Nintendo and Accessibility

Nintendo's Mario looking pensively at a Game Accessibility symbol.

Nintendo have recently been making waves in the fields of game accessibility. Some very positive and some causing consternation. I wanted this post to focus on some of the very positive things Nintendo have been involved in (over decades) to improve the accessibility of their games to disabled people.

For balance I will close with five items I'd love for Nintendo to address to make things much better for many disabled players struggling with their games in 2017. To the good stuff...

Box icons detailing (a little) accessibility info: Boxed Wii games indicate compatible Nintendo controllers with each game. Simply presented info like this can help some players work out if they'll be able to play the game. With Wii Mario Kart, for instance, if they could manage most Gamecube games, but really struggled with the Wii remote, the picture below gives confidence that they should be fine.

Wii indictation of game controllers.

Demo Play: Seen in Wii New Super Mario Bros. If part of the game gets too tough, activating this mode will see the game take over and play automatically. Once demo-play has seen you through the tough bit you were stuck on you can deactivate it and resume manual play. Wonderful (patented) idea, that I don't recall seeing elsewhere.

Easy Mode: Super Mario Run featured one-handed play, and a one-handed tap to play mechanic for Nintendo's first phone game. Upon requests from users struggling with the difficulty, a much appreciated "Easy Mode" was added. All of this, alongside iOS accessibility features, made the game possible to complete using a single head switch (see pictures below). Wonderful stuff.

Super Mario Run, Easy Mode added to improve accessibility.

Colin McDonnell completed Super Mario Run using a single head switch.

DS XL and Nintendo Switch: The enlarged XL version of the DS offered a slightly bigger screen and bigger buttons. As I understand, this was to take into account some elderly players who complained that the standard DS was too difficult to use. The Nintendo Switch expanded upon this by allowing for the games to be played on as big a screen as needed.

Smart Steering and Auto Accelerate: Two fantastic driving assist options in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. These enable easier driving for all. This includes visually impaired players struggling to see tight corners and those struggling with the game's difficulty in general. With these modes one handed and even one button play becomes a possibility. This feature can also be seen in Intepid's Drivey from 2005 and partially in SEGA's Intelligent Braking System seen in F355 Ferrari Challenge. Who cares who did it first though, when it's so massively helpful.

Sound Voyager: One of the earliest console/handheld games that could be played without the need for looking at the screen. Released in 2006 via the Nintendo Club. I would love to see some more audio games make their way to consoles.

Support for Alternative Controllers: So important in removing physical and some cognitive barriers to access. I'll be up front. This remains a big problem on all Nintendo machines (I'll explain why later). However, across the decades until 2015 Nintendo have actively done more than any other games console manufacturer to support alternative access.

In 1987 a team of Nintendo America employees created the NES Hands Free controller. This was designed for paralysed players able to use their head with a chin controlled joystick, and sip-puff for the four buttons of a NES handset. If you discount the Atari Kids controller, this was the first assistive technology games controller manufactured by a big games company aimed at disabled gamers.

Around the SNES era there's this lovely anecdote of Nintendo of America helping a young player who'd been in an accident needing a one handed controller.

In 2000, after some years of technical support, Nintendo gave their seal of approval to the Pathways Development Group, Team Xtreme range of assistive technology interface boxes. These enabled people to use stock assistive technology switches and (D9 style) joysticks on the NES, SNES and N64.

NES HANDS-FREE CONTROLLER: A new way to get more kids in on the video game challenge.


In 2006 the Wii brought some simpler methods of play to the fore. One handed gamers found a games machine they could typically use out of the box. Many new people found the method of bowling intuitive and fun in Wii Sports who struggled with the complexity of a Dual Shock like controller. Undoubtedly things were opened up for many more with this design, and it was a massive success.

However, not all players could manage swooshing an arm about, nor precise manipulation of the Wii remote. Perhaps as a concession to this (as well as wanting to please more conventional players), Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros Brawl both allowed for four methods of control, including a GameCube controller. As a side note, EA Sports "Family Play" play option in 2008 Wii Madden, FIFA and NBA Live offered assist modes and simpler controller requirements. If only more games offered this combined versatility, what a difference it would make.

Post N64 (pre Switch), for those unable to use Nintendo branded controllers on the Wii and Wii-U, a small number of 3rd party controller adapters enabled far greater options. Pictured second below is a photo of accessible gaming advocate Colin McDonnell, able to navigate the menu systems (Wii-U only) and race using a single head mounted switch and a single sound activated control (via a Titan One connected PC).

EA Madden NFL 08 Wii: Family Play accessible gaming option.

Colin McDonnell using a single head switch to navigate menus and play Wii-U Mario Kart 8.

Symbolic Menu Systems: Hugely beneficial to a range of people struggling with text alone and I would say was another reason for the huge success of the Wii. The Wii-U improved upon this by allowing for navigation using the d-pad, which can also be of benefit to completely blind players (with a help sheet read from a computer) and of course those unable to use motion controls.

Accessibility Support: A recent on-line accessibility support ticket system offers a fairly direct route through to Nintendo. They also publish yearly upon some of their efforts around Corporate Social Responsibility and Accessibility (also see this message from Mr Shibata). From this I was reminded of their long standing support of the fantastic Starlight Fun Centre project. This gets Nintendo hardware and games to children in hospitals around the world who might very well need a distraction from what is keeping them there. It has been running since 1990 I believe.

Starlight fun centre.

Five accessibility barriers that I feel Nintendo would do well to solve.....

1. Motion control barriers: Some players cannot, and will never be able to, swoosh their arms around and manipulate a controller in six degrees of freedom.

2. A lack of alternative controller options: Point 1 above, a lack of reconfiguration options and the lack of a Titan type adapter leaves the Nintendo Switch far behind the competition. A solution would be to encourage developers to include alternative control schemes that can solve these issues (as with Wii Mario Kart) and in parallel to support someone like Jefferson Kopee to make a universal controller adapter. Especially so one that will bridge PC controls to a Nintendo Switch.

3. Lack of accessibility information: Here Nintendo are top of the competition but it could still be so much more inclusive and helpful.

4. Forgetting past accessibility needs and successes: Nintendo have much to be proud of in accessible game design. Ease of access things like symbolic menu systems carry through from system to system. But in games will this be the case for the likes of Easy Mode, Demo Mode and Steering assists? These should not be novelties, but be duplicated, developed and encouraged.

5. A lack of accessibility options in general: Something so clearly missed between the Nintendo Switch and rival game consoles is the lack of in-built accessibility options. Things you can choose to use or not depending on the broad needs of a gaming audience. It would be wonderful to see Nintendo address this. Looking at their past history, I think people should be hopeful and patient.

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Catching up with Ellie

Ellie with her light-weight Wii remote, on long term loan from Accessible Gaming charity, SpecialEffect.

It was so nice to catch up with Ellie and family earlier this month. She uses a controller I modified for her a while back for SpecialEffect. Great to see it still working, and to hear from her what a difference it made. There's a video interview to follow with Ellie and her Mum later, for which they both did a top job.


Hands Up!

Hands Up! is a ten episode mini-series broadcast by Channel 4 in 1990 to teach British Sign Language. It uses Teletext standard graphics and I have to say, I think it does a brilliant job.

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Console Switch Interface Deluxe (C-SID)

In this month's Disability Magazine (due out 17th of February 2012) there's a feature of computer based assistive technology. I'm told my C-SID will be getting a slot too, so if so, thank you! Not sure if it will make the interview, but if ever anyone finds a way to make these simpler, cheaper but just as versatile, I'll honestly be delighted!

The video above is of Enable Ireland's C-SID. Very tidy I have to say. A few more C-SID videos can be viewed in the main-post below.

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Although the iPad is currently a poor platform for switch access until any kind of standard is adopted, the iPad itself can be an excellent switch itself when paired to a Switchamajig so it seems. The video above pretty much explains it all. Very nice!

I'd love to see something like this stretching out in versatility to give greater access to games consoles, or at least allowing for a broader range of input methods beyond the touch screen.

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Double Flexzi

MERU Double Flexzi mounting system for access.

Just seen that MERU's brand-new Double Flexzi / Flexzi 2 are available on eBay UK. Available in Hot Pink, Electric Green or Midnight Black in three different sizes, with velcro or clamp base. They look like a very nice solution for heavier items. The eBay description says from £53, but the but-it-now price is £67.60.

Find other mounting solutions at the Accessible Gaming Shop.


DIY Switch Access to Infrared Devices

Doro EasyHandle 321rc remote control adapted by OneSwitch for switch access.

Have just added a DIY guide for switch adapting the Doro EasyHandle 321rc. This device allows you to clone specific infrared signals from the likes of TV remote controls, and assign them to a switch.

There's only room in this remote for two-switch sockets, but by rehousing the guts of it you can give access to all of the available buttons (although six sockets is about the limit for reliable use I'm guessing).

So what can you do with it? Some quick ideas are: To give switch control over some of the Robosapien line of toys, control a train-set (such as the LEGO City Passenger Train - Set No 7938) and of course control many different types of TV and music remotes.

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Switch Accessible RC Tumbler Car

The video above is of one of my switch adapted Hitari Tumblers available in the OneSwitch shop. One switch to spin, and the other to go forwards. To my knowledge these are the most powerful radio controlled cars for use with accessibility switches.

In the spirit of balance and probably my bad business sense, here are some alternatives.

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Not one to blow my own trumpet, but...

We Are The Champions.

Only joshing, but I'm delighted to be awarded one of the top spots again at's yearly Top Websites for Accessible Gaming awards. Huge thanks to and to all the shoulders OneSwitch stands upon.

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Gone Accessible Fishing

Captain Birdseye.

I'm not a fan of fishing even when made more accessible as I've said before on this blog, but I can't help but be impressed by two new-to-me automated casting rods found on YouTube.

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Switch Dog Ball Launcher

Switch adapted baseball pitching machine used to launch a ball to exercise a dog.

Over at SpecialEffect I recently supported Sophie Patmore's family to trace a ball launching machine so that she could play with their dog. Her Dad knocked up the switch adaptation and all has worked out well.

If you search eBay, Amazon or Yahoo Auctions Japan these "MLB Pitching Machines" are fairly easy to find. Adaptation looks pretty straight forward too. An alternative is demonstrated by the Utah Centre for Assistive Technology with their adapted "GoDogGo!" unit.

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LP Accessible Technologies

LP Accessible Technologies Accessible Controller for Xbox 360.

It's not often that I discover a new business creating accessible game controllers. LP Accessible Technologies is such a thing. Looks like early days though as they only seem to have prototype controllers.

Take a look at their YouTube video channel for a better look at their wireless Xbox 360 Assistive Technology controller.

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Sip Puff Carnage

Liberator Sip-Puff accessible rifle shooting system.

Via Liberty Worx LCC: "The Spirit of America is alive and well in the hearts and souls of great Americans who care about their fellow man. The Spirit BloodBrothers at Liberty Worx LLC have created THE LIBERATOR, the ultimate chariot to the heavens for those with serious physical disabilities to celebrate their families' outdoor lifestyle with no restrictions."

What tosh! I'm no fan of guns, unless attached to a SEGA cabinet for shooting zombies or the type full of water. Liberty Worx seem to think it a good idea for disabled people to kill animals for fun with accessible guns and cross-bows. Can't say I agree. Their scan and select aiming system is quite impressive though. I was much more impressed by Hannable Haims' YouTube video of sip/puff pistol target shooting using parts from a 1960s car. Both systems look straight forward to make accessible using standard switches.

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