Let me play

Impatience is the prerogative of youth, they say. Strangely, my patience decreases rather than increases with age. I have no desire to wait. Not for late appointments, not for callbacks or the end of early indications when it’s election night. In terms of games, this is especially noticeable in the obligatory entry levels, tutorial-soaked prompts and stops, and Simon Says sections.

Recently, two games I played back-to-back made me aware of the thinness of my patience thread. No More Heroes 3 doesn’t really need an introduction anymore; Suda51 and his mad-genius gaming experiments are the Tarantinos of any game collection. The latest part with protagonist Travis Touchdown explains the controls at the beginning of each of the first sections. Three damn times. Once as an in-action overlay (good), then as a pre-play dialog box (okay), and again as a popup in the middle of the action (ouch). I haven’t even found Navi or Phai from various Zelda parts to be that annoying. Especially with this comparison, I suspect that Suda51 does this on purpose and that I’m just a cultural philistine.

Spiritfarer has more to tell than No More Heroes 3, plays more relaxed and takes more time for the tutorial. None of this, however, puts me off. Mainly responsible for this is the fact that I can do a lot but hardly must do anything. Explanations come in bites, actions are available even without an explanation, and the critical path that is supposed to help me grasp the overall concept is woven into the story piece by piece. Okay, some actions are mandatory gates, without performing them I won’t get anywhere; but honestly, when the game’s first meaningful verb is “hug”, who can feel angry about being told what to do? No More Heroes 3 puts a big fat exclamation point on its instruction manual, Spiritfarer earns the prestigious the-tutorial-you-didn’t-notice trophy.

As a kid, I confidently and proudly left instructions untouched, no matter how complex the game was. The rules of the game and its operation I shall be able to figure out for myself. No wonder that today I find games like Dark Souls and Breath of the Wild, notorious for their lack of hand-holding, to be particularly neat.

Yet it would be illusory to think these games don’t have tutorials. They’re just largely covered by some sort of secondary literature, and especially by the community. VaatiVidya and the tenth “20 mechanics from BotW you didn’t know” video are just the tip of the iceberg.

Today, I have a different view on tutorials and even appreciate small instruction booklets for various gadgets, if they are only well done and pick me up where I stand. The crucial thing about a tutorial – or the analog equivalent, a manual – is if it is a building block of the game, a part of the experience, or if it lives a parallel existence somewhere else. There it becomes annoying, tearing out, interfering with the immersion. As extended gameplay, however, it sometimes radiates such a charm that one takes extra time and sometimes even money in hand to expand one’s own horizon of experience. The thick books on my shelf about Zelda’s timeline and Bloodborne’s weapon attributes are my silent witnesses.

Grasshopper Manufacture’s No More Heroes 3 came out this year for the Nintendo Switch and is one of the wildest, most absurd, and technically questionable releases in recent months. It’s fun on all accounts, and of course it doesn’t really compare to Spiritfarer, which tells a loving story of finding yourself and making peace on the road to the afterlife and was released by Thunder Lotus Games in 2020 on multiple platforms.

This post is also available in: German