As a gamer with a couple of disabilities that impact my hand-eye coordination and my sense of rhythm and timing, I have a bit of a mixed relationship when it comes to playing Music Rhythm games.
I love the idea of the genre. I’m someone that loves listening to music, and I really like the idea of having interaction, having something that engages me with the music I’m listening to and helps me to feel more immersed in it.
The problem is, my hands don’t always do exactly what I tell them to, exactly when I tell them to, and that makes it difficult sometimes for me to do the kinds of things that Music Rhythm games require of me.
I really enjoy them as a genre, but I struggle to play them effectively.
This is why, a couple of weeks ago, I was really excited to find out that a music thythm game that I’d had my eye on called Melatonin had a bunch of really promising sounding accessibility options in its settings menu.
I played a demo for Melatonin back in the summer of 2022, and honestly, at the time, I wished I liked it more than I did. I loved a lot of its aesthetic choices and its musical choices, but the prescision required in timings was a little too strict for me, and the ways that it kept changing up the game’s rhythm was really difficult for me to adjust to.
I was pleasantly surprised when I played the full game this week and found that the accessibility settings on offer made a really big difference. It took this from being a game that I found frustrating, and that I wanted to like more, to being one that I genuinely enjoyed and felt a lot less frustrated by.
These new accessibility changes really made this a game that I could much more easily reccomend.
One of the most immediately noticeable things about Melatonin when watching footage of the game is its art style, which makes deliberate use of dream-like pastelle animation to great effect. The game takes place in a world of hazy dreams, in the mind of someone crashed out on their sofa, and has an almost Elite Beat Agents style of humour to its scenarios, which all focus on exaggerated caricatures of real world interactions.
As default, Melatonin requires players to, in each level, recognise a handful of visual and audio cues, each of which corresponds to a different timing that players need to respond with.
In, for example, the game’s opening level, an item of food fired in a small arching shot, a high arching shot, or a shot directly forward, all require the player to respond on different beats, with differing reaction timings from the start of animation.
This unpredictability made it hard for me to get into a “muscle memory” pattern with the game, and was one of the things that I found most difficult about playing the demo version without accessibility settings support. By changing up the rhythm that I had to respond to, and hiding some of the visual cues to make it harder for me to see what was coming, the game very much highlighted the difficulty that I have with timing and coordination.
In terms of accessibility, Melatonin has a dedicated accessibility menu, which contains four simple, but really effective options for improving gameplay accessibility.
The first, visual assist, displays a visual timing circle at all times during gameplay. Usually exclusive to practise mode for a level, this timing circle acts similarly to the note track in Guitar hero, giving a predictable and smooth indicator showing how long the player has until a note needs to be hit. This removes some of the reliance on quickly spotting, recognising, and reacting to visual cues about which timing pattern is about to come up, and adds some stability for players like myself who struggle with fast adjustments to different rhythms.
Audio Assist adds a metronome to the game during all gameplay, again a previously practice mode only feature, helping to keep mental track of the core rhythmic structure of a given level.
Wiggle Room increases the window of time that a player has to get a “perfect” score on a note allowing, as the name suggests, a little extra wiggle room for disabled players to register as having nailed their timing. This is really useful for players like myself, whose brain and hands are sometimes just a little bit out of sync, with not much that I can do to improve that.
If “special classes” during the whole time that I was at school couldn’t fix the desync between my bran and my hands, telling me to “git gud” isn’t going to fix it either, and wiggle room as a setting helps to compensate for that in my play.
Lastly, Easy Scoring makes gameplay progression easier, but in a different way to Wiggle room. Easy Scoring doesn’t make it any easier to get a “perfect” score on a note, but it does cause the game to penalise you less for an early or late hit. This may be useful for players who want to be told if they’re early or late on a note, to help them improve their timing, but also don’t want their difficulty getting perfect notes to prevent them progressing through the game, where decent scores across levels are required for progression.
Outside of the accessibility settings menu, Melatonin also allows players to change the balance of game audio, including sliders for music, Sound Effects, and Metronome volume, allowing for custom sound mixing to make gameplay critical information easier to hear amongst other noises.
For players who want more of a challenge, rather than wanting increased gameplay accessibility, while the game does have an optional hard mode for each level, it also features buried in the settings menu an option for levels to automatically reset if anything but a perfect note is hit.
Players who struggle with camera shake effects can turn those off, and controller vibration can be disabled. There is a warning at the start of the game that flashing lights may cause issues for photosensitive players, but there is unfortunately no option to reduce those visual effects.
While Melatonin is far from the first ever music rhythm game to have settings designed to make the game easier to play for certain players, what I think sets Melatonin apart is the fact that its accessibility settings menu is not only really well explained and very well thought through, but also really welcoming to players.
I think a big part of why I wanted to talk about Melatonin this week on Access-Ability is the fact that I played this game back in the summer of 2022, and I really didn’t gel well with it. Adding in accessibility settings in the full release has really turned around my opinion on the game, and I think that’s important to note.
I have a really good benchmark here for my feelings on this game when I don’t have the option to use accessibility settings, and now that they’re here, and my opinion on this game is night and day improved because I can have a more accessible experience playing it.
Accessibility settings are really important. Sometimes they’re the difference between a game being playable and unplayable. Sometimes they’re the difference between a game being fun or frustrating. Either way, I can point to Melatonin as an example of a game that I was ready to write off, and then I played it again with accessibility settings and I really enjoyed it.
That kind of huge shift in how I feel about a video game, that is really important, and that’s the kind of difference that having accessibility settings in your game can make.
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