Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is the first handheld video game I’ve bought in months, and it’s driving me insane.
The fourth entry in this particular series of role-playing games, Dream Team brings the plumbing bros. on an adventure on Pi’illo island. There they have to save a group of pillowy creatures from a sleepy face and, of course, save a kidnapped Princess Peach.
But the thing that drives me insane is how much handholding the game does in the first three fucking hours of the game.
Seriously, I have never been so angry at a video game in my life. Right from the moment you get control, various characters interrupt the game’s progress making you do tutorial after tutorial of simple tasks anyone can master. Everything you do, a character will tell you what to do next and this isn’t just for the first little bit of the game. It’s. Throughout. The. Game.
So what’s up with the handholding?
Tutorials are an important part of any video game and often a necessary evil to help players. It prevents a whole lot of faffing about by giving you both helpful suggestions on how to beat a puzzle or tips that will help carry you through parts of the game.
However, when a player says “No I don’t want to learn this” that should be the end of the conversation. Perhaps they’ve played the game before or they’re pretty adept at figuring things out, but Dream Team constantly second guesses your decision asking “Are you sure? We’re pretty sure you need to know this dummy.”
The problem isn’t that you can’t skip the tutorials or that they’re too long, the problem is that Nintendo is actively taking away a sense of discovery from the game’s mechanics.
How awful would it have been if Shadow of the Colossus gave you a guided tour on how to ride your horse, shoot arrows, or learn how to jump? What made that game special was how it simply dropped you in, gave you mechanics, and let you sort out how to use them.
Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga gave you tutorials, but they were short and sweet often giving you characters like the Starshade Bros. a chance to tell you about your new powers. They didn’t follow you into your next fight, ask if you wanted help, kept insisting you needed help, and eventually forced you to listen to them. Freaking Starlow!
My personal problems with tutorials probably stem from being the youngest of three brothers and hating being told what to do, but on a less psychological note it has more to do with demographics.
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team is a game for kids. It’s in the aesthetics, it’s in the story, and it’s in how the tutorials are presented. Repetitive task, master it in tutorial, do it a hundred times in the course of a role-playing game, and you’re now a master of getting Mario and Luigi to hit a red shell at an enemy.
However, kids aren’t stupid and don’t need to be told how to push “A” at the right time. These games are designed intuitively enough that after a few fights or a few puzzles you can just “get” the mechanics, but they still force you to sit through the little tutorials to help get your little brain around the tough button prompts.
Seriously, it feels like they’re talking down to you the whole time, but the worst part is the tutorials don’t end at just the mechanics. Throughout the entire game, there are characters like Starlow and the stupid pillow prince that are constantly telling you what to do, how to feel, and what’s going to happen next. Mario and Luigi aren’t involved in the plot. They’re just along for the ride.
There’s a fundamental lack of trust in the player’s abilities and that’s what offends me about this game.
Instead of constantly telling us what to do give us a new mechanic, give us a room with a puzzle and a few enemies, and we’ll figure it out the hard way. Sure it might end in some frustration or a few players dying along the way, but it’s better than infuriating us with handholding.
It’s offensive that the handholding extends even to the game’s story basically telling players what to feel instead of letting the story do the work. Starlow’s character is particularly guilty of helping along the game’s plot when the brothers are good enough at doing that just with their expressions.
Having played the original on the Gameboy Advance, I feel like Dream Team is a step forward in the graphics department, but a step backwards in complexity. At this point in the series, I expect to find more than what was in the original and all I find is the same old stuff mixed with people telling me how to do it for the second time in a row (fourth time for some players).
Trust is important and we ain’t dumb.