After previewing the Wii U a couple of weeks ago, it became clear that there was hope for the future of Nintendo game accessibility. But this is an understatement. After some extended hands-on time with the Nintendo Wii U using multiple games, it’s clear that this system may just be the most accessible console on the market today.
This system takes the accessible features of its competitors and improves on them. Sound will never be an issue in using the Wii U hardware, which will make the game accessible for players with hearing disabilities. At no point in using the system is there anything that is communicated only through sound. Whether it’s a note popping up on the screen from another player playing the same game or a system update, everything is communicated both by sounds and visually. The final feature that makes the Wii U so accessible for players with hearing disabilities is the fact that you have the choice of two sound outputs. Sound can come either through the TV, the tablet, or both, which means that when using the Wii U tablet, players with hearing disabilities will have the benefit of having a sound source much closer to them then their TVs.
Similarly, the Wii U’s operating system features a white and grey color scheme which gives the system high visual contrast. And the fact that the information is communicated both on the tablet and on the TV screen means that players with sight disabilities won’t have to sit on top of their TVs to see what’s going on. Players can even hit a button on the tablet that switches the displays between TV and tablet. But since both displays communicate most of the same information, this should not be necessary. The tablet itself features a large enough screen to be more legible than any handheld on the market, which means that whether it’s navigating the system or playing a game, text that appears on the Wii U’s tablet controller should be easy to read. The buttons on the tablet controller also benefit from high contrast since they seem to be larger and better labeled than the buttons on the controllers of competitors’ systems. And while the buttons for home and TV control are somewhat smaller than is convenient, these are the only two buttons that suffer from this problem, and the rest of the tablet seems to be very accessible for those with sight disabilities.
Lastly, the Wii U seems to have none of the barriers to fine motor that other systems have. The buttons are large, which means they don’t require much precision to operate. The triggers are perpendicular to the surface of the tablet, meaning that it is much easier to rest one’s fingers on them when playing a game and looking at the tablet at the same time. The sticks are so comfortably located that it was easy for me, even given my limited fine motor control, to use both sticks in tandem and manipulate the trigger and other buttons on the tablet at the same time. But the real point at which the Wii U shines is in the fact that the controller is meant to be played sitting in a fixed position. The deluxe edition comes with a charging cradle for the unit and a stand so that players don’t have to try and hold the tablet and play the game at the same time. And even if the tablet is on its back, it doesn’t lay completely flat, but sits at an angle, which makes it easy to see the controller screen while it is lying down like this.
On the whole, the Wii U is very impressive from the standpoint of accessibility. However the real test for game accessibility will be how developers choose to implement its various features.