more treacherous, and it's fun to return to Twister Race to improve your best times and compete with those established by other players.
Balloon Trip Breeze is a side-scrolling attraction in which you watch the television while moving the stylus on the tablet, which creates breezes that carry your balloon-wearing Mii along. The indirect control method makes avoiding floating spikes and avian adversaries pleasantly tricky, and the presentation, in which curtains of various colors hang in the background to suggest different times of day, is charming.