Nintendo and Positive Game Accessibility

Nintendo's Mario looking pensively at a Game Accessibility symbol.

Nintendo have been making waves in the fields of game accessibility for decades. I want this post to focus on some of the very positive recent things Nintendo have been involved in to improve the accessibility of their games to disabled people.

Box icons detailing (a little) accessibility info: Boxed Wii games indicate compatible Nintendo controllers for each game. Simply presented info like this can help some players work out if they'll be able to play the game. With Wii Mario Kart, for instance, if they could manage most Gamecube games, but really struggled with the Wii remote, the picture below gives confidence that they should be fine.

Wii indictation of game controllers.

Demo Play (aka Super Guide or Cosmic Guide): Seen in Wii New Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns. If part of the game gets too tough, activating this mode will see the game take over and play automatically. Once demo-play has seen you through the tough bit you were stuck on you can deactivate it and resume manual play. Wonderful (patented) idea, that I don't recall seeing elsewhere.

Easy Mode: Super Mario Run featured one-handed play, and a one-handed tap to play mechanic for Nintendo's first phone game. Upon requests from users struggling with the difficulty, a much appreciated "Easy Mode" was added. All of this, alongside iOS accessibility features, made the game possible to complete using a single head switch (see pictures below). Wonderful stuff.

Super Mario Run, Easy Mode added to improve accessibility.

Colin McDonnell completed Super Mario Run using a single head switch.

DS XL and Nintendo Switch: The enlarged XL version of the DS offered a slightly bigger screen and bigger buttons. As I understand, this was to take into account some elderly players who complained that the standard DS was too difficult to use. The Nintendo Switch expanded upon this by allowing for the games to be played on as big a screen as needed.

Smart Steering and Auto Accelerate: Two fantastic driving assist options in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. These enable easier driving for all. This includes visually impaired players struggling to see tight corners and those struggling with the game's difficulty in general. With these modes one handed and even one button play becomes a possibility. In fact, with some extra hard-ware, one-switch access is possible!

More Flexible Control: In 2006 the Wii brought some simpler methods of play to the fore. One handed gamers found a games machine they could typically use out of the box. Many new people found the method of bowling intuitive and fun in Wii Sports who struggled with the complexity of a Dual Shock like controller. Undoubtedly things were opened up for many more with this design, and it was a massive success.

However, not all players could manage swooshing an arm about, nor precise manipulation of the Wii remote. Perhaps as a concession to this (as well as wanting to please more conventional players), Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros Brawl both allowed for four methods of control, including a GameCube controller. As a side note, EA Sports "Family Play" play option in 2008 Wii Madden, FIFA and NBA Live offered assist modes and simpler controller requirements. If only more games offered this combined versatility, what a difference it would make.

Post N64 (pre Switch), for those unable to use Nintendo branded controllers on the Wii and Wii-U, a small number of 3rd party controller adapters enabled far greater options. Pictured second below is a photo of accessible gaming advocate Colin McDonnell, able to navigate the menu systems (Wii-U and just recently the Switch) and race using a single head mounted switch and a single sound activated control (via a Titan One connected PC).

EA Madden NFL 08 Wii: Family Play accessible gaming option.

Colin McDonnell using a single head switch to navigate menus and play Wii-U Mario Kart 8.

Symbolic Menu Systems: Hugely beneficial to a range of people struggling with text alone and I would say was another reason for the huge success of the Wii. The Wii-U improved upon this by allowing for navigation using the d-pad, which can also be of benefit to completely blind players (with a help sheet read from a computer) and of course those unable to use motion controls.

Accessibility Support: A recent on-line accessibility support ticket system offers a fairly direct route through to Nintendo. They also publish yearly upon some of their efforts around Corporate Social Responsibility and Accessibility (also see this message from Mr Shibata). From this I was reminded of their long standing support of the fantastic Starlight Fun Centre project. This gets Nintendo hardware and games to children in hospitals around the world who might very well need a distraction from what is keeping them there. It has been running since 1990 I believe.

Starlight fun centre.

Haptics: 1-2 Switch has attracted some really positive press coverage due to its gameplay being based solely on a combination of motion controls, audio and high definition haptics, making the gameplay being fully accessible to people who are completely blind. It’s a great example of how new technologies can create new opportunities, and the more that can be offered up as alternative options within a single game the more people are able to take part as a result.

It has been great to see accessibility efforts like these making their presence felt with the Switch. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next to make Nintendo products more inclusive for all.

"I am most concerned with what we think of as a gamer. As we spend more time and money chasing exactly the same players, who are we leaving behind? Are we creating games just for each other? Do you have friends and family members who do not play video games? Well, why don't they? And, I would ask this: how often have you challenged yourself to create a game that you might not play?" - Satoru Iwata, GDC 2005 keynote.

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