The topic for this Friday’s weekend thread comes from a reader suggestion. Over on the Yeezus/Hotline Miami Alternate Soundtrack article (which is worth checking out if you haven’t already), a_scintillating_comment wrote:
How about “What’s the worst game tutorial you’ve ever played?” for an end-of-week discussion starter?
Good idea. I dig the old-school Gameological username, too. Loyal readers are surely tired of hearing me gas on about lousy game tutorials, but once I started thinking about this question, I struggled a bit to answer it. So many tutorials are tedious and insipid that I had a hard time recalling just one that struck me as exceptional. And while it’s tempting to be a smartass and say “all of them,” that’s not true.
As I mentally rifled through my game library, I kept coming back to Final Fantasy XII. So I’ll go with that, even though I’m sure that I’ve played worse. FF12 is my favorite Final Fantasy game, and it features the series’ best battle system (the “gambit” system). When I started to play, though, I had to give the designers the benefit of the doubt. FF12 has its prologue do double-duty as a tutorial, so you’re trying to learn the controls, the plot, and the characters all at the same time. I remember being confused; I didn’t know where my focus needed to be. I also don’t know how I would solve this design problem. Because the battle system was unorthodox at the time (although it borrowed from multiplayer online games, and brilliantly so), it really did call for a bit of instruction. And you want to keep the action moving along—Final Fantasy games already start out quite slowly without taking a break for lesson time. Still, it’s hard to get past the fact that I felt quite lost when I completed that opening tutorial level.
My unreasonable, idealized view is that if you need a tutorial level in the first place, you’ve already failed. Maybe not a lot, but you’ve failed a little. The best “tutorial” is the one that doesn’t exist, like the first moment of Metroid, which places you in the middle of the screen instead of on the left side, which was customary at the time. It’s an implicit indication that this is not the era’s typical left-to-right platformer—instead, you can go in any direction. Putting Samus at center stage not only invites you to explore, and it felt like your idea. What a beautiful stroke of design. Yes, Metroid is a simpler game than a lot of modern fare, but the lesson still holds.
Share your experiences with bad tutorials in the comments, along with your weekend gaming plans, as always. My wife and I will be continuing our journey toward 100-percent completion of Super Mario 3D World. We’re getting there!