When it originally released back in 2013, Super Mario 3D World for the Wii U was one of my favourite ever 3D Mario games. The combination of traditional style segmented levels explored in 3D space was a really enjoyable blend of old and new gameplay that I got really invested in playing through.
Now, in 2020, much like every other exclusive the Wii U ever had, Super Mario 3D World has now been ported to Switch. It’s far from a lazy port, it includes a whole smaller second game titled Bowser’s Fury, and it continues to be a fun overall experience.
However, in the seven years since the Wii U version of this game was released, I’ve started paying a lot more attention to the level of accessibility in video games, and as such I wanted to revisit this pair of games with a critical eye to how accessible they are for disabled players.
So, today on Access-Ability, we’re going to take a look at both Super Mario 3D World, and Bowser’s Fury. We’re going to take a look at what each does right in terms of accessibility, what each gets wrong, and some overall Nintendo design trends that I hope Nintendo doesn’t keep making a part of their various Mario releases.
So, let’s start off with Super Mario 3D Land itself. As this game is a port from the Wii U, a console that shipped with a second screen tablet, a few design changes have had to take place, to get certain parts of the game to work when played in Docked mode.
In the Wii U original, certain parts of certain stages would feature elements the player would need to interact with by tapping their touch screen. In handheld mode on Switch, these stage elements are still controlled with touch screen taps, but when docked, players will need to use motion controls alongside analogue stick and button inputs.
If you’re a player who finds pointer based motion controls a barrier to play, there are parts of some levels you may not be able to interact with. While many of these are optional side paths, they’re still content you won’t be able to engage with.
With regards to the game’s actual settings menu, Super Mario 3D World might as well not have one. You can select your controller of choice, invert the horizontal camera, or invert the vertical camera. That’s the entire settings menu. There’s no way to automate or turn off touch screen or motion segments, no volume sliders, no control customisation, the game’s default settings cannot be changed in game.
Switching over to Bowser’s Fury, this new side adventure actually features one accessibility feature not found in the main game. In this adventure the player is joined by Bowser Jr., who can either be controlled by a second player, or left to help you as an NPC companion.
When you first meet Bowser Jr. in game, players are given three choices on how much help he should offer the player, which can be changed later in the settings menu. If you ask for No Help, Bowser Jr. will travel on your adventure with you, but offer no unrequested support. A Little Help will see Bowser Jr. occasionally grab coins for you automatically or defeat certain enemies, and A Lot of Help will considerably ramp up that support. It’s an interesting way to tailor the difficulty of the experience, and is set up in a way that makes sense in the story.
That said, even on “A Lot of Help”, Bowser Jr. Will still sometimes leave certain tasks difficult for disabled players to complete. Around several stages in the game, players can find paint marks on walls, where by using your pointer or tapping on the touch screen, while simultaneously being in the middle of a complex jump or climb, will cause Bowser Jr to interact with that paint mark, and pop out a reward for Mario.
These are usually optional, and not required for progression, but the number of simultaneous inputs required to redeem them can be a barrier to players who struggle with touch, motion, or multitasking inputs. It seems odd that Bowser Jr cannot automatically complete these on the A Lot of Help setting.
While the accessibility settings that are here, and that are lacking, in this pair of games may not be particularly notable, they are interesting as part of a wider look at recent trends in accessibility in Nintendo’s first party game lineups. Enforced motion or touch controls, a lack of proper settings options, and certain assumptions about player ability have been recurring design decisions from Nintendo as of late, and I wanted to highlight today some games that show off that this isn’t an isolated case for the company.
First up, let’s talk about enforced motion controls in games where they don’t feel necessary.
Whenever we talk about Nintendo enforcing motion controls on this show, I always end up discussing Pokémon, Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee. While both games support traditional stick and button controls in handheld mode for catching creatures, when playing docked, players are forced to use motion controls instead. There is no settings option to instead use Handheld Mode’s button and stick inputs, a frankly baffling choice that left the game unplayable on the TV for many disabled players.
And while there are some Nintendo games where enforced motion controls might make more sense, such as Super Mario Party, where goofy motion controls are most of the game’s gimmick, they make a lot less sense in titles like Super Mario 3D All Stars, where Super Mario Galaxy players have to use gyro aiming to navigate the game’s main menu, rather than allowing the use of standard sticks and buttons to navigate. Considering the game is now playable on a handheld, you would think Nintendo would go to the effort of ensuring the game was playable without motion, opening it up more to disabled players.
And then, there’s the lack of decent settings options. The key Nintendo example from 2020 is definitely Animal Crossing, a game that has absolutely no traditional settings menu, and in many ways fails to cater for the needs to dissabled players. Issues such as being unable to turn on visual cues for insect noises for example made parts of the game unplayable for deaf players, and even the lack of a volume mixer prevented many players with partial hearing loss or sensory processing issues from hunting insects based on noise.
Here’s the thing. When it comes to game developers, Nintendo is in many ways world class. They consistently release polished, fun, creative games that are in many ways the envy of the rest of the games industry. But, for a company so invested in making games for “everyone”, they’re doing a really poor job at considering even basic accessibility support.
You might look at Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury in isolation and think “this game doesn’t seem so bad in terms of accessibility”, but you need to look at the big picture. The issues in this pair of games are recurrent issues in the company’s titles. They keep releasing games without proper settings menus. They keep enforcing motion and touch controls into games where they are not always necessary. They’re constantly behind the curve on accessibility settings the rest of our industry is beginning to adopt as standards.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is about as accessible as any Nintendo game right now. Lacking in support features, and reliant on some degree of motion or touch play. They’re not the most unplayable games in the world on this front, but I consistently expect better of a company like Nintendo.