Switch Accessibility
Image: Nintendo Life

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.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Switch)

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.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch)

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.

Pokémon Legends: Arceus (Switch)

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.

Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

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 motion 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.