When it comes to directly comparing all three of the major console manufacturers, and the steps that they’re taking with regards to improving accessibility in video games, I think it’s fair to say that Nintendo is by quite a wide margin making the slowest progress on standardising accessibility support on their platform.
Where Microsoft has ensured that their first party lineup on Xbox hits a consistent baseline level of accessibility support, releasing the Xbox Adaptive Controller to push hardware accessibility alongside software solutions, and Sony has been pushing forward with ambitious new features such as High Contrast Mode and the addition of audio descriptions to cutscenes in The Last of Us: Part 1 Remake, Nintendo is very much falling behind the pack, in many cases failing to include basic options such as subtitle size alterations in their major tentpole releases.
As such, it came as somewhat of a surprise this past week when former Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aimé announced that, back in 2019, Nintendo were actually developing a modular accessibility controller that they were aiming to make work on all of the major consoles, and not just their own.
This was not going to be a Nintendo Switch accessibility controller, it was going to be an accessibility controller inspired by the Xbox Adaptive controller, but not tethered to a single company’s games.
One accessible controller players could share across Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo consoles.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Reggie Fils-Aimé’s comments about Nintendo’s planned multi-platform accessibility controller.
We’re going to discuss what we know about the controller based on his statements,the things we don’t know, and how this news fits into how we should view Nintendo’s current position on gaming accessibility.
Let’s kick off by sharing exactly what Reggie Fils-Aimé said, while talking to a reporter at Inverse.
According to Reggie Fils-Aimé, prior to his departure from Nintendo in 2019, the company were part of an industry wide initiative, though he does not clarify which other companies were involved or not, that looked to the then recently released Xbox Adaptive Controller as “as a jumping-off point to create something that would be platform-agnostic and adaptable by any consumer.”
While we do not know for certain which companies were or were not involved in these talks, you do have to wonder whether Microsoft and Sony were part of these discussions or not, regarding the device becoming supported on multiple platforms.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller isn’t officially supported for any device outside of Xbox consoles and PC, even if you can somewhat awkwardly jerryrig it, and I would personally be fascinated to learn whether there have ever been any attempts to make the Xbox Adaptive Controller work on a wider range of consoles, or if Nintendo would have needed permission from Microsoft and Sony to pull off getting their controller to market as a multi-platform device.
If Nintendo had been able to pull it off, a multi-platform supported accessibility controller would have been a really big deal.
Right now, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is the main accessible controller in the gaming space, but an alternative that worked for all three major consoles would in theory be a much more attractive product for customers looking to own more than one console, something which would definitely have risked dethroning the Xbox Adaptive Controller from its current position of dominance.
Would Microsoft have been okay with that? I don’t know. I’m curious.
While we can’t say for certain what the form factor or final functions of this Nintendo controller would have been, the description of the device as ”adaptable by any consumer” suggests that, much like the Xbox adaptive controller they were taking inspiration from, it would have been a base unit with ports for additional buttons, switches, and joysticks.
Elaborating on his hope for the future, Reggie continues by explaining:
“I do believe the best solution is an industry solution that can work for all of the dedicated gaming platforms and for PC, and can truly be tailored to the player depending on their physical capabilities and what they can do.”
Reggie’s statement there is something I agree with, and the concept of a single accessibility controller that supported the games found on all three of the major consoles is an ideal end goal for our industry to reach.
However, in a practical sense that could be fairly tricky to pull off, and might go some way to explaining why this controller has not surfaced.
While Microsoft’s Xbox controller has a fairly standard layout of buttons and sticks, Sony’s PlayStation 5 controller features a touch pad, which some games require access to while playing.
Nintendo and Sony both also include motion sensing capabilities in their default controllers, and to this day no accessibility controller designer has managed to implement an alternate method of inputting motion data in games on consoles, to my knowledge.
Given how many of Nintendo’s games have non-optional motion controls, that is kind of a problem to overcome, particularly if this is going to be an official first-party controller.
Beyond that, going forward, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo would all have to agree to a certain degree of sharing company secrets as later console generations arise, if they wanted to ensure that this controller remained capable of playing games designed for new future controllers from all three of those companies.
Speaking hypothetically, if the PlayStation 6 controller, however many years from now, for example, contained a heartbeat monitor built into the controller that was vital for certain games, would Sony be willing to reveal that feature to Nintendo before it was officially announced to the public? Would they risk Nintendo taking that idea from them, in order to ensure a future accessibility controller revision could support the feature at launch?
Regarding the fate of this controller, unfortunately Reggie doesn’t know if the controller is still in development, or whether it was cancelled some time after his departure from the company.
While I find discussing this hypothetical controller pretty interesting, what I find in some ways more important is exploring Nintendo’s video game output since 2019 through the lens of knowing that the company at that time had been researching some pretty ambitious accessible hardware plans, because if nothing else, we now have confirmation that Nintendo isn’t unaware of the importance of accessibility progress in the games industry, which shines a very different light on the way that the company has been creating its games the last few years.
I am obviously not going to go into detail on EVERY Nintendo first party title released over the past three years, but I will highlight a few here that I think paint a representative picture of the publisher’s output the past few years.
Pokémon Sword and Shield hid a basic accessibility setting, the ability to alter the mix of a player’s in-game audio, behind an easy to miss optional NPC several hours deep into that game.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons features no visual indicators for certain audio cue only insects, meaning that deaf and hard of hearing players may find completing their museum in game impossible without assistance.
Metroid Dread at launch featured basically zero accessibility settings whatsoever, not even the most basic settings one would expect today from a modern AAA studio title.
Many of Nintendo’s games also feature unavoidable motion controls as we mentioned earlier, with only The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword making any serious attempt to provide disabled gamers with an alternative control scheme option.
I want to be clear, Nintendo does sometimes get things right in this space. The Joy-Con controllers are accidentally accessible for many disabled players due to their small size, light weight, and split hand design. The Switch contains a built-in screen magnifier, support for system level button remapping, and a high contrast menu view mode.
There are even occasional games, such as Ring Fit Adventure, which features specific disability focused presets for players who might have trouble moving certain parts of their body, but still want to take part in a fun exercise adventure.
However, at the end of the day, Nintendo is largely failing to do very basic accessibility standards consistently right now in their software. Settings as common as tweaked subtitle sizes, subtitle backgrounds, and colourblind filters, are still nowhere to be seen in most of Nintendo’s software, let alone any settings options more in depth than those.
It is wonderful that Nintendo wanted to be ambitious, and release a multi-platform accessibility controller. I really hope that it does release some day, and that it is multi-platform as they’d hoped, but I really think that the company probably needs to also take responsibility for the fact that they’ve been aware of the importance of accessibility support for at least the past three years, but are still failing to hit basic thresholds that basically every other AAA video game developer is managing to achieve at this point.
I would love to see the world Nintendo apparently dreams of come to fruition, because our industry would be immeasurably better for it. PlayStation’s high contrast mode would be hugely beneficial on the Switch’s handheld screen. Xbox Co-Pilot mode, where multiple sets of controllers control a single character, could pair really well with the fact that a Joy-Con can be held comfortably one handed. Disabled gamers not needing to buy multiple essentially identical accessibility controllers, such as the Xbox Adaptive Controller for Xbox AND the Hori Flex for Switch, would remove some of the financial burden that exists for disabled players.
I hope we one day reach that world, but until Nintendo manages to usher in an era of unified accessibility support across consoles, they need to focus on getting up to speed with basic software accessibility standards in their own games.