As a long time fan of the Legend of Zelda series, it’s fair to say that I am incredibly excited about the upcoming release of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, the sequel to the Nintendo Switch launch title Breath of the Wild.
While Breath of the Wild was a big departure from previous entries in the series, discarding linear world design and intricate puzzle dungeons for a sprawling open world full of challenges solved by understanding physics systems, I still enjoyed the game deeply, even if there are things about old style Zelda games I found myself missing a little bit.
As much as I love Breath of the Wild, however, I recognise that the game was and is lacking deeply in basic accessibility settings, that would allow disabled players of varying types to more comfortably enjoy the game’s adventure.
This has been a generation-long issue for Nintendo.
In the time since Breath of the Wild released back in 2017, we’ve seen Xbox and PlayStation both either announce or release first party accessibility controllers, implement accessibility tags on their online digital storefronts, break new ground with features such as high contrast mode visuals, and experiment with implementing long overdue features seen in other forms of media such as sign language interpreter support and audio descriptions.
By comparison, most Nintendo 1st party exclusive games on Switch still lack very basic accessibility features that are becoming standardised across many other large publishers releases.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to talk about some of the accessibility settings that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the wild was lacking when it released back in 2017, and some settings that we would love to see finally implemented when Tears of the Kingdom releases in just a few short weeks.
Starting with perhaps the most obvious accessibility complaint about Breath of the Wild, and one that I suspect many non-disabled gamers would also bring up in this kind of discussion, I really hope that we see Tears of the Kingdom do away with mandatory motion controls for in-game puzzles.
In Breath of the Wild, motion controls were able to be toggled on and off as an aiming assist, which could be optionally used alongside analogue stick aiming, when firing a bow or manipulating objects using sheikah slate runes. While this is on paper positive, it is great to offer motion aiming optionally for those who find it easier than analogue control, the issue was that several in-game puzzles could not be completed without motion, such as one infamous puzzle involving rolling a ball through a maze by tilting a platform.
I hope that with Tears of the Kingdom, it is possible to manipulate these kinds of puzzles using purely analogue stick control, so that disabled players who either cannot comfortably tilt their controller, or who struggle with fine motor control for small scale motion movement, are not faced with a barrier to progression.
I have some hope that this will be the case, trailers for Tears of the Kingdom show a revised UI that looks like it points to analogue stick rotation for objects. Hopefully that is correct, because that might be a positive step forward for the series.
Next up, an option the Legend of Zelda series used to support but failed to include in Breath of the Wild, I really hope we see Tears of the Kingdom bring back the option for enemy lock-on to be treated as a toggle, rather than a button hold.
In many past Zelda games, you could set your control style so that a single button press would lock you onto an enemy, and another press of that button would remove your lock-on from that enemy, rather than players needing to keep a button held down for the entire duration of a fight if they wanted to stay locked on to an enemy, as is the case with Breath of the Wild.
This is particularly important for players with conditions such as muscle weakness, chronic pain, or who have reduced ability to interact with multiple buttons at once.
On a similar topic, allowing players to activate toggles rather than button holds for aiming their bow, or opening weapon access quick menus, would also be a great step forward. Ideally, anything in your game that is a button hold should be able to be tweaked in settings so it’s instead a button toggle.
Next, it would be great to see Tears of the Kingdom offer some basic accessibility options that, honestly, at this point I think should just be industry wide standards offered to players across basically every game.
In a perfect world, I’d love to see Tears of the Kingdom offer colourblindess filters, text size alteration options both for subtitles and menu text, audio sliders, and options for scaling UI elements, for players who would benefit from trading away some visual minimalisation for increased ability to see game elements while playing.
When The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild released back in 2017, one of the big accessibility complaints raised about the game was its lack of basic control remapping, outside of an option to switch which button controlled Link jumping. Today, the Switch does feature system level controller remapping support, but it would still be ideal to see control remapping offered from within Tears of the Kingdom itself, as in-game control remapping allows, for example, for in game tutorials to accurately reflect the button a player needs to press.
Now, all of the features that I’ve mentioned here feel like very reasonable things to ask for from a video game developer in 2023 but, with Nintendo’s track record the past few years, even this much honestly feels like a stretch to ask for. I feel like, if I go into Tears of the Kingdom expecting all of these features to be available in game, I’m going to be disappointed.
In a perfect world, I’d get more ambitious, I’d ask for more from Nintendo. I’d ask for support for features like High Contrast Mode visuals, or visual indicators that show where a sound came from and what the source of the sound was for deaf players. I’d ask for gameplay assist features like aim assist, or options to alter game balance. But, this is Nintendo, and a lot of those sorts of features feel just as out of reach in a Nintendo game today as they did when Breath of the Wild released back in 2017.
I hope to be surprised by Tears of the Kingdom’s level of accessibility support when it releases in a few weeks, but I feel what we’re going to see instead is how little Nintendo has improved its accessibility offerings compared to its contemporaries in the time since this sequel entered development.
I certainly don’t feel like Tears of the Kingdom is going to be the last big Nintendo Switch game ever released, but I do feel like Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom are bookends of a sort for the Nintendo Switch as a system, and I really hope that we see some degree of accessibility improvement between those two games, because if not I worry about what that says about where Nintendo is on their journey to finally catching up and being a little more accessible like the other console makers that they’re sort of existing in this space with.