Game Design Analysis: N64 Tutorials

Today we won’t be looking at one specific game, but rather a look at tutorials and how some games are clever and subtle about tutorials while others may be more poorly implemented and in your face. For now, we’ll be focusing on games specifically on the Nintendo 64 console.

Banjo Kazooie is an example of a game with a fantastic tutorial which is surprising seeing as it was among the pioneers of 3D games. For those that haven’t played the game, Banjo Kazooie starts out in Spiral Mountain, a large circular outside area with a mountain in the center that can be climbed by a spiral walkway. At the beginning of the game, you are offered to go to several molehills surrounding the area where Bottles the mole will teach you your basic controls and task you with trying them out. There are three reasons as to why this is a great tutorial example. First, the game offers the choice to skip over the tutorial area completely, which many veteran gamers will tell you is a very big point to have in any game. Secondly, the molehills are scattered in a wheel and spoke pattern around the world. From the point you start at there is a dirt path that moves around the mountain and spokes off into several small areas around the edge of the circle. Each of these small areas has a molehill, so there’s not too much searching for the next area as you just go around once and you have everything. Lastly, there’s turning theory into practice as each of these small areas offers a chance to practice what you’ve just been taught and offers a reward at the end of each of a hollow honeycomb. Collecting six of these extends your health by one unit, and there just so happens to be six tutorial zones. This gives an incentive to go through the zones, but since you don’t require these collectables, you still have the choice to skip.

Spiral Mountain Top-Down view
A Top Down Image of Spiral Mountain taken by N64 Squid

Let’s change gears and look at an example of a somewhat poor tutorial implementation with Mario 64. Now, while Mario 64 is a famous flagship title for the N64, it’s tutorial is somewhat lacking in creativity, subtlety, and practice. First it gives the basic controls to you in a text window both when you first start and when you first enter the castle. Any further moves or controls are given to you by a series of signs placed around the castle grounds, inside the castle, and within the levels. The problem with this is that there’s nothing guiding you to these signs, and they can be easily missed. Especially when many of these signs are placed on the same wall as the door you enter through, so your camera is never facing that direction. There’s also no big opportunity to practice this outside of simply doing the levels which can cause issues since you have a limited number of lives. Nowadays we don’t think much of this tutorial implementation as the controls and moves are somewhat ingrained in our memory at this point.

Mario 64 Sign
Screenshot taken from Wikipedia

Next let’s look at Donkey Kong 64, another game made by Rare, the makers of Banjo Kazooie. This game however has a much more streamlined tutorial which may not feel as fluid, but is much faster to get through. In order to get out of the first area of DK64, you are tasked with entering a series of bonus barrels which each give a small practice area for a game mechanic that they will teach you about, and you will be timed on doing it quickly or you must restart that area and the tutorial text will read through again. While having these barrels right next to each other does make for a faster experience, it does leave much of the space in the first area somewhat empty. There’s also no option to skip the tutorial this time, unlike Banjo Kazooie which is an unfortunate downside to this implementation that could have easily been corrected.

Donkey Kong 64
Screenshot taken by Destructoid writer Brett Makedonski

Lastly, let’s look at The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Like Mario 64, the tutorial for this game is often looked past because of how much the game has already been played at this point. But let’s take a look at how the game may play out for a new player, and let’s go even further and picture this player as being back in the 90’s and never having played an N64 game before. The first area you start in is the Kokiri Forest in which you’re tasked with finding a sword and gathering enough money to buy a shield. As you walk around there are several NPCs which will give you minor tips on playing the game. Because this area is contained, it’s not as easy to miss things as it may have been for Mario 64. Then this tutorial continues into the first dungeon: The Great Deku Tree. Many people criticize the helper character in this game, Navi the Fairy, for often speaking up about things that may seem obvious, but she actually acts as a decent guide for basic controls and hints on where to go next in the story. So for someone new to the game, listening to Navi is often times a very good idea. Sure you may think that pressing A to open a door or going to get Saria’s Song next is obvious if you’ve played it before or have a working grasp of 3D games, but these kinds of tips were essential at the time which is why Ocarina of Time could be considered as having a fantastically implemented tutorial much like Banjo Kazooie was.

Navi the Fairy
Screenshot taken by Zelda Universe writer Stephanie Cusumano (click for her article all about Navi the Fairy!)

In the comments below, let me know what games you think had the best tutorial implementations or tell me of any games you want a thorough analysis of! I hope to catch you all again next week!

If you’d like to buy a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for the 3DS, click the logo below to go to the Humble Bundle page! If you buy it through this link, a portion of proceeds go to the Child’s Play charity organization!

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