The internet has killed local multiplayer; the sheer number of games who refuse to even consider it as a feature now is testament to that. No longer can you grin at a friend as you shoot him in the face; now you face nameless people in an ambiguous and impersonal zone open to abuse and abuses. What happened to the days of multiplayer fun against an opponent you can actually see, in the comfort of your own home? Nintendo remembers what they were like, and in the Wii U's flagship Nintendo Land they may have re-invented it.
Now, the Wii U is a curious device of great potential; the screen is an intriguing addition. Although single-player games have proved up-in-the-air, it's clear Nintendo have spent a lot of time considering the best way to make the controller as unobtrusive but vital to the Wii U experience as possible. Nintendo Land epitomises this spectacularly.
At the packed Nintendo stall at Eurogamer I was given the opportunity to try out three of Nintendo Land's twelve games: The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, Animal Crossing: Sweet Day and Luigi's Ghost Mansion. In Zelda, three players take control of avatars using Wii-motes to hack at oncoming enemies whilst a fourth player uses the U-Screen to aim and fire arrows, moving it and shaking it like the arrow aiming in Ocarina of Time 3DS. Although quite smart in presentation and execution, it pales somewhat in comparison to the other games on offer due to its status as a glorified on-rails shooter, nor does it show off the potential of the screen.
Luigi's Ghost Mansion, however, does show off the potential of the screen in a superb and surprisingly deep party game. Four players control Luigis, torches in hand, whilst a fifth player controls the ghost. The aim of the game is simple: the Luigis must destroy the ghost before he captures them. The Luigis can only damage the ghost by shining a torch on him, but torches cannot be on permanently and need re-charging with batteries. If, however, a Luigi is caught, he is knocked out and can only be revived through torchlight, obviously leaving the saviour vulnerable to another ghost attack. The catch? The Luigis cannot see the ghost, whose only position can be seen on the U-Screen, out of the way of the others (no screen watching here!) For the Luigis, teamwork is the key; any separation could ruin everything. Divide and conquer is the best way for the Ghost to succeed; once his prey is separated they can be individually snared. The result is a tense and exciting affair with quite a bit of tactical nouse and depth where both sides are afraid to make the first move. Even after five games over two successive days it still felt fresh and invigorating.
Animal Crossing: Sweet Day continues in this vein. The aim of the game is for the four Wii-mote players to try and gather fifty sweets in their head scoops. They do this by standing in groups under trees, which then relinquish their goodies, like natural piñatas. As they get more sweets their heads swell, meaning they move slower and becomes more cumbersome (fat-kid syndrome effectively). This would not be a problem if the U-Screen player did not move a knife and a fork, controlled using the twin-sticks, out to stop the contestants. The screen scrolls in and out as you follow the cutlery, attempting to pincer opponents or spread the play. This is intriguing but difficult, and takes some getting used to. However, that does not mean it is impossible; on the contrary, like all the games here, it is immediately accessible but hard to master.
The key theme is fun. Although I only managed to try three of the games, each showed off the Wii-U hardware well. The focus on living room gaming local multiplayer must be applauded, and the use of the U-Screen is a revelation in these tense and tight games. The backwards compatibility with the Wii-motes is a good touch, meaning there is a chance gamers will have enough controllers to take advantage of the game mods. It may not be enough in itself to justify buying a Wii-U, but it sure exemplifies the hardware and Nintendo's approach very well.