Simpler Video Game Menus Are Better

Illustration for article titled Simpler Video Game Menus Are Better

The release of the former Wii U exclusive Yoshi’s Woolly World to the Nintendo 3DS demonstrates once again that gaming menus are best when they’re lists. Nothing fancier is needed. We don’t need to be able to wander every which way through them.


Both versions of Woolly World are sidescrollers. They pretty much have the same levels. But the Wii U game presents its menus on a walkable 2D plane. The 3DS game presents them as straight lines. Guess which one is more convenient to use?

Here’s the main menu of the Wii U version of the game. In it, you must walk Yoshi around a circular area, going from a hut for swapping Yoshis to another hut for doing Amiibo stuff and so on.

Here is the new 3DS version of that, all laid out in one nice straight line...

Another example: This is how you pick which of the game’s levels you want to play. Yoshi’s got to walk to each one wandering around a little field:

And here’s how they do it in the 3DS version...

There no doubt that the Wii U game is prettier. Its menu areas look way nicer than the 3DS game’s. But menus aren’t about looking pretty. They’re about showing you your options and letting you get to stuff quickly.


Sometimes 2D is better than 3D. In this case, give me a 1D menu over a 2D one any day.

Former Editor-in-Chief. Kotaku forever!


I don’t know, I actually tend to like menus/overworlds like the Wii U one more because it gives me a better sense of progressing by opening new areas instead of just seeing new options added to a menu. For example, I liked wandering around the observatory in Super Mario Galaxy 1 much more than the menus of Galaxy 2. I liked seeing the Observatory start out quiet and mostly without power and then progressively get more lit up as you progressed and made your way towards the top as opposed to just getting new worlds added to a menu. Galaxy 2 did add new travelers to your ship as the game progressed, but it didn’t feel as nice as actually being able to explore new areas.

Ideally though, I think a best of both worlds system where you can wander around but there’s a quick bar to avoid it is best. Something like Sonic Generations on consoles had where you can wander around and find stuff, but once you’ve selected a level you can use menu shortcuts to zip between levels.