Back in September of 2018, Microsoft released the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a modular controller base designed to allow disabled gamers to customise their PC and Xbox game control setup.
The controller, which featured 3.5mm and USB port interfaces, allowed players to connect first or third party devices such as buttons, switches, and joysticks to customise how they play games, and really opened up physical gaming accessibility up to a lot of new players.
Considering how much the Xbox Adaptive controller has opened up gaming to a variety of disabled gamers, it was exciting when in November 2020 gaming peripheral manufacturer Hori announced the Hori Flex, an accessibility controller designed for use on the Nintendo Switch.
So, today on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about the first accessibility controller officially supported on Nintendo Switch. We’re going to talk about what the controller gets right, what it gets wrong, and how it stacks up when compared to Microsoft’s offering in the space.
So, let’s start with the physical device itself. The Hori Flex is a much smaller modular controller base than the Xbox Adaptive controller, featuring a larger variety of face buttons, of smaller sizes. Where the Xbox Adaptive Controller primarily features very large A and B buttons, as well as a D-Pad and system navigation buttons, the Hori Flex instead features A, B, X, Y, L and R buttons alongside D-Pad directions on its much smaller face.
The controller’s smaller size, combined with the presence of a common thread size camera mount on the back, do allow for pretty easy mounting of the controller in player reach, but that size reduction does come with obvious drawbacks. While the addition of extra buttons on the face does allow for more system functions to be accessed from the controller base, each of the individual buttons is much smaller, which may make them less accessible to some users.
One benefit the Hori Flex has over the Xbox Adaptive Controller in terms of buttons on the face of the device is the presence of a button to hop between different setup profiles. Basically, rather than having to go into Switch system settings if you need a different controller layout for a specific game, that should theoretically be just a single button press away.
In terms of inputs, the Hori Flex features the same types of input methods as the Xbox Adaptive controller, primarily 3.5mm ports for most buttons and switches, as well as USB inputs for joysticks to emulate analogue inputs. In theory this means that you should be able to move your existing peripherals between the two controllers, and most peripherals do move over smoothly, but currently the Hori Flex’s support for USB joysticks and flightpads is limited. You’re going to have a lot more luck getting it to recognise a Hori USB device as an analogue stick than you are your existing sticks for the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which is a real shame.
If you connect the Flex up to a PC, as well as being able to customise PC and Switch profile presets, you can also tweak joystick sensitivity and deadzone sizes, which should at least allow for fine tuning your joystick once you have found a stick that works with the controller. You can also tweak settings such as if multiple hits of a button in quick succession should be registered as a single hit or multiple, to help players with motor control conditions avoid incorrect inputs.
When compared directly to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, the Hori Flex features basically identical button and stick support options as Microsoft’s accessibility controller, which is a bit of an issue. While the ability to emulate analogue stick, D-Pad, and Face buttons on an Xbox Adaptive Controllers allows you to play all games on the system, and engage with all of their functions, the Hori Adaptive Controller doesn’t feature any options for engaging with motion controls in games.
I acknowledge this is likely not out of oversight, but a fundamental challenge making the Switch library of games accessible to disabled gamers. Some games on the Switch feature mandatory motion controls, and Hori likely doesn’t have the ability to emulate those easily with a wired accessibility controller. Still, it’s important to note that some Switch games cannot be mapped to this controller in a way that will make them playable. We would likely need either a fundamental shift from Nintendo in the way they develop and certify games for release, or an official Nintendo development standard for mapping motions to buttons, before we could see all Switch games playable with the Hori Flex.
Additionally, the Switch lacks support for an equivalent feature to Xbox’s Co-Pilot mode, where players can use two different controllers registered by their Xbox as one. On Xbox, players can use an Adaptive Controller in conjunction with a regular Xbox controller to play games, but no such option exists on Switch. This is a real shame, as the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers are specifically designed to be held single handed, which could have made using one in conjunction with the Hori Flex a very viable way of creating accessible setups.
Right now, some of the biggest hurdles to accessing the Hori Flex are location and price. The Flex is only available to purchase right now in Japan, with no international import retailers seemingly interested in making it easily accessible in other countries. Additionally, the controller is prohibitively expensive by comparison to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, retailing at £180 compared to £75 for the Xbox Adaptive Controller.
While the Hori Flex has a couple of nice features, such as deadzone and sensitivity alteration and easy to access controller presets, I would be hard pressed to recommend it over the Xbox Adaptive Controller. Maybe if your priority is having a small and light base this might be worth purchasing, but issues like the controller’s lack of robust USB device support make it basically impossible to recommend at the price.
Maybe the value proposition here would feel different if the Flex featured some kind of support for emulating motion controls with an analogue stick or similar device, but right now you’re probably better off just buying an Xbox Adaptive Controller and using an unofficial adapter such as the Titan Too or Switch Up Game Enhancer to get that working on your Switch. The Hori Flex doesn’t offer any additional Switch specific features you couldn’t get by using an Adaptive Controller and adaptor, and costs basically two and a half times as much to purchase.
I am really glad third party manufacturers are stepping up to the plate and trying to bring official accessibility support to non Microsoft consoles, but the Hori Flex unfortunately isn’t the answer. It doesn’t outperform buying Microsoft’s cheaper controller and an adapter, and its list of limitations keeps it from being a product I would easily recommend.