Why is the first Goomba of Super Mario Bros.(SMB) a better enemy than Alduin of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim (TES:S)? Because from the beginning, Goomba does more for the game than Alduin because he acts as the ultimate tutorial.
The Original Goomba (OG) does three things correctly for the Mario series. OG’s first mark of brilliance is it how it teaches the player how to beat the game without any textboxes or annoying NPCs. The point of Super Mario Bros. is to move right until you reach the end of the stage all without dying to enemies. When you do successfully figure out how to jump over OG the screen even scrolls a bit and doesn’t let you go back.
This screen scroll is a tool used to point out that progressing in that direction is going right. Even in its fights with Bowser, the final boss of the game, your goal is to avoid his fire, get past him, and then hit the ax. Or you can avoid the baddy and go right. Nothing is ever told to the player, but if you die to the OG, you have learned. While it is possible to jump on the goomba without ever moving to the right, it is uncommon and it only establishes the second lesson; there are two ways to deal with enemies. You can avoid them or you can jump on their heads. Now, I’ve got to admit there are enemies you can’t jump on like Chain-chomps and Podoboos, but those enemies have spikes on them, large teeth, or are on fire.
The last part of OG’s tutorial and personally one of my favorites is that it takes less than 2 seconds. There is a whole game to explore and since you have to start over every time you die it’s super important that OG doesn’t give you a 5-minute cutscene and speech every time you start. Think about it what would the Goomba say? I want it to be a death counter like the Sans fight.
Let’s compare Super Mario Bros. to The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim and see what Alduin does. In fairness, I want to start out by saying TES:S is a narrative story and has a longer run time so having a bigger world building intro isn’t terrible. BUT, TES:S does start you out with a cutscene you can’t skip, before going into a character creation that takes a while, and then it sits you into a cutscene with a monologue. The intro cutscene is shortened by Alduin showing up and acting as the first thing that can damage you. Your first action as a character finally freed from computer control is to be handheld in a runaway scene from this dragon.
This may be a way of teaching the player that there are some monsters they cant beat when just starting out, TES:S does this better with its giants. The escape sequence where the game holds your hand through just about every possible choice you can make. Please, Prisoner put on some armor, please prisoner push this button to attack, hey prisoner this is a health potion, it drags on and on with only the anticipation of playing one of the best games of the year to motivate the player through it. To give TES:S some forgiveness it is almost incomparably more complex than SMB, so a longer tutorial is required, right?
Let’s look at a game that came out two years before TES:S, Borderlands. Borderlands is an Action RPG Gun collect-a-thon with “bazillions” of guns. It starts out with a cinematic that last about 4 minutes and shows off the unique characteristics of each of its four main characters. Then it drops the player off in a semi-enclosed area with a tutorial bot. The semi-enclosed area already has multiple hidden yet visible chest in it to show the player exploration is encouraged and the CL4p-TP Stewart bot (Claptrap) will wait for you while you explore. The game gives you full control from the first moment and says don’t worry the main quest will wait till you are ready. When ready Claptrap will start spoonfeeding the controls to the player for the first few minutes before leading them into a gun-fight where he cowers until the player kills the bandits. To go from cinematic to gunfighting takes less than 2 minutes.
Recently Nintendo has given us Mario Maker 2, which has allowed many people to explore level creation. Before the original Mario Maker, most people didn’t have a way to explore level design. Some of the Creators that did would use ROM hacks. A Rom Hack Creator of great renown I respect is the person that gave us Grand Poo World and Grand Poo World 2, Barbarous King. Barb will often say when critiquing a level that you should “give the player something to do while making them wait”. Waiting in games isn’t always bad, sometimes it builds tension, other times it lets the player revel in their past achievements. After jumping over OG there are no other enemies on the screen, you can wait a bit and observe what you learned, or you can push on. Alduin during his tutorial appearance does not provide the same services. Its a constant chase scene with NPCS yelling at you until you do what they want.
There are arguments to be made that the narrative opening of Skyrim is more of a plot point than a tutorial. If that was the case, then I think it would have been better to have a tutorial of the events that you got captured. In-game you’re told of illegal border crossing and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That seems like the perfect set up for a tutorial area and it would lead well into a fully established plot point that would work as this game’s “gunfight”. Alduin’s raid would be where you put all the tutorial information to the test before moving into the open world. Alduin is an important character to TES:S’s story, and OG isn’t. But OG tells you more about the rules of his world without saying a word than Alduin could ever hope to, and that is why OG is better for their game.
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