Analyzing Accessibility – Hint Systems in Super Mario Odyssey

Hint systems have a mixed reputation in the world of video games. To many players, hint systems feel like hand holding at best, or patronizing and insulting at worst. To a designer, the ideal game would perfectly convey all aspects of its design in itself, and thus would need no hint system to guide players along. However, a great many video games are meant to appeal to a wide variety of audiences, which often requires such systems to make them accessible to as many people as possible. Of the three primary console developers, Nintendo has built up the greatest reputation for this sort of accessibility. Super Mario Odyssey, the most recent entry in its Super Mario Bros. franchise, has been well received by players young and old alike, and its implementation of a multilayered hint system is the focus of this discussion.

There are three layers of hint systems present in Super Mario Odyssey, each of which is linked to recurring characters throughout the game’s many kingdoms. These characters are Talkatoo, Hint Toad, and Uncle Amiibo. In addition, the menu displays a checklist of the Power Moons—the game’s primary collectible—found in each kingdom with their names, locations, and date on which each was found.

An instance of the checklist at the beginning of the game.

This checklist acts as a subtle hint system in itself; related Moons tend to be grouped together, and some common types of Moons across kingdoms are found in similar places on each checklist. It also acts as one would expect of a checklist, displaying the number of Moons collected compared with the total hidden in each kingdom.

The most important aspects of these hint systems are the differences in cost and amount of information given.

The face of one who knows the secret that you’re seeking.

Talkatoo’s hints take the least investment out of the three—the only requirement is talking to him—but give the least information, merely the name and its place on the checklist. Hint Toad is in the center of the investment list, as talking to him costs fifty of the player’s coins—a relatively small price to pay, but death costs ten, to put it in perspective. Hint Toad provides a marker on the map and the place in the checklist, but not the name. Uncle Amiibo has the same general effect, but requires use of an amiibo figure instead of coins and takes five minutes to return with a result.

Another view of the checklist with examples of all three hint types.

These three choices provide hint systems which work for a variety of player types. The vast majority of the kingdoms in the game play host to upwards of thirty Power Moons—some upwards of sixty—and only the plot-important Moons are ever indicated to the player. For anyone looking for the last moon or two in an area, Talkatoo can provide the needed push in the right direction, while Hint Toad and Uncle Amiibo are there for the players who need a little bit more help.

As a last note, I’d like to discuss the Assist Mode provided by the game. It does what the name sounds like: makes several slight adjustments to help players who need it. These adjustments include more health, a path of arrows leading to story objectives, and the removal of the ten-coin death penalty.

Note the arrows leading into the town ahead.

One of the strongest points of the mode is the ability to activate or deactivate it at will with no penalties. This allows players to play mostly without it, but still have that extra bit of help if something gets in their way. In a single player game, there is no drawback to providing such a mode, should the option be available. Children, inexperienced players, or even those without the time to try things time and time again can reach the end of the game where they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and those who don’t care for it can completely ignore it. When designing a game, the more people who can see more of the game’s content, the better.

Video games have come a long way since their inception, when memory limitations led to difficulty that lengthened the experience of an otherwise sparse amount of content. With as much content as modern games include, even smooth, unchallenged ventures through their worlds can mean hours upon hours of playtime. There will always be an audience for the hair-pulling difficulty of early gaming, but there is now an ever-growing audience seeking experiences they can get through without spending hours on the same challenges. Super Mario Odyssey demonstrates that a game can have something to offer both sides without interfering with each other.

One thought on “Analyzing Accessibility – Hint Systems in Super Mario Odyssey

  1. bffismybff says:

    Hint systems have come a long way since the relative lack of guidance and difficulty of some early games – Maybe doesn’t apply to Super Mario Bros. so much (good post on that introduction), but for sure for the Legend of Zelda.

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