Make or Break – Tutorials

Man, I really meant to do these more than every one and a half years. XD

Anyway, welcome back to Make or Break, where I analyze a particular aspect of gaming, with good and/or bad examples.  Last time way back when was Sound Repetition, a rather lovely topic that spun around several games like Madworld, International Superstar Soccer 98 and King of Fighters, discussing how the abuse of sound and voice can be okay in some cases and not in others.  This time, I’m going to dig into the tutorial aspect of games.  Let me begin with what inspired me to write this in the first place.

I really want to love Zelda: Skyward Sword.  It does a lot of things beautifully.  It looks incredible, has some astoundingly good music, the motion controls are mostly solid and fun to play around with, and the dungeons and bosses are up to the usual Zelda standard, if not more so in some situations.  However, it suffers from a particularly fatal flaw in that it truly must think that the player is a fucking idiot.  Fi, a fascinating character design with moments of awesomeness, unfortunately gets saddled with being the most overbearing nuisance of a guiding figure I’ve experienced in a long time.  Her computer-styled personality does not aid her in this regard.  She has a nasty habit of overexplaining the obvious, offering advice when it really wasn’t necessary, and, through her ability to allow Link to dowse for items and people, forces the player to mandatory open the dowsing menu whenever she creates a new one, even if the location is clearly somewhere the player can get to without the dowsing (i.e. getting to Lanrayu Desert).  She could have been a contender for coolest assistant, but Midna continues to wear that crown.

Beyond Fi, though, it boggles me to no end that Nintendo must sincerely suppose their Zelda fanbase has forgotten how the franchise works, or that they need constant refreshers on common items, because it takes the pleasant “you found a ‘item’” messaging to the extreme in Skyward Sword.  In Twilight Princess, it wasn’t too bad getting the occasional 20+ rupee notice, but did they take it to fucking 11 here with the consistent stopping of the game to prattle off whatever crap you picked up each and every time you start the game up.  I don’t need to be reminded about the Jelly Blob all the time, and I certainly do not need to be shown where it is in the damn menu EVERY startup.  It really makes the game drag in short playthroughs, which is what I’m able to do right now.  It’s truly a shame, because that one quibble is enough to ruin what is otherwise exceptional gaming joy.  The game just can’t stop tutoring the player.

Another example of tutorial done wrong is the lengthy Oblivion intro.  It seems I find myself attracted to nitpicking Oblivion in these articles, and it’s not anything deliberate (despite my belief it’s the weakest of the four I’ve played in the Elder Scrolls series), but let me explain my grief and maybe you’ll see why I’m attacking it again.  Oblivion begins with Uriel Septim marching into your jail cell (as a sidenote, why are you always a criminal when you begin these games?), which features a hidden passage.  He’s under attack from Morag Bal’s minions, and the Blades, his bodyguards, believe this is the safest route out of the castle.  Septim chats you up for a while, which always the player to determine their class, race and facial features, and then the group march off.  Since you’re not an fool, you follow behind in order to escape yourself.  Well, this is all well and good, but this soiree becomes a 20+ minute dungeon crawl that forces the player to experiment with gear and quickly learn the ropes in a confined, anti-Elder Scrolls fashion.  You see, the beauty of this franchise is to be able to create a hero or heroine (or villain or villainess, or anything in between, really) and let them be exactly what you think they ought to be.  This tutorial breaks that mold.  It drags on and on and on, forcing you into situations you may not want to do (like getting face-to-face with goblins, say), and requires use of items or weapons you may not care to use (the bow, for one).  I was very pleased Skyrim ditched this approach and allowed for a shorter, more engaging introduction to its world, and it gave the player the chance to determine what they yearned to be and act upon it.

For a tutorial done right, it may surprise you to learn that I consider Dead Space Extraction to be one of the finest tutorials ever implemented in a game.  It’s unobtrusive, popping up if it feels the player needs some guidance, isn’t backed by some annoying buzzer or garishly large font (it’s tucked under the RIG bars dead center), and it doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the game.  It’s the ideal system – helping when it needs to, and leaving the player along if they don’t.  Even the later Dead Space 2 didn’t quite master Extraction’s smooth tutorial explanations, preferring to go a more or less Skyward Sword route with pop-ups that block chunks of the screen that force the action to grind to a sudden halt.  They at least don’t occur in battle often.

In conclusion, I feel that the aiding of players to understand mechanics needs to be more than an afterthought and done in a way that it doesn’t hinder the overall experience.  The ability to shut off tutorials and hints would be a good place to start, as would following Extraction’s example of detecting the player’s ability and giving appropriate response (or lack thereof, if they seemingly have got the game’s controls and abilities down).  Perhaps making the tutorial a completely separate level that can be bypassed (a la Half Life or Perfect Dark) by expert players or those just wanting to get their feet wet would also be a good plan.  Tutorials can be beneficial, but only if they treat the player with the proper respect.  Don’t drag it out, don’t belittle the gamer’s intelligence, and don’t make it mandatory (at least for replays).

I may expand this down the road, but as of right now I’m pretty pleased with it and feel it expresses what I want it to.

Looking Back: My Favorite Game of 2011

Now Revised!

LVLs., in its earlier Wildcat Online days, ran a traditional awards show (i.e. post) for a couple of years where I awarded games I liked a recolored sprite of NES Link cleverly dubbed “The Golden Links”.  I’ve thrown that idea aside for several years, but this year I actually had a chance to purchase more than a couple games that are current enough for me to postulate my feelings toward them and actually have it be relevant, so I’m bringing the concept back.  However, the “Golden Link” is going to stay a part of the past.  Instead, I’m revising my Looking Back articles to be much more than they have been. Beyond the life ruminations, the shortlist and anecdotes about my favorite game, I’m also going to award some other aspects of games, like Best New Hero/Villain, Best Voice Acting, Best Box Art, and a few others.  It’ll make it more personal and appropriate for the Game of the Year festivities that frequent the ‘net this time of year, and more fun for me to ponder (and I will get back to revising all the older pieces with this material in time).  Note that this is incredibly spoiler-tastic, so I’d advise not reading if you don’t want anything about Skyrim, Dead Space 2, Monster Tale, Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Zelda: Skyward Sword ruined. Click on if you don’t care! (more…)

Wildcat’s Ten Favorite Wii Games (Updated 8/22/2012)

The Wii is a weird little system, that it is. It’s full of crap, shovelware and licensed drivel, but if you can look past all of that there’s some mighty good stuff to be found. It isn’t as rich as Nintendo’s past consoles in terms of overall quality, but there’s easily ten games to choose as my favorites that I feel are worth some playtime.

Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition (Capcom)

Cheat, foul, you say! You JUST talked about RE4 for the ‘Cube! Well, yes, but this port is the BEST version of the game, thus it’s the greatest game the Wii has, so I can’t fault the game so being that good, now, can I?

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Nintendo)

In terms of 2D Mario adventures, this wondrous romp is second best (not much can top the glories of Super Mario 3 for me). The game has splendid level design, offered so many great resurrections of Mario lore, and is a hoot to play through. Best original game the Wii offers.

A Boy & His Blob (Majesco/Wayforward)

This may surprise you a bit, but Wayforward’s gorgeous reinvention of a dusty NES concept exceeds its source material and breezes past nearly every other game the console features. It’s lush visually, stuns aurally, and features some grand puzzling that I adored.

Xenoblade Chronicles (Nintendo/Monolith Soft)

I haven’t finished Xenoblade’s epic quest yet, but it is a well-crafted RPG, that it most certainly is. I like the setting, the characters, the combat and the music, and I think it was definitely worth the wait. This will adjust when I finish it, but at present I can say it deserves this high a rank.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Nintendo)

Galaxy was a great way to redeem Sunshine’s mediocre outing for the ‘Cube, putting Mario back on track with success. However, Galaxy 2 refines and polishes Galaxy’s concepts and levels so well that it blows it out of the water (or stratosphere; a little more appropriate). Mario came back in a big way on the Wii, and this is another solid reason why.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Ignition/Vanillaware)

Aye, color me shocked I loved Muramasa so much after the bitter sting of Odin Sphere’s disappointment.  The gameplay is smoother, more action-driven and friendlier to the player, and the world is beautiful, gripping and intense. Easily the best pure action game on the Wii.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Nintendo/Good Feel/HAL Labs)

I haven’t dug a Kirby game this much in years, and it’s curious that it took a drastic revision of what makes Kirby platforming work to do it. Incredible visual design combines with mellow yet engaging gameplay (that ramps up nicely along the way), melding into a fantastic gem of a platformer. May I say the Wii made platforming awesome again?

Dead Space Extraction (EA/Visceral)

The game that launched my interest in Dead Space, Extraction is a very well designed rail shooter that, while not up to the high standards of its PS3/360 cousins, is a gripping, tense and enjoyable thrill ride to experience.

Little King’s Story (XSEED/Marvelous/CiNG/Town Factory)

This kooky strategy-action game smacks of Pikmin (combat), Ogre Battle 64 (soldier customization) and Sim City (town management) rolled into one…and it’s very good! It has some cheap enemies that annoyed me enough to take a break, but on the whole Little King’s Story has earned the praise it garnered.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Nintendo/HAL Labs/GameArts)

Brawl is the best in the series of chaotic…brawlers starring Nintendo’s wide array of characters, and it’s the large roster, dynamic setpieces and pure insanity that does it for me. Some prefer the first or Melee, but Brawl’s by far my choice.


Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure (Capcom)

Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom (Capcom)

Deadly Creatures (THQ/Rainbow Studios)

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor (Nintendo/Treasure)

Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo)



Dead Space 2 (PS3)

Dead Space 2 (PS3)
Pub: EA/Dev: Visceral Games

Note – This is a revised impression that has been expanded upon for the entire game.  I’ve tried to minimize spoilers, but there may be a couple.  Just know that I loved it. :)

Completing Dead Space was an euphoric exercise for me – I had discovered the closest comparison I could make to my passion for Resident Evil 4 in terms of gameplay.  It had a few drawbacks that prevented it from surpassing RE4, but on the whole I was very pleased and looked forward to seeing how the sequel would play out.  Due to some early Christmas package opening I was able to answer that question.  I don’t think it quite surpasses Resident Evil 4 as my favorite third person action/horror game, but it’s REALLY damn close.

For this sequel, Visceral kept the key components of the first alone for the most part, improving Isaac’s melee commands, adding in a new “impale” feature to aid combating foes, creating a few new weapons (the Seeker Rifle is AWESOME…and the Javelin Gun is cool, too) and greatly expanding upon Isaac’s character significantly (mainly by having him, you know, talk in this game).  In keeping with tradition, Isaac’s opening moments for the player to control are awesomely tense and horrifying (you’ll find out why), and once you survive that, the tried-and-true Dead Space goodness starts right up with noticeable refinement.  Isaac feels smoother to control here, although Visceral relocated some of the buttons like the RIG menu (which is now select), which takes some readjustment to get used to (why not allow some control changes for the controller, I ask?).

The backdrop is no longer on a massive spaceship but on a bustling colony on Titan, Saturn’s moon, and the locale switch is very welcome (there’s many a part in this game that are unique and incredible to experience, so a tip of my hat to you guys at Visceral).  Several new Necromorph types also appear alongside the nasties from the first, and they are very cool additions to the bestiary.  The terrors are there in spades, although my recent runthrough with the first game has made me less timid than before.  Luckily for me, there’s a heap of new twists on the frightening formula, so it’s not too formulaic.  Hordes of enemies (especially the new “child” variant) can and will overwhelm you, and oftentimes the strategies that worked in the first game aren’t as effective anymore, which is good.  I also liked the vibe of being there as the threat was beginning to take hold – you see much more of the effects the Necromorph infestation has on the populace of the Sprawl on Titan, and see average civilians fleeing (and often dying) in the opening chapters, which really builds upon the atmosphere this series thrives on.  When you’re in the residential district, you hear people behind doors crying, muttering and freaking out, and occasionally their grisly demise – it’s quite unsettling to be a part of, and it really makes you feel like you’re right there.  The ambiance in Dead Space games is one of the primary reasons I am loving this franchise, and DS2 took it to new levels.

I must also mention the dynamic interactive cutscenes, which, as Grace noted while watching me play, are seamless transitions from gameplay to movie and back again, and these usually involve Isaac attempting to take down some massive Necromorph in the midst of sheer chaos.  These are awesome to watch and incredibly fun to be a part of, although at times it’s hard to know when exactly you’re in control (because so much is going on!).  Still, I welcome the increase of these encounters.  The game also added in new “breakable glass windows” into certain rooms that the Necromorphs, security systems or the player can shatter and suddenly suck out all of the contents of a room into space, and a quick shot to a switch must be fired before Isaac is slaughtered.  These appear right when you don’t expect them to, and it’s a nice little scare that spices up the gameplay.

The game also has fixed my nitpicks from the first – the storyline is much more personal and intriguing thanks to Isaac’s sudden shift into having an actual personality, and the plot rolls right along at a crisp pace that feels much smoother and less fetchy than the first game.  The addition of new characters is also great – Ellie in particular is a great dialogue foil to Isaac, and Stross’ voice actor brilliantly convinced his insanity throughout the game.  As for our lead, some may not like Isaac being so dialogue-heavy, and that’s understandable considering the silence he provided in the prequel, but I think EA did a nice job with him – he’s very believable and has a solid VA doing his lines, so I don’t mind the change at all – I prefer it, to be honest.  I also dug the hallucinations he’s suffering from, as it adds a lot to the already terrifying atmosphere that didn’t lose a beat from the last two games (if anything, it’s even crazier here thanks to some of the locales and what I mentioned above).  Now, if you recall, I said in my opinion on the first game that it tended to send Isaac off to complete some magical task only to be deployed to accomplish another – this go-around he’s much more focused on just getting the hell off of Titan and is not being sent about to be a savior, so I’m glad to see Visceral address that issue.  He may still be trying to reach someone at times, but it’s luckily not a dead horse well beaten like Dead Space.  Also, there’s no turret minigame, which is fantastic for me, as I hated that in first one.  There is a brand new one that deeply poked at a gaping fright of mine, which I managed to do correctly in Chapter 13 (Grace did it wrong, and she told me the horrors of what I missed and I am so happy I got it right).  However, despite it playing right into my phobias (let’s just say I’m very nervous about my eyes and leave it at that), I certainly didn’t loathe doing it, a la asteroid shooting.  Hacking doors is another new feature (sort of) ripped from Extraction, which is a nice diversion.  You will also get the crawl through vents, but despite the initial “that’s where NECROMORPHS LIVE” apprehensions, they’re surprisingly safe…perhaps the next game will make tight enclosed spaces more sinister.

Is there anything to really gripe about?  To be honest, I can’t really say that there is any major problem with this game.  Dead Space 2 corrects all of the original’s flaws, tightens up the controls and throws a ton of new foes, concepts and overall quality into the mix, and the results are astounding.  I suppose I could ask for more “true” boss fights, as there’s not a whole lot of those in this game, but beyond that, Dead Space 2 is an amazing gem of a game that I am considering putting into my Essential list.  Yes, I found it that good (I’m replaying the whole thing over again right now!).  Well done, EA, well done.

PS – PS3 owners get a revamped Extraction as a bonus, which Move owners will appreciate, I’m sure, if it controls as well as the Wii version.  Using the PS3 controller, though, renders it nowhere near as fun.  More tense, maybe, but laggy inputs do not equate to joy.  I’ll be keeping the Wii disc methinks.


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