Super Mario Odyssey’s Poor UI Design: How Questionable UI Can Hurt a Great Game
It’s been said a million times by this point, but it bears repeating none the less. Super Mario Odyssey is an incredible game.
It’s got fantastic visuals and a catchy soundtrack that impresses in every kingdom and area. It’s got some of the most creative worlds and levels to explore, with the Cap Kingdom, Metro Kingdom and Bowser’s Kingdom being just three examples of worlds you’d never in a 3D Mario platformer.
And on a game design level, it doesn’t really slouch there either. Oh no, as people like Mark Brown and Etra Games point out, Odyssey is an insanely well thought out game, with level design that’s far deeper than people likely imagine it is:
It truly is an amazing game, and by far one of Nintendo’s best platformers in years.
Yet despite all its strengths, Super Mario Odyssey makes some surprisingly bad UI decisions. For example, do you know how you access the file select menu?
You don’t think there is one at all?
Well you’re actually wrong. Super Mario Odyssey actually does have a file select menu, and it doesn’t require using extra Nintendo Switch profiles at all.
But the way it’s made accessible in game is almost the gold standard for how not to design an intuitive interface. You see, to access it you have to:
1. Go to settings from the main screen
2. Select Data Management
3. Choose the option for ‘Load Data’
And then select your file from there. Indeed, it’s so out of the way that I’d hazard a guess that 90% of the game’s audience literally don’t know the option exists. Which is absolutely ridiculous, given that in every other game since time immortal, changing file has been as simple as starting the game and selecting it from the page after the title screen.
It’s like the designers of Odyssey took inspiration from Smash 4’s ‘Games and More’ option for laying out their options and managed to make a simple process damn near impossible to figure out as a result.
Yet the poor UI decisions don’t end there. Oh no, there’s also the matter of extra controls usable by various Captures in the game.
These controls add various extra abilities to them which can help players get Moons more easily, like extending the Uproot’s legs just that bit more than normal or making a Cheep Cheep do a spin attack. They’re not strictly necessary for completing the game, but they are useful for making it more fun none the less.
Problem is, the instructions only cover how to use these moves when motion controls are active. For example, you can make the Cheep Cheep attack enemies by shaking the Joy-Cons, as labelled below:
Fair enough. Except… there’s also a way to use these actions without motion controls.
It’s just the game never bothers to tell you this at all.
Yup, every motion-controlled action does indeed have a normal way to pull it off, which Odyssey never explains at all.
For instance, remember the Cheep Cheep spin attack? Yeah, you can do by spinning the analogue stick as well. Same goes with things like throwing your hat downwards by ground pounding and then pressing X or Y.
But because Odyssey never explains any of these, the vast majority of players will never know the options exist. It’s like the designers missed the cardinal rule of interface design; making things clear to the user.
And it baffles me how they did that to be honest. I mean, would it really be difficult to integrate instructions for these actions? Hell no, just add a toggle to change prompts shown in the Action Guide. Or better yet, automatically change them based on whether the player is using/likely using motion controls in the first place. After all, it’s not likely someone playing in handheld mode wants to shake the entire console for every little thing…
Alas, they didn’t, and a game practically built on its fantastic level design and world building leaves the UI to rot by comparison.
It’s a shame really.
Still, what do you feel about it? Are you a bit disappointed that Odyssey’s UI decisions don’t really work as well as everything else in the game? Do you think Nintendo should improve these aspects in a new patch or update?
Let me know your thoughts in a response to this story.