The video games of 2021 that pushed accessibility further
Every year inclusive gaming becomes a priority for studios, we see incredible and creative innovations pushing what is possible in accessible gaming. While 2021 got off to a lackluster start in this regard, the industry more than made up for this disappointment with a slew of accessible releases throughout the year. The following seven games have helped set a new standard in accessible gaming.
Horror Tales: Wine
We’ve seen countless indie games implement various accessibility features over the past few years. With Horror Tales: Wine, developer Carlos Coronado built on its already excellent record with accessibility features, going so far as to mention them in the official description of the game in the window.
Where this game excels is in visibility improvements. The game offers multiple text size choices, eight visual styles for captions (with examples of each displayed in the menu), and my favorite, plenty of styles for object outlines and crosshairs. These styles range from standard single line or cross stitch to bold bold lines. Horror Tales: Wine is a true rarity as a horror game designed with visual accessibility in mind.
Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart
Insomniac is no stranger to creating accessible games – Marvel’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Miles Morales Both were accessibility leaders when they were released, with features like customizable caption text size, contrast options, high visibility Spider-Sense, and full controller remapping. This year, Insomniac has pushed the boundaries even further with Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, making it one of the more accessible releases of 2021.
Ratchet and Clank introduced some incredibly beneficial options: High Contrast Mode (similar to that of Spider-Man: Miles Morales) and streamlined controls allow you to fully play the game with the D-pad, face buttons, and R2. Rift apart also implements a “simplified route” feature that links all routes to the circle button. Rift apartThe most notable feature of, however, is gameplay speed, which allows players to play mostly in slow motion, giving them more time to react and make decisions in combat and while exploring the world.
The Valley: Shadow of the Crown
The Valley: Shadow of the Crown is a fresh take on the RPG genre of audio games, and it targets AAA production values in its sound design and voice acting. Designed to be fully playable – and even more than that, pleasant – for blind players, the valley relies entirely on two senses: hearing and touch. To play successfully, players must listen to the most subtle sound signals, which indicate how an enemy is about to attack them. Crossing the world is also all about sound: the only way players can tell they’ve gone wrong and need to reorient themselves is to listen to the heroine’s nuanced comments. Although these are common principles in audio games, the valley developer Falling Squirrel has managed to bring them to a wider audience. (The game received a nomination for Innovation in Accessibility at the Game Awards this year.)
Audio-only experiences can be difficult for some sighted players due to the lack of visual anchors, but the valley implements tiny orbs of light floating around the screen. These tell sighted players whether they are inside or outside, and whether it is day or night. While the story is as gripping and engaging as any RPG, the valley is particularly difficult in the way it flips the script on sighted players, removing sight from the equation, and therefore, the main sense that many of us have relied on to be “good” at games. The result is a brilliant RPG for modern consoles that also happens to be fully playable for blind people.
Chicory: a colorful tale
Chicory: a colorful tale revolves around the painting of a world that has been stripped of its color. And while it may seem inaccessible to color blind players, developer Greg Lobanov designed Chicory be as inclusive as possible. It features a robust set of standard accessibility features – including text readability and text effect options – but it also introduced new accessibility considerations.
Eye strain settings make the pristine white world in its colorless state much more bearable, and the paint mechanic is tied to both the PlayStation 5’s DualSense touchpad. and right stick, making painting a lot more accessible than it would be with a touchpad-only mechanic. Chicory Also offers many difficulty, cognitive and emotional accessibility options. Players can toggle the option to skip boss fights, determine how many hits the character can take, and toggle content warnings when topics like depression approach the storyline. The content disclaimers were inspired by work done on Ikenfell, a great example of how developers learn from each other and build on their accessibility success stories.
Life is Strange: True Colors
The Life is Strange series is known for telling emotional stories through fast-paced events. And rapid events are known to be largely inaccessible. But with the release of Life is Strange: True Colors, developer Deck Nine addressed this huge hurdle by introducing both skippable QTEs and an adjustable timer for important dialogue choices.
By combining these options with new features like volume and brightness warnings, configurable text layout, toggle buttons, and an indication when players make a narrative change choice, Square Enix has delivered the game Life is Strange. the most accessible to date.
Forza Horizon 5
Forza Horizon 5 includes a visually stunning world that is also exciting for many players to explore. But with its latest release, Playground Games has also delivered the most inclusive and accessible game in the open world racing series to date.
In addition to allowing players to create avatars with prosthetic limbs, Forza Horizon 5 too offers features such as configurable game speed for offline play, brake and steering aids, and several subtitle options. Above all, Forza Horizon 5 Also allows players to progress through the story even if they fail the often difficult story-based challenges. With these additions, Forza Horizon 5 is the first Horizon game where many disabled players can compete with their non-disabled peers.
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was the surprise wellness game of the year. Yes, the narrative is light, funny, and well-written, but the accessibility of the game makes many players with disabilities feel good while playing it. guardians of the galaxy, in some cases adopted an inclusive design rather than what can often look like the Band-Aid version of accessibility settings. Chief among them is the fact that Star Lord’s visor mode doubles as a high contrast mode, improving visual accessibility in a fundamental rather than additive way.
guardians of the galaxy is also the first modern game to feature closed captions that match the quality of those found in movies and TV shows. Deaf or hard of hearing gamers can be further immersed in the gaming world with “heard captions”, resizable captions and closed captions. The game also offers cognitive accessibility options, such as sound focus mode, which reduces all non-essential sounds. It also allows players to extend the goal reminder timer and keep the goal visible for longer. guardians of the galaxy has set a new bar in the industry for accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing and has shown what is possible with inclusive design ideas applied to video games.
Courtney Craven is the Founder and Director of Can i play this, where they lead workshops and write reviews and articles focusing on accessibility. They also do accessibility consulting in the gaming industry and higher education and they have published their first fictional novel in 2021.