The release of the Xbox Adaptive Controller back in 2018 was a huge step forward for gaming accessibility. While still more expensive than a traditional gaming controller, the mass produced modular controller base provided a comparatively affordable and easy to access entry point to accessible gaming hardware, that could be customised to work for multiple gamers setup needs.
Five years have passed since then, and by the end of 2023 all three major console manufacturers will have their own accessibility focused controllers available for purchase.
The Hori Flex for Switch is a similarly modular controller base, although not officially created by Nintendo, and the PS5 Access Controller is releasing globally on December 6th this year with a focus on building all needed inputs into a pair of base devices rather than the same modular controller hub approach as its competitors.
With PlayStation finally introducing their own accessibility focused controller later this year, I thought now would be a good opportunity to compare each console’s accessibility controllers, and how they appear to be stacking up in early comparison.
Important to note, I’m not trying to crown a winner here today by comparing these controllers. I’m not going to tell you that one of these gets a trophy for being the best accessibility controller, because which controller wins out is going to vary from gamer to gamer, depending on your own varied accessibility needs.
Also, the PS5 Access Controller isn’t actually out yet, so I haven’t gone hands on with it, and can’t compare it, you know, more than theoretically.
Each of these accessibility controllers fills a specific niche. My goal here today is to help you determine which, if any, is likely to be a good fit for you.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) – Range from £75 to £225 and upward.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller as a base controller, by itself, costs £75 here in the UK, making it on paper the cheapest of the three consoles accessible controllers. That said, the base controller features limited inputs, featuring primarily large A and B buttons, a larger than standard D-Pad, Start and Select, and Xbox buttons.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller certainly can be used by itself in accessibility setups, such as for 2D games, or in Co-Pilot mode setups such as using a player’s feet to operate two button inputs while the remaining controls are handled with a standard controller, but many players will need to supplement the Xbox Adaptive controller with additional input devices.
This is very much the intended use case for the controller, as it is a hub with a wealth of ports for additional peripherals.
The Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit, for example, is a starter kit of additional buttons and switches for the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which could add another £90 to the cost of your setup, bringing it closer to £165. If you require external large joysticks, these might set you back around £30 each, bringing the cost of a setup that offers every input of a standard Xbox controller needed for 3D gaming up to closer to £225.
The price could obviously go up above this for your setup, depending on what specific external peripherals you need to be able to game, but you’re looking at around £75 for the basic controller, £90 for an average starter collection of external buttons, and £60 to add a pair of joysticks to the setup.
£225 is the baseline to get access to all buttons if you’re not making use of co-pilot mode and a standard controller.
PS5 Access Controller – £80 to £160 and upward.
While £80 for a PS5 Access Controller is slightly more than £75 for an Xbox Adaptive Controller, you get access to a lot more buttons on that controller as standard.
The PS5 Access Controller features one large analogue stick input which can be customised, and enough button inputs to control half of the functions of a Dualsense Controller, with the player able to select which buttons the device emulates.
For £160, which is slightly less than the cost of an Xbox Adaptive Controller plus a Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit, the player can get a pair of PS5 Access Controllers in order to access two analogue sticks, and all of the face buttons of a DualSense Controller.
To directly compare to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, assuming that the PS5 Access Controller’s button layout and analogue stick options are suitable for your needs, you could be set up for £160 on PlayStation compared to around £225 on Xbox.
While the price of this setup could increase based on a player purchasing additional external input devices, the PS5 Access Controller features a much more limited number of input slots than the Xbox Adaptive Controller, suggesting that PlayStation aims for external peripherals to be less of a focus here.
Hori Flex (Switch) – £190 to £340 and upward.
The Hori Flex for Switch does include all physical buttons found on a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con pair, minus the analogue sticks. To add a pair of analogue sticks to the device would add baseline of around £60, bringing the cost up to around £250.
The Hori Flex is a very small controller that, much like the Xbox Adaptive Controller, hosts a large number of ports for external peripherals. Adding a Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit to the setup, if the buttons on the controller are a bit too cramped together for your needs, would add another £90, bringing the cost up to around £340.
Comparing base controller prices, the Xbox Adaptive Controller costs £75, the PS5 Access Controller costs £80, and the Hori Flex costs £190.
Comparing costs to add the bare minimum number of peripherals needed to allow the controller to emulate all standard controller button and stick inputs without using Co-Pilot mode support, the Xbox Adaptive Controller with two joysticks and a Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit is likely to cost £225 and upward, a pair of PS5 Access Controllers would cost £160, and a Hori Flex plus two joysticks would cost around £250.
While your personal setup cost will likely vary considerably, this was the most even comparison that I could put together for similar levels of access to standard controller features.
External device support
This is the main place where the PS5 access Controller differs from its competition.
Both the Xbox Adaptive Controller and the Hori Flex are modular controller bases, designed with face button inputs that can be directly used, but also featuring enough ports that if you need every button or analogue stick on your setup to be in a customised location, using a specialised type of input switch, that option is available to you.
You could in theory use an Xbox Adaptive Controller or a Hori Flex and never touch any of the buttons on the controller itself while playing, instead using external buttons plugged into the back of each device.
The PS5 Access Controller by comparison only features four 3.5mm input ports on the back of each controller. If you purchase a pair of controllers, you could connect up to four external button switches to each of them for a total of eight external devices.
By comparison, the Hori flex has 20 inputs available, including USB inputs for external joysticks, and inputs for things like L3 and R3 stick click functions.
While a pair of PS5 Access Controllers can allow for the use of all basic DualSense controller functions, it’s not likely to be the right fit for you if you need primarily a hub for external, repositionable, custom input switches.
Co-Pilot mode support
This is the main area where Nintendo and the Hori Flex lag behind the competition.
Xbox players with an Xbox Adaptive Controller currently have access to a system level console feature called Co-Pilot mode, which allows for two controllers to be registered as a single player. This allows for setups including using a regular Xbox controller in conjunction with an Xbox Adaptive Controller, such as using your feet to control the A and B buttons, while using a standard Xbox controller for analogue stick inputs for example.
The PS5 Access Controller will allow similar functionality when it launches in December. PlayStation has confirmed that players will be able to use up to two PS5 Access Controllers AND a DualSense controller, three devices, at once as a single user, allowing all three to be integrated into one player’s setup.
The Hori Flex does not offer this functionality, and neither does the Nintendo Switch on a system level, meaning that you cannot integrate Joy-Cons or a pro controller into a Hori Flex accessible setup.
Cross Compatible Input Devices
All three accessibility controllers that we’ve talked about in this video support the same 3.5mm input device standard, meaning that you should be able to share many of your external devices between all three controllers. If you purchase a Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit, for example, it should work across all three accessible setups.
Motion controls and touch controls
Xbox has never really included motion or touch controls on their consoles as standard. As such, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is able to emulate all controller functions of the consoles that it is designed for.
The PS5’s DualSense Controller features a touch screen area, as well as motion controls as standard. It does not appear that the PS5 Access Controller will be able to emulate these input methods, which may limit access to some functionality in certain games. Using a DualSense controller as part of your setup via Co-Pilot mode functionality may be workable for some players to navigate around this.
The Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons register motion controls, which are mandatory for certain party games such as Super Mario Party. The Hori Flex does not offer a way to emulate these controls, making certain games unplayable using the device. Lack of Co-Pilot mode support means that you cannot supplement with a Joy-Con as part of your setup just for these moments.
Button size and positioning
The Xbox Adaptive Controller by itself features two very large face buttons, and a larger than average D-Pad as its main inputs. They are well spread apart, and are large enough for accurate foot based input control.
The Hori Flex has almost all of the buttons needed to play games right out of the box, but they are small and cramped together, making them ill suited to things like foot based use.
The PS5 Access Controller seems to be walking the middle line between these two design approaches. The buttons on the device are not as large as the Xbox Adaptive Controller’s A and B button, nor as well laid out necessarily for necessarily using with your feet, but are considerably larger and better spread out than Hori’s device.
Looking at all three of these controllers, now that we know the price of the PS5 Access Controller and how it fits into this lineup, I think it’s clear that all three of these controllers fill a very different niche in the accessibility space.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller may have the fewest buttons included by default, but it’s an affordable base for players mainly looking for a hub to plug external peripherals into, or for players who would benefit from a couple of buttons that are large enough to control easily, that could incorporate into a setup with their existing controller. It’s £75 to get started, has enough input ports for a robust custom setup, and supports use alongside your existing hardware.
The Hori Flex is definitely the most pricey entry point proposition at £190, but does feature access to every input other than analogue sticks as standard, even if those buttons are the smallest offered of the bunch. It can’t emulate the system’s motion controls, or be used alongside your existing controllers, but it features enough ports to fully customise your setup with external devices, and is another solution primarily aimed at users who want a hub that they can use for specific custom peripherals.
The PS5 Access Controller occupies a very different space to the other two options available. At £80 it’s looking like a very good affordable entry point, offering a larger number of inputs than the Xbox Adaptive Controller, including large analogue stick options, right out of the box. £160 for a pair of these controllers is more affordable than the Hori Flex, and more affordable that an Xbox Adaptive Controller with peripherals added to bring it to similar full standard controller input functionality. It lacks touch and motion support, but those can be supplemented by keeping a DualSense as part of your setup.
PlayStation is definitely banking on a pair of PS5 Access Controllers without any external peripherals being enough for most disabled players’ needs, as shown by the device’s relatively small number of 3.5mm input ports. This is not designed primarily as a hub for external peripherals, and you’ll need to weigh up if eight external inputs is enough for you to make use of this controller, rather than one that is more designed towards hub functionality.
At the end of the day, all three of these accessibility controllers have their own pros and cons, and their own people that they’re ultimately going to appeal to.
As I said at the start, I’m not here to crown a winner today. With all three major consoles finally supporting accessibility controllers of their own, we’re all winners, as accessible gaming hardware continues to become a more common part of this industry.