Tutorials are an often-overlooked aspect of a game, which can make a significant difference in your gameplay experience. For someone who has been playing games for years, their primary use is teaching you the specific controls and intricacies of the game, but for someone new to a controller, they are crucial to shaping your entire experience.
The game that has arguably the best tutorial is “Portal” (2007). It starts you off with no means to create your own portals — instead, the game only allows you to use the portals that it puts in the environment. This lets the player learn the basic concept of “Portal” (a blue portal leads out of an orange portal and vice versa), while not plunging new players into complex puzzles before they learn the basics.
The game then gives you the ability to place one color portal, increasing the complexity but not overwhelming a new player. Throughout all of this, “Portal” teaches the player the simple-yet-mind-bending physics of portals. Although “Portal” stands out as one of the best examples of teaching its mechanics to new players, it fails to engage returning players.
Being forced to patiently wait before you gain access to the full portal gun makes the first hour of subsequent playthroughs a pain to come back to. Although one could argue that “Portal” is only meant to be played once, I see it as one of the best experiences games have to offer and would otherwise enjoy replaying it all the way through.
In contrast, the tutorial from “Dark Souls” (2011) is perfect for a returning player. It thrusts you right into the action, and the only instruction comes from messages on the ground, which a new player can stop and read, whereas a returning player can simply skip over them. While this is fitting for a game such as “Dark Souls,” which is based on not explicitly guiding the player, other games should take note.
While tutorials serve to teach a game’s controls and mechanics, they also exist to teach players new to a controller how to use one. This past long weekend, my sister encountered this aspect of tutorials. While she has played countless hours of PC games with a mouse and keyboard, she had never gotten the hang of a controller. Until she played the tutorial for “Titanfall 2” (2016).
In a brilliant stroke of game design, “Titanfall 2” has a timed gauntlet where you continually race against your personal best. Unlike other tutorials, which take you out of the action and don’t allow you to truly practice before getting to the main game, “Titanfall 2” presents a tutorial that is a race against your own time, where you tangibly see the improvements you’ve made as the seconds come off of your personal best.
At the beginning of the weekend, my sister took over two minutes to complete the gauntlet, but by the end, she had learned how to use the controller and brought her time down to under a minute. But beyond just teaching new players, “Titanfall 2”managed to give us a tutorial that turned out to be a fun test of skill that I enjoyed playing alongside my sister.