When it comes to accessibility features in video games, things have improved somewhat in recent years, with many developers now consciously providing elementary options that tweak the gameplay experience to better suit players of different abilities and with specific impairments. There remains much work to be done, though, to promote industry-wide understanding and communicate the vital importance of implementing these options for many gamers. In this feature, Isabelle Meyer looks at a small selection of Switch games and assesses their accessibility.
Gaming as a disabled person can be tricky. It isn’t always easy to tell from a trailer if a game is accessible enough to meet your personal needs, and while reviews may touch on accessibility features, often promotional material is the only resource available to disabled gamers.
Disabilities can affect every individual’s ability to play differently, and the impact of some specific disabilities may not be obvious to those who lack personal experience. Unfortunately, this leads to accessibility features often being overlooked as the barriers to gaming their absence cause may not be apparent to the game designer.
Accessibility features may even be present in games, but they often aren’t highlighted as a matter of course in many game reviews, especially when it comes to more passive aids. Game developers may not include relatively simple-to-implement features due to not understanding or realising they could help and benefit a portion of the player base.
In this small roundup, we aim to highlight the accessibility of some popular Switch games, as well as showcase some games that include uncommon accessibility features — ones that should be included in many more games. You can find more details in our full reviews; here we focus primarily on each game’s accessibility.
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Monolith Soft
Release Date: 1st Dec 2017 ( USA)
1st Dec 2017 ( UK/EU)
Xenoblade Chronicles 2, as the number suggests, is the second entry in the Xenoblade series, with the hotly anticipated third instalment coming in July. XC2 is an open-world JRPG with an incredibly rich and in-depth story that you can easily sink multiple hundreds of hours into. The game world exists across several different open-world style maps, with encouragement to revisit areas with a fresh perspective as the story progresses.
Depending on the player level, enemies will either act aggressively toward the player or sometimes flee. It is worth noting that even early on during the story, enemies levelled appropriately for endgame encounters can be stumbled into and accidentally triggered into battle, although most of these enemies are obvious enough to avoid.
Cutscenes in-game are voice acted as well as subtitled, however, they can be quite (read:
incredibly) long with no way to pause (apart from pushing the Home button, of course) or save the game while in them.
The game’s difficulty levels is customisable at any time, allowing for adjustment of enemy attack strength and frequency, as well as debug durations and max HP levels. The customisation also anables adjustment to player recharge times, damage multipliers and health restoration rates out of battle. The game gradually introduces all aspects of the battle system and gives you the chance to learn techniques for battling more efficiently. However, there is no in-game instruction list to refer back to if you forget certain control aspects.
A very large DLC is available —
Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country — that includes in-game items, quests and access to the smaller prequel game. The expansion pass gives items early on that can help throughout, as well as offering new quests after certain story points have been reached.
Adjustable difficulty levels, including a completely customisable difficulty setting
Cutscenes feature voice acting and subtitles
Quest markers on maps that show you where to go, including real-time distance and direction info
Works well as a standalone game as well as a sequel — XC1 and 2 can be played in either order
The battle system uses auto attacks making combat less heavy on button mashing; easier for those who face difficulties with that style of battle, and special attacks are player-controlled
No in-game instruction list or button mapping options
No font size adjustments
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Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 20th Mar 2020 ( USA)
20th Mar 2020 ( UK/EU)
Animal Crossing New Horizons is the latest version of the real-time life sim in the Animal Crossing series, this time set on a deserted island. New Horizons features the usual house/town-building, museum collections and decorating featured in Animal Crossing alongside a variety of seasonal events to enjoy or avoid (hello, Bunny Day).
Despite its aesthetic approachability, Animal Crossing New Horizons isn’t the most accessible game from a physical or sensory perspective. For example, the Mole Cricket insect requires you to be able to hear it to find it.
However, where ACNH really excels is in support of accessibility for
social disabilities. Animal Crossing New Horizons proved to be a phenomenon during the pandemic as it encouraged so many people to play. Businesses and schools held meetings via Animal Crossing, and people who previously dismissed the idea of video games discovered their simple joys for the first time. Everyone was eager to connect in a way that was no longer physically possible due to mass lockdowns, although online communication is limited in this game.
Animal Crossing allows people to communicate either via text input in one-line bursts or without using words at all, with a variety of reactions you can use without needing to speak, which is surely helpful to more socially anxious players. It allows those with social disabilities to join in without fear of exclusion or ‘standing out’, creating a more level playing field for simple interactions. ACNH has been instrumental in helping many build friendships and confidence.
A passive, gentle experience that encourages many people to play
A really great social community which often works together to help each other
Allows for non-verbal communication
Lots of customisation freedom; you can play the game how you like, at the pace you like
Unusual seasonal events and items, including the UK’s Cheese Rolling Day
Text size is small and can be tricky to read. Also, no text speed adjustments
Some collectables rely on audio or visual cues to find them
Fishing timing can be tricky, although there is both an audio and visual cue
At some point you will probably (definitely) find yourself rearranging trees at 3AM
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Game Freak
Release Date: 28th Jan 2022 ( USA)
28th Jan 2022 ( UK/EU)
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is the first mainline game in the series to employ action-RPG elements.
It features a home base and five open-world maps to explore. Several of the traditional Pokémon mechanics have been amended, with the most striking difference being that wild Pokémon can now directly interact with the player. Wild Pokémon may choose to run away or attack causing direct harm to the trainer. You no longer pass out when all of the Pokémon on your team faint, however, player health levels are impacted by field damage such as when falling from high places or from Pokémon attacks.
You can also now directly catch Pokémon without entering into a Pokémon battle by throwing Poké Balls. Poké Balls are thrown by aiming at the target with an onscreen target ring. The target ring is quite small and can blend into the surroundings easily, which can make aiming tricky. In straight-up Pokémon battles, there is no aiming system for throwing Poké Balls, so when capturing a wild Pokémon you only need to press the button prompt to throw the ball.
Arceus is quite text-heavy and offers no text size adjustments or voice-acting. It could be said the Pokémon game series has gotten harder to read with the font size reduction between games, and with the hardware now available it is a little disappointing that no voiced narration is included in these games. While there was some font size reduction between the DS era, the Switch Pokémon games all suffer from a significant font size decrease. There are also no colour options for the aiming markers which can make it hard for players with colour-based vision impairments.
Pokémon Legends: Arceus is a brilliant game story-wise and a very refreshing take on the series — one we very much hope developer Game Freak continues with. However, Pokémon Legends: Arceus is not a very accessible game, making gameplay a lot harder for players more comfortable with Pokémon’s turned-based basics and
without enemy encounters causing them damage. This doesn’t mean the game is not worth playing, but for those with disabilities that affect vision and dexterity, this is very different from standard Pokémon games.
A very refreshing take on the Pokémon series
You don’t need to battle every Pokémon to catch them, which can make catching them quicker for some
With the exception of late-game boss battles, most allow you to restart or continue from the same point with restored health, making things easier for those with response time and dexterity disabilities
Quests are highlighted on the map and offer directional guidance in the overworld when selected
The text size is very small
The target ring for aiming Poké Balls is small and white, making it difficult to see
Overworld attacks require a bit of dexterity and response time ability
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 27th Oct 2017 ( USA)
27th Oct 2017 ( UK/EU)
Super Mario Odyssey is a 3D platformer with a series of open-world-style exploration zones. Mario is joined on his adventure by Cappy, a sentient hat who possesses Mario’s iconic cap.
Cappy allows for a new gameplay mechanic where you can cause possess enemies and gain their abilities. While button-press options are available, this option is arguably far less accurate and is more difficult to use compared to flicking a Joy-Con and using motion controls to throw the cap while the Switch console is either in docked or in tabletop mode. These mMotion controls are used to determine the direction the player throws the cap and to perform various other special manoeuvres.
One of the main aims of the game is to collect
Power Moons. Power Moon locations are shown on the maps and the game also lets you know when you’re close to one via the rumble feature. To collect the Power Moons, the player must complete puzzles of varying difficulty to be able to progress the game. As expected for a platformer, some of Power Moons require performing complicated jumps that some players may find difficult to do without help.
Super Mario Odyssey has an Assist Mode to help players who may be having difficulty. Assist Mode allows you to have up to nine health points and regain health by standing still. You will be returned to hazardless ground if you fall into a deadly hazard and will be unable to drown. Assist Mode also features story-guiding arrows to help you progress.
Assist Mode can help make some aspects of the game easier
The map lists how many Power Moons per level there are to collect; hints are obtainable to help locate them
Relies heavily on motion controls to play (although button alternatives are present for most moves)
Some very difficult jumps to make
No text size adjustments