Ten Examples of Terrible UX Design in Nintendo Games
UX design is hard. Whether it’s creating a logical user flow for a service or creating an easy to use interface for a website, it’s a field that’s fraught with challenges and one that’s extremely easy to mess up if you don’t know what you’re doing.
And that goes double for games, because games are not typical programs. Instead, they’re a weird chimera of art and software design, with a good gaming having to both illustrate a certain theme and provide an easy to use interface along with it.
It’s a very ease balance to mess up.
Fortunately, this is one area Nintendo usually do rather well in. Whether it’s the menus in most Super Smash Bros games, the map setups in Mario platformers or the operating system itself on the Nintendo Switch, the vast majority of their works nail the UX side without a moment of thought.
But Nintendo isn’t perfect, and when they get things wrong, they get them really wrong. So in this article we’ll be looking at some of those instances where Nintendo screwed up the UX in a game or piece of software. So sit down, get a cup of tea and keep reading, as well they go through Nintendo’s many, many UX screw ups.
10. Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon: Cannot Copy Save Files
A rather interesting ‘quirk’ found in Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon for the 3DS. Basically, despite having three save files and the option to delete them, you can’t actually copy them in any way.
That’s confusing, and really feels off given how ‘standard’ the idea of a save copy feature has become in modern games. Seriously, every other game with save files I can name (from classic Zelda games to Super Mario 64 to the original Luigi’s Mansion itself) all have this option.
Yet Dark Moon doesn’t, for no apparent reason I can even imagine. Did Next Level Games not want people to back up their save data? Did someone at the company have a bratty younger brother or sister delete their save and feel the world needed to experience the same?
Or did they just forget about it and think ‘eh, it’s done’? We’ll never know, but it’s a bad design decision none the less.
Just like the next one on our list really…
9. Mario & Luigi Dream Team: Back to the Title Screen
Aka one of the most aggravating, poorly thought out decisions in Mario & Luigi Dream Team’s hard mode. What is it?
The inability to continue the game from the last battle, despite the normal mode letting you do just that.
And this is bad design for one very simple reason. Put simply… making things tedious and inconvenient is not a good way of adding difficulty.
Which is exactly what this is. Now instead of being able to continue against a boss you died on (which would let you restart the fight from the beginning), you’re just booted back to the title screen and have to waste time slogging through menus and cutscenes all over again. Every single time you die.
It’s especially frustrating against giant bosses where interactivity is actually part of the pre boss sequence, with examples like the Zeekeeper taking forever to let you get to the actual fight:
Above: Though given how glitchy this fight is, and how damn slow the battle is, maybe the cutscene’s the least annoying part
Still, I guess you could say that’s a running trend in this mode. Every single aspect seems to be set up to be as annoying as possible, with the actual ‘difficulty’ element being less about design and more about how badly the game can screw you over. Want to have only 9 of each item? Sure I guess, that’s a limitation. Oh, you wanted enemies to be more dangerous? Well we’ll just have them do 14 times more damage than usual, to the point the first tutorial battle in the game can kill you in two hits.
It’s adding artificial limitations for the sake of slowing down the player, and it’s a pattern Nintendo often falls into with their hard modes in general. Wario Land 4 tripled the number of enemies on Super Hard mode, Super Smash Bros Brawl made everything about 10% less useful on Intense and Breath of the Wild just made enemies recover health mid battle.
It’s not good design, and it’s something a game designer really needs to avoid if they’re planning on adding difficulty levels in their game. Statistical difficulty is just padding and no more.
8. Super Smash Bros for Wii U: Games and More
Still, removing features or slowing things down isn’t the only hallmark of bad design. No, making your very menu system confusing to navigate is too.
And while there are certainly worse examples than this one (see later in the article for those train wrecks), Super Smash Bros for Wii U has a terrible menu system none the less. Why? Because as Design Doc points out in their YouTube video, its organisation is just all over the place:
There’s no organisation whatsoever here. Tons of random options are shoved into Games and More, options are placed under categories they don’t belong in and important categories are generally not priotised over others. It’s a mess, and a far cry from the somewhat logical setups of Smash Bros Melee and Brawl.
Always keep your menus logical in their setup, and don’t bury random options under multiple layers of seemingly random submenus please.
7. The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild: Alert Spam isn’t Fun
And while you’re at it, remember that for the most part, people don’t like alerts. They merely tolerate them because they provide information about a piece of news, update or other interaction.
It’s why they should be used sparingly, and not attached to every random event in history.
Unfortunately, the designers for the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild didn’t do this. Or at least, they screwed up when the DLC came around.
Why? Well, because the way they introduce the new content to you is via a huge flood of notifications at the first possible opportunity. Seriously, get off the Great Plateau in a new file after the DLC is installed, and watch. You’ll see about thirty notifications flash by in about 2 minutes.
It’s ridiculously overwhelming, and can make you wonder exactly what you should be heading for next. But wait, that’s not all.
No, cause this notification flood is timed based on when you installed the DLC. If you started the file up with the DLC installed, great. It at least appears at a time which is somewhat logical (the first major opening up point after the disguised tutorial).
If you didn’t start with the DLC on the other hand… well it just pops up whenever you next load the save file. So you could be literally anywhere in any situation… and have thirty random notifications start popping up all over the place. Stuck fighting a few Guardians near Hyrule Castle Town? Better hope your eyes focus on the laser shooting robots rather than the notifications, otherwise Link ain’t getting out of that situation in one piece.
Additionally, the game also likes to spring DLC cutscenes on you too, to tell you what major new content is available. So you can load your file, then suddenly have Zelda talking to you about how you should now attempt the Trial of the Sword or start the Champion’s Ballad quest. It’s kinda jarring really, even if it’s honestly the best Nintendo could do to notify people that these things exist (really, how are you meant to find out about this stuff naturally?)
Either way, it’s awkward, it’s clunky and it’s the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a bad mobile app rather than the highest reviewed game of 2017. Notification spam is never okay.
6. Pokémon Sun and Moon: The Nickname System
When it comes to questionable design in the Pokémon series, it’s rather hard to know where to even start. Do I mention the fishing mechanics in Pokémon Sun and Moon, which destroyed a perfectly good fishing system in favour of dozens of Magikarps and limited options? What about the SOS encounter system, where Pokémon can call for help and have different allies appear based on the weather? Which in some cases, you have to change yourself in the same battle?
Maybe it’s the HM system, which gets you stuck with a pack mule in place of a valuable party member because you need one specific move to pass one specific obstacle in a dungeon with multiple different ones in a row. Regardless, the series is a bit of a train wreck when it comes to UX/UI/usability at this point, and it’s hard to narrow down any specific example.
But I’ll try anyway. With today’s example being Pokémon nicknames.
Because for whatever reason, changing these is an absolute pain in the behind, and far, far more obnoxious than it needs to be.
For one thing, you don’t have a menu option for it. Instead you need to find the Name Rater (aka the one guy in the country with the magic ability to change names), then talk to him every time.
And the insanity doesn’t end there. No, you also can’t change names for Pokémon received in trades either. Why? Well, I don’t know to be honest. But I think the answer is that it’s seen as ‘rude’ to change gifts in Japan, and traded Pokémon are seen as gifts, or something similar. In other words, cultural bullshit that has no purpose screwing up the design of a mechanic in a game.
Regardless, that explanation falls flat when considering the other issues the system brings. Namely, ones involving in game trades and event Pokémon.
Why? Because the same restrictions apply there too. This is annoying when you’re given an event Pokémon and can’t change its name (because it’s OT is not set to your own), or when dealing with a trade from an NPC (who shouldn’t be treated like human players and whose naming choices are generally atrocious).
Thank god it’s being simplified and fixed in Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee eh?
5. Super Mario Odyssey: Wait, Non Motion Controls Exist?
Which is unfortunately more than we can say about the next item on the list. Since not only do Super Mario Odyssey updates not tend to affect much more than the costumes and hint art, but also are unlikely to change the way the controls are presented too.
It’s a shame since Odyssey’s way of teaching you the controls for certain things is… not exactly optimal. For example, there’s no way to know what the non-motion control alternatives for many moves in the game is without extensive testing.
That’s not good for either those who don’t want to use said controls or those who physically can’t (due to disabilities or what not), and feels like a baffling thing to leave out given the many ways it could have been implemented in the game. Like say, a switch on the moveset tutorial videos which would go between the motion controlled and non-motion controlled ways of using said moves…
Or even just something added to the explanatory text on the screen when in a new form. I mean, would it really have killed Nintendo to mention that Cheep Cheeps can spin attack by moving in a circle quickly? Or that you can ground pound and immediately throw your hat to toss it along the ground?
Probably not, and they would have made the game much more inclusive as a result.
Ah well, at least these features have easily explained alternatives in the game. Because the next one is so ‘obscure’ that most people don’t realise it even exists…
4. Super Mario Odyssey: The Hidden Save File Select Screen
Aka the whole option to use multiple save files in the game. In every other game or piece of software, that’s because it’s found by either opening the program or by selecting it from an always accessible menu ala Microsoft Word.
But Odyssey… doesn’t work like that. Instead, its save file selection screen can be found in Options > Data Management > Load
Yup, tucked away in that little menu is the option to load one of five save files, including the one created by default when you start the game. It’s well out of the way, and in fact so well hidden that we suspect many people simply added new profiles on the Switch itself rather than using it.
So yeah, if you’re a game developer (or hell, any sort of software creator), don’t hide useful features under three layers of random menus. Otherwise it’s likely the vast majority of your users will never realise they even exist.
3. Pokémon White 2: Unlocking Easy Mode
That said, eh I guess it’s not the worst way of hiding a feature in a video game. Nah, that honour goes to Pokémon White 2, which locks ‘easy mode’ behind finishing the game.
Yeah, it probably doesn’t take a genius to figure out quite why that’s a terrible design decision. For one thing, the most likely person to need such a mode is also probably going to be someone who can’t beat the game to begin with, whereas those who do have zero incentive to actually use it.
However, there is another way to get this mode. One which in theory could potentially make it semi useable. And that’s trading from another game. Basically, the deal with easy/challenge mode is that you’re able to trade them to others via the ‘key’ system, which means you could let your friends use said modes by trading them the ability to use them.
It’s an interesting idea, and in some random alternate universe where kids actually trade each other difficulty levels as a friendship ritual, may actually make sense. But this isn’t that universe, and the likelihood of you actually finding someone who knows how this system works and how to trade you easy mode is so low that honestly, it’s probably better to forget the thing even exists in the first place.
(Not to mention that actually asking someone to trade you easy mode in the school playground would probably end rather poorly):
Either way, it’s clearly not a good design choice, and it doesn’t really need much explanation as to why.
2. Paper Mario Color Splash: The Entire Battle System
However, that’s not true of Paper Mario Color Splash, since the flaws in its battle system go well beyond the obvious, and show an interest in being ‘creative’ at the expense of an enjoyable or usable experience.
For starters, the whole seems to be designed in a way that’s meant to be as slow as possible. As Arlo says in his review:
First you scroll across as the list of cards, since you start at the far right with the stronger ones and the more practical ones are over at the left. Then, you scroll the card up, click cards ready, then paint the card by holding the stylus over it, before clicking ‘done painting’ and flicking up to the top screen to fight. That’s a ridiculous 5 step process for a single card on a single turn, and it doesn’t exactly get faster if you’re selecting multiple cards either.
And it’s a process that in near enough any other game would be simplified to ‘select card, paint card, play card’. The whole thing feels like a game designer’s creativity running away with them, and the basic usability of the game being sacrificed in the process.
Still, it’d not the only issue the combat has in this title. No, other issues include:
- The complete uselessness of the partner cards. Given these die in roughly one turn and run away in boss battles, there’s basically no reason to have them in the game at all.
- Kamek’s presence in general, which can easily make the battle unwinnable if you get unlucky (costing you all your cards in the process).
- Replicas being about as useless as partner cards. Can’t use them in boss battles or overworld puzzles? Then why even have them at all? It’s not like the real Things are one offs you can’t get more of after using them
- Plus the whole Thing system in general. Want to beat a boss? Well there’s exactly one way to do it, rendering the entire system completely pointless.
Above: Get unlucky, and you get stuck in an unwinnable battle
It’s just an overly complex system that doesn’t work, and a fantastic example of how you can screw up basic game design simply by trying to be too different at the expense of what’s been proven to work.
So don[t make this mistake. Remember that design patterns exist for a reason, and that as Colour Splash’s battles system shows, deviating too far from them can make your game awkward and confusing overall.
1. Chibi Robo Zip Lash: The Mysterious Destination Wheel
None the less, onto the final item on the list. Which like Color Splash above, tried to be different at the expense of being enjoyable,
Basically, you know how games normally do progression? You beat a level, and another one opens up. Or you can go somewhere else on the map. That sort of thing.
It’s a simple system and works well. Again, there’s a reason most game maps draw from the likes of Super Mario Bros 3:
Well Chibi Robo Zip Lash does not work like this. Instead, beating the level dumps you on a roulette wheel. And the choice of what level you go to next is then literally decided by what number you land on when spinning said wheel.
Yep. Somehow, the people at Skip Ltd managed to screw up a simple progression system, turning what should be a simple map into something akin to a board game with a dice or spinner. So after beating a level, you now have the awkward chance to land straight back on the same level you’ve just completed and get stuck doing the whole thing again.
Or you can pay coins to skip it. Yeah, apparently they realised it wasn’t a great idea to force people to choose levels by chance, so they added a system in which you can pay in game coins to change the numbers on the wheel and give yourself better odds of reaching a new level/moving on. That’s a tiny bit better in a certain sense, but it also makes us wonder why the hell they even kept the system at all, given that it adds nothing to the gameplay and the coins you can use to change it are apparently plentiful.
Still, at least we can give ‘em credit for keeping it all in game. Because in today’s day and age, it’s almost guaranteed that microtransactions would be used for a system like this, with the whole wheel system only being ‘bribable’ with real world money. So err, good job Skip. You may have screwed up the basics of a progression system like never before, but you didn’t use it as a chance to rip kids off for thousands of dollars like many mobile app developers would.
That’s one positive at least, even if its very existence contradicts every rule in every UX and usability rulebook ever written and makes its game ten times worse in the process. It’s gimmicky design for the sake of gimmicky design, and it’s an example of complexity where no complexity needs to exist.
Again, if it’s not broke, don’t ‘fix’ it. Otherwise there’s a good chance you’ll just turn a simple background feature into an annoying waste of time.
And that wraps up the list. It’s not all of Nintendo’s UX mistakes, and with Smash Bros Ultimate and World of Light, there are definitely a few I would have included if I’d written the article later.
Above: Some of which are given in this video by Skip the Tutorial
But it’s a good sample none the less, and shows how everything from lack of effort to trying to break the mould can backfire overall.
Let’s hope these mistakes stay as one offs, for now and forever more.
- The Mushroom Kingdom
- Mario & Luigi: Dream Team – Part 65 – The Zeekeeper (SullyPwnz)
- Paper Mario Color Splash Review (Arlo)
- Paper Mario Color Splash Developer Oversight (Fatguy703)
- Pokemon Black and White – Challenge Mode and Easy Mode (Serebii.net)
- How to Get Farfetch’d in Pokemon Red and Blue (Nabimoon1234)
- Chibi Robo Zip Lash Playthrough (JapanCommercials)