Small text in video games, particularly in menus or subtitles, isn’t by any means a new or novel issue.
Back in the mid 2000’s when video games were first moving up to High Definition resolutions, even though most console gamers were still on standard definition screens, designers of video games often settled on text sizes that might be legible on these new kinds of monitors, which mirrored those they were using at work, but failed to adequately consider how that text might look on an older and smaller screen.
Many game developers today design in-game text based on legibility when sat looking at a monitor that’s less than a foot away from them at their desk, often not considering how that text might look when viewed sitting on a sofa across on the other side of a room.
The above issues have been persistent for years in video game design, and are certainly factors that contribute to inaccessible text, but a bigger factor still is lack of proper consideration for blind gamers with reduced vision, and their needs as subtitle users.
However, some games do a better job than others in terms of being accessible with their text, and I can’t think of many better examples of well handled subtitle sizing and design in recent memory than Return to Monkey Island, the newest entry in the pirate themed comedic point and click adventure series.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about the new accessibility features seen in Return to Monkey Island. We’re going to talk about the implementation of subtitles in the game, the way progression hints are integrated into the narrative, and the ways that the game helps players to avoid losing focus on plot during and between play sessions.
First off, as we talked about it in the title of the video, let’s talk about the implementation of subtitles in Return to Monkey Island.
When playing Return to Monkey Island, players can choose to display speaker names next to text, alter the level of opacity of the background behind subtitle text, switch on subtitles for non dialogue sound effects, choose whether to have subtitles alone or paired with voice acting, as well as changing the size of speech text, hover text, and dialogue choice texts independently of each other.
While many of these settings are not unique to Return to Monkey Island, in combination they offer robust support for deaf and blind players. However, it’s the maximum subtitle size offerings that really set this game apart from so many others.
Those are so much larger than most games offer, and it’s really awesome to see, particularly given this game’s release on handheld platforms like the Nintendo Switch with its smaller screen size.
The only negative I had regarding the text was a very minor gripe, the lack of options for alternative font selection but, given that the in game subtitles appear to be a Sans Serif font already, a category of fonts that’s considered generally reasonably accessible for dyslexic players, it’s a small complaint at most.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the rest of the accessibility settings on offer in Return to Monkey Island, because there’s a fair amount more here worth discussing.
While point and click adventure games are typically designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard, Return to Monkey Island features some of the best implemented controller support that I’ve experienced in point and click adventure games.
There is no option to remap the controller button mappings which is a shame, but the default control scheme makes a lot of sense, and having that robust controller support at all in a point and click adventure game is appreciated.
While discussing the controller support for the game, one nice feature built into it is the ability to highlight all interactable objects in a given scene, by moving your analogue stick to hop between interaction points, which inadvertently makes finding all interactable items in a scene more accessible than it might be for someone using a mouse to point and click.
For players with motion sickness, or who suffer from visual overstimulation, Return to Monkey Island allows players to turn off ship motion visuals and visual distortion effects for a more comfortable play experience.
The game also features a variety of volume sliders to customise the mix of game audio, for those in need of certain sounds being prioritised.
For players who struggle to make progress in Return to Monkey Island due to complexity of puzzle logic, the game contains a couple of really nice features designed to help ensure that it’s comfortably completable by as many players as possible.
Firstly, at the start of the game, players are offered a pair of difficulty options. Casual is presented as the default playstyle with easier puzzles and a more welcoming visual aesthetic, with the harder alternarive difficulty deliberately made to look less inviting, so that players don’t feel bad about not making use of it.
Casual Mode also features a lot less “moon logic” in its puzzles, which is really appreciated.
For anyone who’s unaware, “moon logic” is the kind of point and click adventure logic you occassionally get where you have to just click “combine item with item” at random, until something works.
If you’re ever stuck mid game, Return to Monkey Island features an in-game hint book, which will give progressively more detailed hints about specific puzzles that the player is currently in the process of solving, which also acts as a welcome reminder for tasks underway after taking a break from play.
Players can select the specific questline they’re currently stuck on, and initially receive a very vague hint as to how to progress. They can then ask, often multiple times, for more detailed hints, eventually being given a direct answer as to how to progress.
This is woven into the narrative, and you’re never penalised for using it, although the game does encourage attempting to solve puzzles yourself first before consulting the book for hints.
Additionally, I want to talk about the features in Return to Monkey Island that exist to help players that have attention, focus, or memory conditions, to help them engage with the game.
While playing, if a player can’t remember what thet’re meant to be doing, or which questlines are currently available, the prior mentioned hint book acts as a spoiler free reminder of in game progress tasks.
However, for players who lose focus or attention on a more granular level, such as mentally tuning out for a second or impatiently button mashing and missing a line of dialogue, the player can at any time with a single button pull up a text log of all in game text, to scroll back for a reminder of what has been said, or has been missed, in a conversation.
Lastly, if you take a break from playing, there’s an option for the game to greet you with a previously on segment, to help fully remind you, told as narrative by characters in the game itself, what was happening when you last played, to get you back on track with progress.
While it was definitely the large subtitle size support that initially caught my eye with Return to Monkey Island, the more of it I’ve played, the more I’ve come to really appreciate a lot of the smaller accessibility focused choices that the game makes.
Return to Monkey Island is in many ways a game about revisiting a world, and a game series, that has grown and changed since its initial inception, and while I think this is most obvious in the narrative choices made, it also somewhat applies to the addition of accessibility support to the series. This is at times very much a story about the way that things change and aren’t how they used to be, and seeing that applied to accessibility in the game itself is really heartwarming to see.