The humble walkthrough. It tears the gaming community down the middle. Look at polls¢ on the subject of ‘are walkthroughs cheating?’, and it’s clearly a divisive issue.
My inner critic used to tell me that using one of these was wussing out. It said, “You’re not a proper gamer if you read walkthroughs, you’re just someone capable of reading and performing arbitrary actions with your controller. Use a walkthrough and you’re rubbish.” Well, I beg to differ: There is no shame in using a walkthrough.
Recently, I was playing Monkey Island 2
with a friend, and we were absolutely stumped. We were standing in the bar on Scabb Island, and there was a monkey playing a piano. We had guessed that something needed to be done with the monkey, and that it probably involved a banana languishing in our inventory.
However, every time we tried to do anything with said monkey, the bartender would reprimand us. We tried everything we could think of. At our wits’ ends, we consulted a walkthrough.
It turned out that what we needed to do was use the banana in conjunction with the metronome that sat atop the piano. The banana’s rhythmic rocking hypnotised the monkey, and made it easy to pick the hairy sod up. Suddenly the barman was all right with us taking his precious monkey.
Why was the barman suddenly not bothered? We had tried everything to distract him, but to no avail, but hypnotising the monkey suddenly meant that the barman couldn’t care less.
In no logical real-world scenario would this be plausible. It would be like trying to kidnap someone’s child, but the outraged parents prevent you. However, you come back armed with Paul McKenna, hypnotise the sprog, and kidnap it with the parents’ blessing.
Nothing had been mentioned about hypnotising the monkey before this point in the game, and the barman seemed pretty keen on keeping his hirsute, little friend. I don’t care what anyone says, it was an obtuse puzzle. Having a walkthrough evened the odds.
Sometimes, game developers can be vindictive. Some puzzles can just be too obscure, and all they do is make me want to stop playing the game. I have a shelf full of games I’ve yet to play, as well as a few unwatched box sets. If you think I’m going to spend ten hours trying to solve some puzzle conceived by a developer who was having a bad day, you can think again.
All that happens when I get impossibly stuck is that I begin to resent the game I’m playing. All the game’s efforts to be immersive are crushed as I find myself banging my head against a virtual brick wall. That was a metaphor; I don’t have access to the world of Tron
, or anything.
When the design documents for Grim Fandango**
emerged on the internet a few years ago, Tim Schafer, lead designer on the project, had this to say:
"People said the puzzles in Grim
were super hard, and I've always maintained that this was due to a deep character flaw or mental illness on the part of the player… But now, reading this again, I've realised that, Holy Smokes! some of them puzzles were nuts. Obscure. Mean, even."
Now, if even the game’s lead designer thinks some of their puzzles are “obscure” and “mean”, to the point where he uses expletives such as “Holy Smokes”, what hope do us mere mortals have?
Of course, there will be those luminaries with brains to rival Big Blue who solve the puzzles in no time, but what about thickies like me?
It’s not just point-and-click adventure games that can be this frustrating. Remember the old-school Tomb Raider
games? Some of those jumps had be so pixel perfect that I was convinced that the game didn’t want me to go that way. It was only upon finally giving in and checking an online walkthrough that I realised that Core Design really were being that
By all means, I’ll unleash the full might of my brain cells on the task at hand. But if a game is ‘Nintendo Hard’
, I will weigh up the satisfaction of solving the puzzle with the frustration I’m experiencing. If it’s a choice between throwing down my controller and never playing that game again, or just getting a hint off of the Internet, then I will always do the latter.
To be fair, perhaps it’s less a case of actual cruelty from the developers, and more a case of oversight. As modern games can often be such massive entities, some fiendishly hard puzzles may get missed during playtesting. Not much that can be done about that, I’m afraid.
But are there better solutions than walkthroughs? ‘Splosion Man
developer Twisted Pixel seem to think so.
Way of the Coward?
When playing the infuriatingly difficult ‘Splosion Man
, you die a lot. Twisted Pixel were fully aware of this when they crafted their colourful little game, but they offered frustrated players a way out.
After you have died a number of times on a level, you get the opportunity to skip it and progress to the next one. You get Nil points, but you don’t have to be stuck on the same section for days at a time. Twisted Pixel call this hollow victory the ‘Way of the Coward’.
Now, while this is a good alternative to having to cheat by means of a walkthrough, it is infinitely more frustrating.
Firstly, calling it ‘Way of the Coward’ is a smug and aggressive taunt, one which made me seriously consider mailing anthrax letters to Twisted Pixel when I was on some of the harder levels. To have died for the 50th time on a jump that requires pixel perfection, only to be taunted with, “You seem to have died a lot”, only strengthened my resolve to get through those bastard stages.
Secondly, I still like to play my way through the levels, even if I have to consult a walkthrough. Skipping the entire level feels much more like cheating for some reason.
Give me the choice between a walkthrough and ‘Way of the Coward’, and I’ll choose a walkthrough any day. Walkthroughs gently coax me into the next part of the game, brush the dirt off of my shoulder, and soothingly tell me that everything will be all right. In my head, walkthroughs have the voice of Dame Judi Dench.
‘Way of the Coward’, on the other hand, takes the game away from me, has its way with my missus, and then completes all my games for me – on hard. In my head, ‘Way of the Coward’ has the voice of Leslie Grantham.
Use With Caution
Be warned though, much as I may have salved your conscience, walkthroughs are not suitable for every game. They are a form of cheating there are no two ways about it. They should be used sparingly at best, and only as a last resort, otherwise they’ll completely spoil the experience. They are like having someone else chew your steak regurgitate it down your throat. Constantly using walkthroughs strips games of their flavour and reduces them to a dull grind. But they’re also great tools which can help restore your gaming confidence; far more so than any ‘Way of the Coward’ option ever could.
I’m not saying that games should be made easier. Nor am I saying that they should be made harder. I definitely don’t want a return to the days when the only way to solve some obscure puzzles was to buy an overpriced official walkthrough. However, when I’m faced with a choice between appeasing my inner critic by being a hardcore gamer, or still finding games to be fun, I’ll go with the fun every time.
¢ This poll for example
** Grim Fandango dox
The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.
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