The latest 2D platform game offering from Nintendo, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, includes several features which lean heavily towards what International Hobo terms "fail-continue structure", something we have been advocating in titles targeting more casual audiences for a long time. (A summary of the general position can be found in an old post entitled Freedom to Fail from two years ago).
The relevant new features are as follows:
- In multiplayer, it is not necessary for all the players to complete all of the challenges. As long as one player completes a particular challenge in order to progress, other players can simply press A and turn into "bubbles" which then catch up the lead player and rejoin the game.
- Super Guide is an entirely original feature, invented by Shigeru Miyamoto (the world's most successful game designer) which triggers if players fail the same level eight times in a row. This adds a green block at the start of a level which the player can hit to have Luigi complete the level for them. This not only shows the player what is expected of them, they can jump in at any time to take over, or they can skip the level entirely. The level does not show up as completed, but whatever would be unlocked by completing it is unlocked.
The presence of these features in a high profile Nintendo title - and one enjoying considerable commercial success (9.84 million units and gaining more than than three quarters of a million each week) - is a massive validation of International Hobo's design philosophy in respect of fail-continue structures. The arguments against these structures are, almost universally, ill formed.
The most general complaint against fail-continue is that it collapses the challenge, and many players and videogame employees erroneously consider challenge the sine qua non of videogames. But allowing players to progress in a game without clearing a specific challenge does not short-circuit the challenge. The challenge is still there to be completed by anyone who desires to take it on! Fail-continue simply allows players who cannot clear a specific challenge to continue to play on in the game, rather than having their play experience end in abject frustration.
When I hear that Edge's review of New Super Mario Bros. Wii complains about "the lack of ingenuity on display" I can't help but laugh! Edge is supposed to be a forward-looking magazine, but even they don't recognise the innovation these fail-continue features represent. Why? Probably because, like most videogame addicts, Edge has it's own solipsistic values for assessing games - whatever it may claim, the magazine is principally reporting on what particularly pushed their buttons in the games they look at. Whatever Edge's own view regarding their reports on videogames, it's not at all clear they are offering anything more than the simple consumer reviews provided by other specialist press publications. (This is not, however, to suggest that the reviews elsewhere aren't qualitatively worse, of course).
All this said, I still suspect that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is too tricky a game for the mass market to come to grips with, but then looking at the sales figures I have to wonder... Is this really only selling to the gamer hobbyists?