Worried that today's kids are getting lazy? Well brace yourself: Nintendo's new video games can play themselves. Just what is the world coming to?
In a move to help struggling gamers negotiate tricky parts of a game, Nintendo has started releasing games with a built-in auto-pilot mode. You'll be able to "play" the latest game -- Donkey Kong Country Returns -- when it is released for the Wii on Sunday.
Although the so-called "Super Guide" feature is optional and only accessible after multiple failed attempts, it was met with jeers and eye rolls by gamers when it was first announced. But Nintendo says any concerns are blown out of proportion. Spokesman Kit Ellis told FoxNews.com that the new mode is similar to the numerous cheat codes, online game FAQs, and YouTube walk-throughs that frustrated gamers already consult.
"The idea of providing players with insider tips and secrets is as old as games themselves," Ellis said. "The new twist with Super Guide is that these tips are built into the game itself, so players don't have to pause and go reference some other source to get the answer they are looking for."
"It's more convenient for players," he said.
For example, let's say you're jumping Donkey Kong through a particularly difficult level. Die eight consecutive times and a pop-up screen will ask if you want to activate Super Guide. Once initiated, you can then watch a computer-controlled doppelganger navigate the level for you. At any time, players can regain controls with the push of a button -- or what the heck, just let the guide finish the level for you.
So is the new auto-pilot mode making games too easy? If anything, it could have the opposite effect, many avid gamers argue. Since its debut last year in New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii, many have found games that support the Super Guide auto-play feature to be more difficult.
And the same is true of the upcoming Donkey Kong: I quickly noticed that even the first level of Donkey Kong Country Returns was challenging, particularly when compared to the 1994 original. Either that or I'm getting arthritis.
Nevertheless, Super Guide has the ability to make games more accessible without dumbing them down for seasoned players. "It's important to understand that the feature is entirely optional, and must be activated by the user," Ellis stressed, in an attempt to assuage the egos of proud gamers everywhere (including mine).
Although it was devised by Shigeru Miyamoto, the seemingly legendary creator of Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong, other game designers aren't sold on using auto-play strategies to coddle the gaming-impaired. "I don't think it makes a game any more accessible to a broad market, but rather helps reduce frustration among the existing demographic," game designer Adrian Crook told FoxNews.com.
"Watching a ghosted character is not a terribly fun way to engage with a game, but rather a brute force method to get a player past a problematic area," Crook said. "And since Super Guide has to be enabled at the start of a level (after you've already died eight times), you might end up pretty frustrated by the time it's enabled, and that could be a lot of dying and waiting before moving past the tough part."
As Crook sees it, the best way to appease both die-hard and novice gamers is to include smart difficulty, which increases or decreases mid-game depending on the skill of the player. "For truly casual games, I use dynamic difficulty adjustment that kicks in after only two or three failures," he says, referring to an upcoming Facebook game he's busy working on.
Either way, auto-pilot is a novel approach to game design. As crazy as it sounds, it's one of the first real innovations in gaming in years. So will every game play itself in the future when the going gets tough?
Nintendo's Ellis defers to his customer base: "It's up to video game fans to decide whether that's something they'd like to keep seeing in the future."
Blake Snow is a freelance writer and part-time gamer living the good life with a wife and kids. Suggestion box, published works, and contact information can be found on his website.