The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was a critical and commercial success, garnering glowing reviews worldwide (including the one here) and making many Switch owners very happy in the process. All of that praise is fully deserved, but with several AAA developers and publishers slowly but steadily upping their game when it comes to including comprehensive accessibility options, we wondered how Nintendo’s latest hits would rank in these terms.
We’ve previously looked at various Nintendo games in terms of accessibility, and now it’s TOTK’s turn. To Hilliard’s…
Quite loudly, a group of people have declared that Tears of the Kingdom is nothing more than a glorified $70 DLC for Breath of the Wild. It was all irrational, based on the fear that the game wouldn’t live up to the hype (or the hatred that the game wouldn’t be like the 50th iteration of the Zelda template created by A Link to the Past). I knew they were funny, but I won’t lie and I wasn’t afraid that Tears of the Kingdom would do the same thing as its predecessor.
The big difference was that my fear was justified. I was afraid that Tears of the Kingdom would not have any accessibility features. Before I started, I said that if the game included something as simple as in-game button changes, I would dye my hair Nintendo’s signature red. Instead, I kept things quiet.
I was paralyzed (C5/C6 tetraplegic) about 14 years ago, so I understand how Nintendo feels about adding accessibility features to their games. They just won’t do it.
Why did the organization and its developers take this position? I can’t read minds like Professor X, so I don’t know the answer (although I’m going bald). Maybe a wheelchair user accidentally ran over Eiji Aonuma’s leg and this is his way of getting revenge? It must be something like this, because Aonuma knows it’s a problem. Read this exchange with Jason Schreier when asked why the button swap isn’t in Breath of the Wild. In a piece Kotaku ran in June 2019:
Aunuma: When it comes to button layouts, we put a lot of thought into how we do it because there’s a specific way we want players to feel. In a way, if we give players the freedom to make customizations to core tasks, I feel like we’re abdicating our responsibility as developers by handing everything over to the users. We think of something for everyone while playing the game, so we hope players will enjoy the experience as well. But we also understand that players want free customization.
shouting: Also, players with physical disabilities may not be able to play the way the developers intended.
Aunuma: This is certainly a very good point and we will think about it as we think about it.
Aonuma admits, but brushes it aside and does nothing. Aonuma-san, look at what your peers are doing. Sony, Microsoft, and every major developer does something like install a push-button door opener when you park your car in a handicapped drop-off zone.
After AbleGamer’s Steven Spohn’s criticism in 2021, I don’t want to read another press release with the company saying, “Nintendo strives to provide products and services that everyone can use.” Or be honest and say that you will continue to leave. keep the disabled out in the cold or join the accessibility revolution.
Corporations that add accessibility features to their products, by the way, don’t just do it out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it for good PR and to tap into an underserved market.
My Experience Playing Kingdom Tears
All that said, I can still play Tears of the Kingdom relatively well. I can’t move my fingers, but when I put my pro controller on my leg, I can fiddle the joysticks with my palms and press the face buttons with my right thumb very easily.
Sometimes the controller starts drifting, but the game lets you pause whenever you want so I can readjust as much as needed. The shoulder buttons are pressed with my knuckles, but this requires taking my left hand off the joystick and my right hand off the face buttons. This means I won’t be able to lock on to any enemies unless Link is immobilized. Obviously, this isn’t ideal, so my top priority was to find a solution while tweaking the controls in the Switch settings. This is the setup I created:
By moving ‘ZL’ to ‘A’, I can lock onto the enemy and still move Link. This move also benefits me because I can press two face buttons at the same time. This means I can still both attack and dodge jumps. Hitting ‘Y’ (attack) while holding ‘A’ is a struggle, so I moved it to ‘B’. I rarely feel the need to aim when using a bow, so switching it from ‘ZR’ to ‘Y’ works pretty well.
Moving ‘A’ and ‘B’ to the left and right bumpers respectively is weird and the main reason I hit the wrong button, but changing their position isn’t without its merits. Parrying the shield with ‘L’ isn’t a problem since Link doesn’t need to move to do it and I was already used to using ‘R’ to sprint thanks to playing Dragon Quest XI (the best RPG on Switch). feedback). The only thing is to press ‘L’ to grab things while moving Link. If I have to do that, like trying to catch a bug, I reach out with my right hand so I don’t have to take my left hand off the joystick.
The only thing I can’t ease myself into is using the D-pad. I can still change weapons and shields by going into the menu, but pressing up is the only way to combine items with an arrow. As I was writing this though, I realized it was easier for me to press down, so I changed it to down and it made the experience even better.
The control panel is also the only way to rotate objects when using the Ultrahand. I know some people find this process difficult, but imagine trying to do this when you can’t move your fingers. This is just bad. I can’t grip the control panel very well with my left thumb, so I use the edge of my palm. My hand is a bit big for this, so I get a lot of random diagonal turns. I found it easier to turn the objects around a bit, drop them, finish as I hoped, and repeat until I got it right. I backed up every Hudson sign and completed every shrine I came across, so this strategy has worked well so far.
My experience has not been disappointing, but with the setup I’ve come up with, there’s more of a downfall. I die all the time, at least five times as often as I did in Breath of the Wild, but the game is forgiving with its almost constant autosave. If you bite off more than you can chew on an outpost full of bokoblins, or if your Ultrahand techniques fail spectacularly, little if any progress is lost.
Accessibility Feature Recommendations
Before I end this piece, I want to give my accessibility recommendations to developers. The first two are extremely obvious.
Color Blind mode and in-game button replacement
Yes, both can be done in the Switch’s system settings, but there’s no reason not to include them in the Tears of the Kingdom in-game settings. I can already hear the keyboards clicking, which is a waste of time, but it’s not especially for changing keys.
One of the reasons is the system-level button replacement, which is only reliably compatible with Nintendo’s official controllers. I bought a 3rd party pro controller after my official controller started slipping, but I use the old scratched Pro more often because I need to access my custom configs.
The second reason is that the game you are playing is not adapting its instructions to your configurations. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on remaps for Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Realm, but I’ve always hit the wrong button. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tapped ‘R’ to go right in games’ menus, only to have ‘B’ mapped to ‘R’ to close it. Most of the time it’s harmless, but I couldn’t ignore the flashing command telling me to hit ‘Y’ when resetting the attack move because I missed the frantic rushes.
My next recommendation is something that looks like sticky keys – AKA, the one that works on your computer that you accidentally trigger by hitting the shift key too many times. This toggle option should be available to target enemies, change weapons/shields/arrow combos, and rotate objects when using Ultrahand.
How it works: You tap a button to activate their function, and they stay active until you tap the button again. Very simple. All 3D Zeldas before Skyward Sword had a switch option like this to target enemies, but it was removed for no apparent reason. I played all these games without needing to change the controls thanks to this option. I know I would have done the same if this option had been included in Tears of the Kingdom or Breath of the Wild.
Ultra Manual Manipulation with optional Left Stick
My last tip doesn’t really have anything to do with accessibility; it’s just common sense. There’s no reason why you can’t use the left joystick to rotate an object when using the Ultrahand. There’s no reason to move Link while the user is rotating the object (plus, using the joystick and D-pad at the same time would require awkward finger placement and grip), so why are we limited to using the D-pad? I do not understand.
None of these tricks will break the game and can easily be added with a patch. There is no excuse for Nintendo not to add these or any other accessibility options to Tears of the Kingdom.
Tears of the Kingdom does the impossible, it improves on its predecessor – considered by many to be the best game of all time – in every way… except making the game a more accessible experience. In an age where this has rightfully become commonplace, it doesn’t have a single accessibility option. Yes, I personally was able to enjoy the game thanks to the inclusion of controller swapping in the Switch’s system settings, but it’s far from a great solution and it won’t benefit others as much as it does me.
Nintendo can and should patch accessibility options into the game. But will it? History shows no. I used to think that making Nintendo games accessible was a no-brainer, but that’s not true. The truth may be that our suggestions and requests have been noted, but at this point the developers are actively choosing to exclude disabled players. Tears of the Kingdom is still the most obvious example.