Recently, I have been playing the newest Legend of Zelda game, Skyward Sword. While Laura and I are working on a post about both of the Zelda titles for the Nintendo Wii, I would like to briefly share my thoughts on Link’s newest quest here: it is a frustrating mess of half-realized great ideas.
Now, I am sure some of you are thinking (or screaming at your computer) “But it’s Zelda! The game is getting 9s and 10s all over the Intarwebs! You must hate Nintendo! You suck!” Until playing this game, I would have been typing in capital letters right along with you, but hear me out. There are some great aspects to this game: the art style is wonderful and looks like something out of a classic fairy tale or anime. There are some interesting twists on the staple items of the Zelda series (spoiler alert: double hook-shots!). The entire Lanayru Desert sequence would make this game a worthwhile experience, if it were not for all the backtracking and handholding this game forces upon the player. I will address the backtracking in a later post, but let’s discuss the newest ball-and-chain that Nintendo has bestowed to our beloved hero. I am talking about the spirit that resides within Link’s sword, simply known as Fi.
Fi acts as a sort of spirit guide in the context of the game’s story. Anytime Link is presented with relevant information about a new quest, or obtains a necessary item to progress the game, Fi will pop out of his sword and fill him in on ALL of the details (read: unnecessary fluff). Allow me use a real life example to give you an idea of how frustrating this can be: let’s say you are hanging out at your place, it is around lunchtime and you are rather hungry. As the clock strikes noon, Fi shows up to inform you that it is now lunchtime and if you are hungry, you should probably make a sandwich. You head to your refrigerator, and as you open the door, Fi appears again, letting you know that your fridge happens to contain food, which you should eat to make yourself less hungry. You pull out all the ingredients to make a tasty sandwich, and construct a meal worthy of your appetites (read: pastrami and gouda for me, please). Once you have finished making lunch, Fi will pop up once more to let you know that there is a chance that a sandwich is sitting on the counter, and you should probably eat it so your hunger will be sated. This exchange of information (read: babysitting from a fairy) will occur every time you decide to have lunch, and you cannot turn it off, forever and ever, amen.
The addition of an omnipotent and obligatory guide in Skyward Sword weakens the entire game by removing most of the critical and creative thinking on the player’s part. There are times where I felt so frustrated at the idea of some designer thinking the average player needed to have their hand held through the entire game (I know that the key with an octopus on it must be used to open the octopus door, but thanks for telling me so, Fi). Skyward Sword is not the only game guilty of belittling the intelligence of the player. The newest Prince of Persia game, Forgotten Sands, also forces the camera towards each new objective for every room you enter, and often has a little message to clarify(just to make sure you know which wall to climb).
It is not just the challenge and wonder of individual discovery that is weakened by systems like Fi, but the immersion in a game environment as well. No one wants a calming ride on a valliant steed across a mystical landscape ruined by a pop-up menu reminding you how to get the horse to dash. For goodness sake, the original Super Mario Brothers didn’t have a tutorial, and people seemed to handle it just fine!
Now, I know the immediate comeback to such a statement is that the games of today are much more complex. That is completely true. Just look at the button count on each controller; an NES controller had four buttons and a control pad, whereas a Xbox 360 controller has ten buttons, two control sticks, and a control pad (and a partridge in a pear tree). But even with the complexities of each game aside, there are so many examples of intuitive control schemes and tutorials already on the market. Arkham City does an excellent job of teaching the controls once, and then providing the player with a reminder only when it is necessary. For example, if a new enemy is giving you trouble, the game will put a little reminder over Batman telling you what sort of button/move to use against such a foe, and all of this without interrupting gameplay. Katamari Damacy, while it is a very strange and off-the-wall game, has a very intuitive control scheme: push both control sticks forward to move the ball forward, pull both sticks back to move backward, and turn the sticks in opposite directions to turn the ball. All of these motions reflect how the player would push a giant ball in the real world(namely to roll things up into their life).
The point of all this ranting (and blatant Skyward Sword bashing) is to convey that as video games are rapidly moving out of a niche market, designers need to consider how to make games more intuitive and easier to approach at large. Sure, there will always be games that are marketed towards the “hardcore gamer” (read: those who have held a controller since birth), with a different function for each button and mechanics that require a textbook to play. But designing titles with controls that come naturally and tutorial/hint systems that don’t clutter the game or ruin the immersion of story should be key in making games that are fun for everyone. Besides, who wants to be condescendingly told how to use a system they have already learned?
Now remember Reader, there is a 90 percent chance that when you want to navigate away from this webpage, take your mouse and slide it up to the toolbar, left-click the URL, and use your keyboard to type in the website you wish to visit! Good luck!