Super Mario Odyssey is perfect except for one source of friction: It periodically forces the player to use motion controls.
I first ran into this in one of the game’s many bite-size tutorial sections, where it teaches a move. I was to hit a circle of flowers with the “spin throw”: Mario flings his hat in a circle like a boomerang and it circles him. It’s a core move and the best way to deal with enemies by a mile.
The game insists that you do this by flicking the Joy-Cons left to right. There’s a little live-action video in the corner of someone doing this while you attempt to replicate it.
It didn’t work. Maybe my Joycons weren’t working properly (Arms has always been fine), but no matter what how precisely I tried to replicate the motion shown, Mario would not throw that damn hat in a circle. For this and many other moves, motion commands are unreliable to the point where you’ll have to flick two or three times before you get Mario to do what you want. The spin throw is largely a combat move you’ll use when mobbed by enemies: it needs to be reliable or you’re going to get hit!
Five minutes into my efforts, I had a look at the Action Guide, a section of the game that specifically lists each of Mario’s moves and tells you how to use them. Certainly there was some way to perform this important move without flicking and praying every time I wanted to use it. Nope: the guide listed only motion commands for this and many other moves. Being stubborn, I spent about fifteen more minutes making the spin throw not work.
Ultimately I passed up whatever reward might have been waiting for me in favor of moving on with the otherwise delightful experience I was having. It was frustrating to have to let go on something so simple.
Later, I Googled “Mario spin throw” to find other people having the same problem as I was. I found that there was a way to do the spin throw without using motion commands, but that it was completely undocumented: even the in-game guide did not want me to know how to do it this way.
(To do a spin throw without motion controls, spin the analog stick until Mario starts to spin in place, then press Y to throw.)
And this is the issue with Odyssey: not only would the game prefer you to use motion controls, not only does it really not want you to play any other way, but it frequently forces you.
The game opens with a splash screen all but commanding you to play with a Joycon in each hand so that you don’t miss out.
Arms has a screen like this as well, encouraging players to use the “thumbs up” grip, but ultimately that game allows players to choose the controller and configuration that’s most comfortable to them. Odyssey is not so generous.
Early in the game, you will possess a winged Goomba and explore the area by flying. You press B to flap his little wings. It’s fun! However, it’s a big area and you want to move faster, so you press B quickly. That doesn’t do anything: pressing B is purposely slow because the game wants you to use motion controls instead. The Goomba will fly as quickly as you can shake the Joycon.
So you end up spending five or ten minutes furiously shaking a Joycon just to get around. There’s nothing fun or even novel about doing this. The motion controls don’t fit the actions and add nothing to the experience. In a game that’s supposed to be about about relaxed exploration and taking in the scenery, it’s just miserable.
This sole misstep persists to annoy the player for the whole duration, as new motion-only moves continue to appear as you possess new enemies and “shake to go faster” is pretty much a constant. Taking Odyssey on the road? Handheld mode also forces motion controls. Have fun praying you don’t throw or drop the $300 tablet that you struggled to find in a store!
When everything else is so utterly perfect in every other way, a single continual annoyance feels that much worse. Though I feel like this is a pride issue for Nintendo (or, I suspect, some clueless executive at the company), I really hope the developers patch Odyssey to allow players to use non-motion controls for everything. It’s not like they don’t have enough buttons.
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