The highly anticipated Animal Crossing: New Horizons made its long-awaited debut finally, boasting updated graphics and the same charm that has kept fans like myself coming back for nearly 2 decades.
First off, a bit about myself and how I use my Nintendo Switch.
My name is Dominic Donegan and I was born legally blind, with vision of about 20/300 in my left eye, and 20/400 in my right. I can see color, and in my everyday life I can usually get by with a combination of some type of magnifier (or just being allowed to look really closely at things). I have been a gamer my entire life, with one of my first consoles being a Nintendo.
As Switch owners already know, the Nintendo Switch allows players to seamlessly switch between portable play and docked play that makes use of a TV. I use my Switch in docked mode most of the time, using portable mode only for games I have had a chance to acquaint myself with in docked mode first. Thankfully, the screen on the Nintendo Switch is larger than that of previously released portable consoles, making it slightly easier to see. However, font size is a mixed bag and often depends on the developer, which is one reason I learn the ropes in docked mode before switching to portable.
Now, onto my review.
Full disclosure: Having played previous entries in the series, I was especially excited about the release of New Horizons. I was first introduced to the series via my Nintendo DS, a handheld portable gaming system that some of you may remember. Back then, as accessibility in games was virtually unheard of, low-vision players like myself would hold the DS close to our faces and play until our eyes ached.
Now it’s 2020, and I was eager to see what advances had been made as far as accessibility for the series.
The short answer? Not many. The long answer? Well, you’ll just have to continue reading for that.
The first thing I noticed about Animal Crossing: New Horizons was the large font size. As far as accessibility goes, this was a great improvement not only for the series, but for Nintendo Switch games in general, as there has been a sustained outcry from the community for larger text in games. I cannot express just how much this improvement has helped reduce my eye strain when playing both in docked and portable modes. So much in fact, that it almost makes up for the complete lack of other customizable settings in the game.
Which brings me to the next thing I noticed when playing the game: a complete lack of UI customization options (or settings in general).
While I applaud Nintendo for listening to the fans and implementing a larger font size, for those who encounter other issues when attempting to play the game, there are practically no changes that can be made. Settings like increased contrast, increased UI size, magnification, etc. are sadly absent. In fact, aside from a few options related to how the game is saved and one option related to linking the game to an online service, there are literally no other options to set.
As fans of the series already know, there are a few ways to spend one’s time when playing the game. The order in which activities are done and the amount of time spent on each is entirely up to the player. Since no customization features are offered for any of the activities in the game, I have included some screenshots to give players an idea of what to expect, in the hopes that the information will help them decide for themselves if the game will be playable for them.
First, we have the inventory screen. It is here that you will manage all the (sometimes literal) fruits of your labor, and where you will likely spend a large portion of your time in-game.
As you can see from the picture, while the menu is thankfully devoid of text, some players may find the icons and numbers a bit small or hard to read. Another thing that could present an issue for those who rely on high-contrast settings, is in-game currency display, which is made up of white numbers on a light brown background. There are also potential contrast issues with the button explanation text in the lower-right corner, but once you memorize the controls you won’t need to spend much time looking at that anyway.
Next, we have the wardrobe screen.
I was actually impressed with this menu. While the filter text is small and the icons up top are extremely low contrast, the clothes themselves are actually quite large and easy to see – and as with the inventory, once you learn the controls you won’t need to read the filter text or button explanations anymore, which makes the whole process a lot easier.
My personal favorite thing to do in the game is interacting with my fellow villagers.
When speaking with someone, the game zooms in to give us a good look. This is also an area of the game where that large font size really shines, so I personally did not encounter issues here – but as with various other parts of the game, the low contrast could be an issue.
The game has also had a quest system introduced, where the player is encouraged to carry out specific activities for certain rewards. The UI for this system consists of large icons paired with simple explanations of what needs to be done to obtain the reward. Personally, I applaud Nintendo for not giving us lengthy text descriptions here and handling this through the use of large icons.
Everything else is as it was in previous games. Possible activities players may engage in include fishing, chopping down trees, bug-catching, gardening, crafting, decorating your room, and more.
Certain activities may be performed at one’s own pace and do not require quick reactions or strict coordination. Others, like bug-catching, rely on the player’s ability to chase down a bug and press A at the correct time.
As an interesting side note, there are a few parts of the game like fishing or star collecting that are entirely sound-based. While you do need to be able to see the screen to reach a lake or river where fishing is possible, the mechanics for the activities themselves may be carried out without being able to see the screen. For example, once you have approached the river where the shadow of a fish is visible, you cast your line. At that point, you will hear either a big splash or a little splash. If you hear a little splash, do nothing. If you hear a big splash, press the A button immediately to reel in the fish.
While I am in no way claiming that this game is accessible enough to be played without being able to see the screen, Nintendo has a legitimately fun mechanic here that does not require sight to enjoy, and I would love to see them expand upon it in the future somehow.
I thoroughly enjoy Animal Crossing, and this latest entry in the series offers all the things I need to continue to scratch that itch. While some accessibility improvements have been made, meaningful customization options are still lacking and some players who prefer to use high-contrast display settings may run into difficulty. That said, if you were able to play previous entries in the series as a low-vision player, you will likely be able to play this one and have an easier time of it overall.
Dominic is a lifelong gamer who has been legally blind since birth. His interest in games eventually led him to Japan, where he lived for over a decade. During that time, Dominic further explored his interest in games and discovered his passion for game accessibility. He has since returned to his home state of California, where he continues to raise awareness of the benefits of accessibility in the game industry and beyond.