So, today I finally broke down and bought Super Mario 3D Land, despite how much I dislike paying full MSRP for game software (especially $40 for a handheld game). I figured there must still be SOME reason to own a 3DS, because after getting one during the holiday season, I’m still looking for that reason. It’s been awhile since I’ve last played a proper Mario game, I think the last time I played one was Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii a few years back. But there was something I had forgotten about how Nintendo designs their Mario platformers: they’re simple and easy to get into. It was refreshing change of pace to play a game that wasn’t inundated in pop-up tutorials, or worse, a training session. Mario 3D Land is a reminder that games can still be simple, and still be fun to play.
Like many on the internet may say, gaming has become too complicated. Sure, we expect a lot of depth for the $60 we pay for a game, but some games are so off-putting in their first hour or so of gameplay, that it’s easy to just give up and move on to something else. I’m personally turned off if a game has me go through a training simulator, or some other tutorial that takes much longer to explain how the game works than necessary. Things weren’t always this way.
I grew up in a time where all you had to do is press the start button to get things going. Granted, game controllers had fewer buttons back in the late 80s and early 90s, but games made in that time never had to stop and explain on how you play the game for a good half-hour. Games like The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past and Super Metroid made learning the ropes of the game a more seamless experience. Less a tutorial, the beginning acts of those two games eased gamers on how to make their way around the game. It wasn’t following on-screen prompts, or mimicking what the tutorial is dictating on how to execute a move, rather the game’s plot and story began from the start, and eased players into the gameplay before gradually increasing the difficulty of the game itself.
|The original GoldenEye 007 (left) cut to the chase. GoldenEye 007 Reloaded (right) has to force a training mission on you before you can get into the game.|
A great example of the “then and now” comparisons of gaming comes down to GoldenEye 007. If you sit Rare’s 1997 original against Eurocom’s 2010 remake of the game, there’s a larger difference than just visual quality, play control and plot adjustment. The original GoldenEye put you straight into the game after the title screen. The remake from Eurocom has players begin the game with a training tutorial on how to play the game, which lasts close to 10 minutes. If the original game was so easy to get into, why does the remake need a tutorial (and I’m talking about the 360 port of the Wii game, which should have been a brain-dead simple affair).
Another example demonstrates a longtime developer being clueless to its modern competition. Polyphony Digital was once considered (and still considered by some) one of the only developers to get racing simulation right on consoles. For four installments, the Gran Tursimo series was fairly untouchable by its competition, but was so completely rigid in its design, that you had to invest a good deal of time in its license tests before you could really get into the game. It’s something that fans of the series grew to accept over time. Then Microsoft and Turn 10 came out with Forza Motorsport in 2005, which proved to be the first real competition for Sony and Polyphony’s racing franchise. The difference between Microsoft and Sony’s racers is that Forza doesn’t bog players down with all the minute details if they don’t feel like it. Even after a two FM releases on the Xbox 360, Polyphony seemed ignorant to what that franchise had done over the years. The prospect of going through ANOTHER series of license tests seemed all the more unappealing when compared to Forza Motorsport’s instant action.
There are gamers like me who don’t have a lot of time to play games anymore. We may be lucky to have a couple of hours a week to play games, in between work and whatever else. So if a game wants to take 15-20 minutes of my time to teach me how to play it, I’m turned off by that prospect. I want to start from the word go, and slowly learn the ropes, rather than be forced to go through a tutorial. I doubt games will become simpler with the next generation of systems coming soon, but it would be nice if gameplay design would evolve to something simpler. At the very least, please kill off the training missions of first-person shooters.