I should preface this rant by saying that having tutorial elements in a game isn’t bullshit. However, when there’s a whole tutorial level cordoned off from the actual game, that is bullshit. The reason this particular issue is on my mind is that I downloaded Super Time Force from the Playstation Store. The big perk of the Playstation Plus account is being able to download some free games that you may not have played unless they were free. Some games are excellent, like Rocket League, and some are not so good. I hesitate to say bad because, well, I haven’t downloaded all of the games they’ve offered and the ones I downloaded were never really bad; some didn’t interest me, but that doesn’t mean someone somewhere isn’t enjoying the hell out of them. But I digress. So I downloaded the game Super Time Force, courtesy of the PS Plus account, as a trial because the game looked interesting and indie platformers have been some of the best titles in the last few years. I tried to go into the game with no expectations; I hadn’t heard anything about the game, but the trailer looked entertaining.
So I eventually decided to boot the game up and see what I was gifted with this month. My first thought was that the aesthetics looked great. It was pixilated, but by design, and in the brief prologue it establishes that the game has an over the top sense of humour akin to shows like an Adventure Time. I was intrigued…However, the first thing you’re thrown into once you’re given control of the characters is a god damned tutorial level. I was confused because the game seemed pretty similar to a Contra-like action platformer and I certainly didn’t need a tutorial level to teach me how to jump and shoot. Alas, Super Time Force shanghaied me through the basic motions of jumping and shooting, and how each character has different abilities that would be best suited for a range of situations. Once I finished that part I was a little frustrated, but I could understand why the devs wanted to explain the design of the cast. I sat back and was ready to play…except I couldn’t because that was only half of the stupid, fucking thing. I then had to be taken through the more complicated portion of the game mechanics that involved time loops and switching characters during said time loops. It was an interesting mechanic, all things considered, but by that point I was bashing my head against my desk just wanting to jump into the action rather than hear the surly and ridiculous scientist General blithely rattle on about the game mechanics I had to apparently know right fucking now.
With all the information about how the game should be played all jam-packed within the first fifteen minutes of the game, my head hurt, albeit I probably didn’t help my head by smashing my face against my desk. Before the first level could even be fully loaded, I popped the menu and exited the game. No game, not even games that try and destroy all forms of subtlety like Super Time Force, should ever beat you over the head with their game mechanics.
The days of old Mario or Zelda are long gone, we can’t just plop a player down with a task and expect them to know what they’re doing for the next 10 hours, but we shouldn’t force feed them the mechanics either. Games are supposed to be one of the most immersive forms of entertaining, if not the most immersive, and tutorial levels just decimate all forms of immersion. Tutorials should be integrated into the gameplay and if the mechanics get more and more difficult to understand, then those concepts should be gradually introduced. If you want a great example of that, look at Super Meat Boy. Sure, the controls are pretty simple, but the mechanics get exponentially more complicated as the game goes on. How do they prepare you for this? By creating interesting and immersive levels that slowly introduce how to overcome the more complicated challenges in the future.