To an extent, some degree of player restraint is necessary. Playing through the game in the correct order is as important as it is with films and books, even in something as narratively hollow as Super Mario Bros. But the difference is, you can’t get stuck on a bit of a film or on a page of a book. Nintendo declared itself as “the supreme arch-nemesis of cheats” (paraphrasing here) saying, in their lawsuit against Lewis Galoob’s Game Genie device, that cheats substantially shorten a game’s life span. We call shenanigans here; nothing makes us lose interest faster than an annoying bit we can’t beat. Indeed, we reckon that a toggle-able invincibility cheat would prolong the longevity of most games; so how about it, eh, developers? Scared of letting us see the ending? We’re not paying you by the quarter any more.
Which sums it up nicely; we’ve paid for the entire game in one fat lump sum, so the game should be ours to do as we like. Locking up 95% of the game’s content seems a pretty odious thing to do after you’ve shelled out full price - imagine buying a tumble dryer, and finding out you couldn’t put your jeans in until you’d put your socks on spin dry 47 times. Perhaps developers are worried that players will just whack the cheat on and cruise to the end, but that’s where individual responsibility comes into play. If some bozo wants to play a side-scrolling shooter where you can’t die from start to finish, that’s their prerogative.
Above: Of course, online games do have distinct advantages - like not having to set up a ridiculous cardboard box to keep people from looking at your screen...
So level selects and cheats that make the game more interesting, we like. Locking all your content away in a box, or implementing cheating AI to ramp up the challenge and disguise a lack of programming ability, not so much. Better still, enable us to change the difficulty settings on the fly, or adapt the difficulty in some way if the game senses we’re struggling. That way, the hardcore can still have their challenge, and the weak of thumb can still have their fun.
Cheats - and glitch exploits, even - should be seen as a boon rather than a guilty pleasure in single-player games, because they allow the player to tailor their experience to suit their own skill level. The problem online arises when the goal-driven and the casual player collide, and things collapse into the lowest common denominator. The more established Xbox Live has in part eradicated these problems, mostly because games concentrate more on ensuring more balanced game design.
Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Nintendo was so reluctant to embrace online. Their games shorn of cheats, and packed with hidden exploits - be it snaking, warp pipes or megastrikes - mean that in many ways the game design is the cheat. This is all well and good in single-player, but it doesn’t always make for a universally great online experience.