Getting Lost in Nintendo Land




Even the most frugal video game geeks can't hold out forever.

As of last weekend, I am an official Wii U owner. I got a refurbished deluxe Wii U set with the Nintendo Land game included. Yes, I am aware of some of the setbacks that Nintendo has been experiencing with its latest console but from what I've personally experienced so far, the Wii U faithfully follows Nintendo's overall ethos of keeping video games approachable, creative and--most importantly--fun.

What has changed for the Wii U (other than the large gamepad, of course) is the conspicuous shift towards online interaction with other Wii U owners. Sure, there were options for online interaction in the previous Wii console, but the Wii U eagerly reminds you that you are part of an expansive, international social network every time you active the console. Read on for more thoughts about Wii U's approach to social networking and why it may appeal the most to those who normally wouldn’t like online gaming.

I was never interested in playing games online with someone who I didn't know. It's not that I'm antisocial or paranoid (mostly), I just never considered playing games with strangers to be an essential part of a fun gaming experience. The way I saw it, if I wanted to play a game with someone else, that person would be sitting next to me in the same room--to me, that was where the fun was in co-op gaming. Otherwise, I was content to keep gaming a mostly solitary pastime.

On the other hand, my video gaming preferences were heavily influenced by my personal history with gaming consoles. My first two consoles were the Atari 2600 and 7800, and all you needed to play games on those systems was a working TV set. The TV set in question didn't even need to receive a decent reception of a network broadcast feed; as long as the picture tube worked, you could play games. This is a vast difference from the gaming machines of today, where the overwhelming majority of them are connected to some kind of digital network.


You never forget your first.


When I got my Wii U connected and working and my new Mii avatar set up, it was almost like going to a mall. The opening screen on the TV showed dozens upon dozens of Miis in a large plaza, with large groups huddled underneath a circular row of billboard-like signs that represented the most popular topics of online conversation within the Mii community. For example, the new Mario Kart 8 game has been getting plenty of press lately, so many Miis were flocked together under a Mario Kart 8 sign to discuss the game via message boards. The plaza screen appears every time the Wii U is turned on, reminding players that there are other players ready and available to chat about Nintendo-related topics.




Seeing the Wii U plaza screen got me warmed up for my experience with Nintendo Land, which echoes the same Mii networking style. I can see why Nintendo Land was packaged with many of the Wii U consoles, because playing this game from the beginning onward is like being the first person at the opening of an amusement park--grandiose music, an inviting environment design, and a doting tour guide are ready for your first park visit.

Once you finish the initial tour and play a few of the games, the virtual park opens to the rest of the Mii community. As you walk your Mii close to some of the other Miis, you can see their latest bulletin board posts appear over their heads like thought balloons in a comic strip. Of course, each of the games in Nintendo Land are fun and addictive in their own right, but it's the game's open extension into the online Mii community that really emphasizes what the game--and by extension the Wii U--is all about: Meeting and getting to know the larger Nintendo gamer community.




I've heard some critics complain that Nintendo Land doesn't do for the Wii U what the Wii Sports and Wii Play did for the previous Wii console--in other words, to show off what the console can do that other consoles cannot. I disagree. Whereas the Wii was about motion controls, Wii U is about motion controls, asymmetrical multiplayer game play, and online social interaction through the camera, microphone and touch screen capabilities of the Wii U touch pad. Nintendo Land succeeds in providing a friendly introduction to each of Wii U's features, introductions that are easy to understand and entice your curiosity. Gamers who are already familiar with online gaming may not be impressed by what Nintendo is doing but for a gamer like me, Wii U's version of social interaction might just be the thing to get me involved in online gaming. Then again, seeing another player as a cartoon-like character is much more inviting than, say, dialogue boxes with poorly spelled user names that spout endless streams of vitriol.

I guess you could say that Nintendo's approach to online gaming is similar to Disney's approach to theme parks: It's very charming, firmly controlled and open to all ages, with a heavy emphasis placed on ensuring that everyone has a good time. Of course, what qualifies as a good time differs from person to person, and I'm sure some gamers may find online interactions through the Wii U to be too bland, sterile and kid-friendly. Not me, though--I'm hooked, and I'm curious to see what Nintendo will do next. I'm personally hoping that open access given to outside Miis in Nintendo Land will also be provided in updated versions of Wuhu Island and Kawawii Island, the respective virtual locations from the Wii Sports Resort and Go Vacation titles. What better way to meet virtual people than at a sunny, beachside resort?





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