When Microsoft released the Xbox Adaptive Controller almost four years ago, it marked the first time a mainstream console manufacturer had made a push for a console to officially support an accessibility controller that was affordable and modular.
Supporting 3.5mm connector and USB ports for connecting peripherals, the controller allowed for first party and third party buttons, switches, joysticks, and pedals to be incorporated into a controller setup, to make it easier for disabled players to play games in ways they found accessible.
Most accessibility controllers released in the years since, such as the Hori Flex, have followed a similar design concept to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, consisting of a base unit that contains some of the primary controller buttons, as well as a multitude of ports for additional peripherals to be connected.
However, one recently released accessibility controller has been designed with a very different approach in mind.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about the 8BitDo Lite SE accessibility controller for Switch, Android, and Raspberry Pi. We’re going to talk about what the controller is designed for, how its functions differ from those of other accessibility controllers, and which groups of gamers might find its design particularly useful.
The 8BitDo Lite SE is an accessibility controller that, rather than centring on a modular design that enables additional components to be attached, is instead aimed at gamers with reduced mobility, hand strength, and fine motor control difficulties.
The controller is designed to place all of the controller’s buttons on the face of the controller, rather than any being on the rear or sides of the device. The buttons that would traditionally be bumpers and triggers on the controller, for example, are replaced with buttons on the face, next to the D-Pad, and the ABXY buttons.
The rear of the controller is rubberised and flat, allowing it to be placed onto a smooth solid surface such as a table or lap tray, and resist sliding out of place as buttons are being pressed.
Unlike some of the existing modular accessibility controllers on the market, the 8BitDo Lite SE does not feature a tripod mount, which would have allowed it to be more dynamically placed into accessibility setups.
In addition, for players who struggle not to accidentally activate the L3 and R3 button functions on a controller with clickable analogue sticks when moving their character around in game, the controller removes the clickable stick functions entirely, replacing those functions with more traditional buttons on the face of the controller.
All of the buttons on the face of the controller are close enough together to be theoretically controlled using a single hand with relative ease, and feature reduced resistance, so they can be more easily pressed down by a player who may be stretching a finger to try and reach the button they are pressing, or for players with muscle pain or weakness.
Having now had the controller in my possession for a couple of weeks, I can certainly see how it fulfils the niche it is aiming for, but it does take a little getting used to if you are familiar with other more traditional controllers. Its buttons are all very close to each other, and getting over muscle memory to learn new button placements is a little bit of a learning curve to get used to.
That said, I appreciate that this controller is not aiming for the same target demographic as the other accessibility controllers we have discussed on this show. If you’re a Switch owner that is looking for a modular accessibility controller the Hori Flex already exists, even if it’s still tricky to get your hands on at a reasonable price, and the Xbox Adaptive Controller can fairly easily be tricked into syncing with the handheld console. There are already a couple of options for modular controller bases on the system, and seeing a company try to create something for a different segment of the disabled gamer market is reassuring to see.
A lot of the time in video game accessibility, we see one company successfully push forward accessibility with a game or product, and other companies fall into the trap of simply emulating what the last company succeeded with, narrowing the scope of what accessibility looks like.
Seeing 8BitDo get inventive with the Lite SE, and try to cater to a different segment of the space, reassures me that we will continue to see experimentation in a space that right now does have one clear front runner, which is what we need to see if accessibility options are going to continue to grow.
Most accessibility focused video game controllers we have showcased here on this show have, at the end of the day, been vessels for peripherals as much as they were devices designed to be used in their own right.
For most people deciding whether or not to purchase an Xbox Adaptive Controller for example, the question of whether or not to make a purchase would at the end of the day come down to whether other third party peripherals exist to help make that controller into a setup that might be personally useful.
That is not nearly as much the case with the 8BitDo Lite SE. Because it lacks that modular input support, what you see is what you get. The controller is cheaper than other accessibility controllers on the market, and rather than trying to be useful as part of a wide range of diabled gamer’s setups, it is laser focused on a specific use case.
If you want a small and condensed controller, where every button is on the face, and you can lay it flat on a table without it sliding around when being used, or without accidently clicking in an analogue stick mid play, then this controller might just be perfect for you. If not, you probably already know that more customisable options, while more pricey, might be more what you’re looking for.