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Gamer Tuesday

January 28, 2014

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: Nintendo Land and the Disney Theme Park Culture

When the Wii U first launched in November of 2012, the deluxe package came with Nintendo Land bundled. The game, much like Wii Sports did back in 2006, is a mini-game collection that sets out to show gamers how the Wii U Gamepad can bring innovative gameplay through quirky controls and concepts. These range from hide and seek game concepts that utilize the Gamepad as a map, to using the Gamepad to steer a car. All of it is done through a very captivating theme park motif where each mini-game is an 'attraction' based on a famous Nintendo property.


What does any of this have to do with Disney? Besides the obvious joke relating to Disneyland... nothing whatsoever! Well, in terms of direct references to Disney, no, Nintendo Land does not feature any. However, its whole idea of the theme park experience, as well as how it implements that idea, does avert and subvert the idea of the whole theme park culture, more specifically Disney's theme park culture. Almost everyone in the world knows about the Disney theme parks. They have become so ingrained in the cultural mindset that there is a chance that if you mention the words theme park, Disney's parks will come in. Disney may not have been the first to create the concept of the theme park, but they were certainly the ones that revolutionized it.

In the theme park culture, there are three camps of fans. The very first is the big fanatic, the fan that truly believes that the Disney theme park experience is pure, unadulterated escapism. From the minute you enter the gates and pass the train station, you enter an idealized rendition of a turn of the century American town. Walking past that, one can go back to the past and see how the pioneers lived and how the country was formed, or they can go another route and go into the future. Walk past the future and you can go to a world of whimsy in Fantasyland.

The second camp is that of the unrelenting cynic. This is the person that sees through all the illusion and decides to shatter it for himself and all. It is all artificial to them and a ploy to get you to spend money on over expensive junk food and souvenirs. Finally is the person that does see the artificiality of it all and knows how everything works, but still has the same wonder as the fanatic. The smoke and mirrors are what make the park so enduring in their eyes.

The reason I bring these camps up is because Nintendo Land, either on purpose or not, has through its theme brought attention to the mentality behind these camps of fans. From the minute you first load the game, you will see that everything is completely artificial and hand made. It tries in no way to hide the fact that you are about to experience are NOT the actual events as seen in the Nintendo properties, but rather an artificial interpretation of those realities in hopes that you buy into the illusion of grand escapism.

I've been talking about artificiality for a while now, but how does it relate to anything? It is obvious that some concepts can not be easily brought to life through conventional meanings. For example, you can't get a family of gorillas to trash a camp on cue. That's why they create animatronic animals to perform the task and thus deliver the narrative. The Jungle Cruise is a great example of artificiality at play. We know there is no way that hippos will attack on the same spot and on cue. We know that crocodiles will not open their mouths for us willingly. The attraction is pure camp that is extremely self aware. The guests and the skipper are in on the joke. Yet, it also tries its best to deliver on its storytelling premise by making the whole experience as cohesive and believable as possible.

With Nintendo Land, they have taken that concept to an almost self-deprecating degree that manages to deliver on its premise. Like Jungle Cruise, Nintendo Land wants you to believe that you are engaging on a fantastical journey. And much like Jungle Cruise, everything is achieved through an artificial means. But whereas Disney tried its best to not make it so obvious, Nintendo Land goes there. The game features 12 mini-games based on the following Nintendo franchises: Super Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, Metroid, F-Zero, Game and Watch, Luigi's Mansion, Balloon Fighter, Pikmin, Donkey Kong, Takamaru and Yoshi's Island. Each game is about how to use the Wii U's Game pad in fascinating ways in an arcade-like manner.

Much like with the Disney theme parks, Nintendo Land takes the familiar elements of each franchise and re-invents them in a manner that people will recognize but will notice that is not exactly as they remember it. For starters, you are not going to be playing as the REAL characters from each game franchise, but as yourself in the role of the characters. This is similar to the original idea of some of the classic Disneyland attractions like Snow White and Alice in Wonderland. In both attractions, you are taken on a journey through scenes from the films, yet both also had the same 'problem'; the main characters were not present. That is because they envisioned the guest being the main character. They were Snow White and Alice, and the stories had them at the center. It was an abstract idea that worked on paper, but in theory it quite didn't. Guests wondered where the characters were, and thus the attractions were revamped to include the characters. Yet the idea of placing the guests into the heart of the story never really went away as nearly every attractions places the guest as being a character in a grand story.

Nintendo Land takes the original concept they came up for the Disneyland attractions and played it up to the 11th degree. You ARE Mario, and your friends ARE the toads, and everyone has a role in that game. You ARE Link, the hero of time, and you ARE fighting hordes of enemies with either your sword and bow, much like how in Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest attraction you ARE an explorer that is caught up in a runaway train and are facing both the legend and the reality of the deadly yeti. Both the Disney theme parks and Nintendo Land set out to provide a story within its artificially created environments by having the guest be the central character.

Just as at one point, Disney would lead you to believe that you were the main character in their attractions, Nintendo Land turns you into the character!

Returning to our buzzword of the day, artificiality, here is how Nintendo Land interprets that idea. Like I explained already, guests know that many of the elements in the attractions are not real, or in a kinder way, they are interpretations of fantastical elements using real world ingenuity. Yet it is how they pull off those effects that will sell the story to the guest, and the better they do it, the more guests will come back time and again. Here is a visual example of everything I have said so far...

This how Alice in Wonderland the film looks like...

Alice in Wonderland

And this is how Disneyland Alice in Wonderland looks like...

Alice in Wonderland ride

See the difference? It's the same characters, the same setting, and the same scene, but you can see the level of artificiality in the Disneyland version.

Now, this is how Nintendo's Legend of Zelda usually looks like...


And this is how Nintendo Land's Zelda looks like...

Nintendoland Zelda

See what they did there? They did exactly what Disney did when bringing a story into the parks, but did it in an exaggerated manner. The Zelda level has a yarn and quilt theme to it that is nothing at all like the original Zelda series. It is a parody of how a theme park takes a familiar franchise and through a hand made manner they recreate it. And yet, like Disney, it succeeds in how it presents the Zelda universe. It's why I say that Nintendo Land is both a subversion and aversion of the theme park experience because it mocks how designers try to bring these ideas, but at the same time succeeds at creating its own themed experience.

This concept also applies to the ride vehicles! For example, this is the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland...

Alice in Wonderland caterpillar

When designing the Alice in Wonderland dark ride, the vehicles were created to resemble the Caterpillar, a small but significant detail that further extends the theme of not just the attraction but Fantasyland...

Alice in wonderland ride vehicle

In Nintendo, the lovable character of Yoshi...


Has been turned into a ride vehicle for one of the mini-games!

Yoshi Ride Vehicle

Continuing with the theme park experience, Nintendo Land does not have cast members. Instead it has Monita, a floating monitor with a robotic female voice that will guide you through the experience in the most friendly way possible. This may be seen as an indirect call back to when cast members greet you and guide as you begin your day at the parks. Ironically, she is also an artificial creation that mirrors the theme of the game, but has a bubbly personality that is similar to that of a cast member. While likely a coincidence, Monita's bubbly, helpful demeanor completes the experience, just like a Disney cast member would.

Disneyland Cast MEmbers    Monita
On the left, Disneyland VIP Tour Guides. On the right, Nintendo Land's Monita. The difference, the cast members are real, Monita is a robot. The similarity? They provide a service that takes the guest beyond the typical theme park experience

That is Nintendo Land in a nutshell. There is still a lot to talk about the game itself, but for now, I will leave you with the idea that the Disney theme parks may not have created the concept of the theme park, but they certainly perfected it to the point where it became the inspiration point for many a theme park to follow, fictional video game theme parks included. With Nintendo Land, Nintendo set out to gently poke fun at the theme park experience with a presentation that looked like it was done with glue, paper and construction paper. But at the same time, they proved Disney's point that great theme can deliver on an unforgettable experience. Thus, Nintendo Land sets out to poke fun of theme parks in a gentle manner, but also creates its own theme park experience.


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