There is nothing more relaxing than completing mundane tasks in Animal Crossing. The repetitive nature of fishing, chopping down trees and digging up fossils is infinitely soothing, especially during long periods of government mandated self-isolating. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the Switch’s first iteration of the beloved franchise, and while I adore scavenging for materials and building my community, New Horizons unfortunately proves that the physically disabled are rarely able to enjoy a barrier-free day.
Developed by Nintendo, New Horizons tasks players with establishing your Villager’s roots on an uninhabited island. Animal Crossing is unique in the sense that there is no true objective. Besides paying off your egregious home loan to the physical manifestation of capitalism, otherwise known as Tom Nook, players can spend their days crafting tools, collecting materials or perfecting their interior design skills. There is no wrong way to play, and that is the ultimate appeal of New Horizons.
With that in mind, New Horizons’ physical accessibility features are remarkably effective. Without an official goal, disabled players need not worry about common inaccessible additions that regularly plague modern titles. Yet, this game is by no means perfect.
For starters, New Horizons lacks customizable controls. While most actions are completed by pressing the face buttons on the joy-cons, physically disabled players with limited mobility may struggle to activate their Nook Phone, mapped to ‘ZL.’ The Nook Phone contains menus for players to check their creature encyclopedia, create their own patterns and designs and more importantly, redeem Nook Miles. Nook Miles act as a second currency, allowing Villagers to purchase necessary upgrades, as well as collect unique furniture and clothes. During extensive play sessions, I regularly required the assistance of an able-bodied individual to examine my Nook Phone. Not only do these interruptions break my immersion, but if I am unable to find assistance, I cannot collect important upgrades.
To coincide with the struggles of pressing ‘ZL,’ New Horizons hides an incredible accessibility feature behind the pesky Phone. For a relatively small fee of 800 Nook Miles, Villagers can unlock the Tool Ring, an item that allows players to quickly equip a specific tool. Without the Ring, players must continuously press left or right on the d-pad to locate each item. Not only is this incredibly exhausting for physically disabled individuals, it also creates stressful situations when floating presents or rare insects appear. If players are unable to capture the fleeting objects, they may miss expensive or interesting collectibles.
Unfortunately, the above examples pale in comparison to New Horizons’ biggest accessibility blunder – continuous button mashing. Most of the playthroughs consist of utilizing ‘A’ or ‘Y,’ two necessary buttons which allow players to complete varying actions. While holding a specific button is relatively limited (only used when repositioning furniture), players must regularly use ‘A’ or ‘Y.’ The biggest offense regarding this action occurs in the form of weeding your island. At the start of each new game, players are transported to an uninhabited island, filled with unique fish, bugs, fruit and a plethora of weeds. While it’s certainly plausible to ignore the pesky grass, weeds are aesthetically unappealing, especially when players begin crafting and customizing additions. With hundreds of weeds, players are forced to press ‘Y’ to pluck each plant. After mere minutes of attempting this action myself, I became too exhausted to even continue performing simple tasks. The only solution I’ve discovered is inviting friends to your island via online play. Thankfully, my friend didn’t mind performing the mind-numbing task of being my gardener, taking precious fossils as a form of payment. If physically disabled players are unable to partake in online activities, weeding will prove to be one of the most exhausting tasks for first-time homeowners.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is truly a work of art. While its overall accessibility is limited, the simplistic gameplay leaves little in the form of physical barriers. Remember, disabled people must overcome a variety of obstacles in their everyday lives. But that doesn’t mean that every day can’t be enjoyable.
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