Bug Fables is an RPG in the style of Paper Mario. In fact, if you squint, you might mistake it for the old school Paper Mario games. It has definitely done a good job of appealing to Paper Mario fans, but does it do a good job when it comes to accessibility?
I’m reviewing Bug Fables on the Nintendo Switch. It is also available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
About me and my play style: I have albinism. My visual acuity fluctuates between 20/100 and 20/500 depending on if I’m wearing contacts and how tired I am. I have color vision, but no depth perception. I also deal with eye strain if I have to focus too precisely for too long.
Visual Characteristics 8/10
(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)
The main thing to discuss with Bug Fables, like with Paper Mario games, is the bold outlines that hug characters, props, and other world elements. Bug Fables uses an eerily similar art style, so the outlines are lovely and chunky. These outlines can even be customized in the settings menu, allowing you to make the outlines thinner on the objects you can interact with, which can help distinguish them. I prefer to keep all the outlines bold so they’re easier to see.
The lighting is good for the most part, though the brightness isn’t adjustable. Some parts of the game are a little darker, so you may need to make sure you’re in an environment where that won’t overpower the darker screen. Tracking is generally pretty simple as the characters move fairly slowly, and the screen follows the characters very well. The paper aesthetic of the characters can make it a little difficult to see which direction they’re facing, but that’s part of a larger depth perception issue that I’ll address separately.
Clutter is generally minimal, and the bold outlines help keep clutter from being a big issue. The only other thing I’ll mention is that during battles, when enemies attack, the members of your party who are not being attacked become partially see-through. This effect may be difficult to notice, and I would have liked to have seen an option to adjust this effect. For example, increasing the transparency, or perhaps temporarily removing unaffected party members entirely, or having a big arrow pointing to the character being attacked.
Accessibility Features 6/10
There are a fair number of options, even if it’s not as extensive as some AAA games. You can independently control the music volume, sound effects volume, and dialogue volume (note that the dialogue is not voice acted; there are simply some sounds to indicate speech). The sounds that indicate speech are at different tones for each character, which gives a nice audio cue to indicate which character is speaking.
There is also a setting to make button-mashing inputs use sequential button presses, the aforementioned setting to control the thickness of outlines, and options to customize stick sensitivity. Additionally, at the beginning of the game, you are given a Medal that equips Hard Mode. To play at an easier difficulty, you simply need to leave the game as-is and not equip the Hard Mode.
The biggest thing that I want in the game is a screen reader. There is a LOT of reading required for the game, and it can be very taxing. I understand that voice acting probably didn’t fit in the budget, and it wasn’t in the style of the game. However, a simple screen reader with an auto-generated voice would make the game SO much better.
Assist Modes 3/10
There really isn’t an assist mode, though later in the game, there is a Medal that can be equipped to automatically repel low-level enemies. There are also a few ways to fast-travel later in the game, though I don’t necessarily find them adequate.
Things that I would like to see in an assist mode would be assistance in navigation. There is no map that I could find, and the individual areas are fairly small, so it can be difficult to remember how different areas connect. I also would have liked some sort of option to assist with platforming. It can be surprisingly difficult because of depth perception and timing issues, and if you get stuck, it essentially means you can’t progress with the game.
An assist mode could also allow you to select which mechanics you use to attack. Some of the mechanics are more difficult visually than others. Some can be done with no vision at all because there are sound indicators, but there are no options to change the mechanic for a certain attack.
Something else the game desperately needs is hints. The game has tons of secrets to find, but if you struggle with navigation and platforming, you won’t find these secrets. You might miss out on optional objectives…or you might get stuck entirely and have your experience abruptly end. I wasn’t able to complete the game because I couldn’t figure out how to progress through a stage. I’m sure I just needed some collectibles that were behind platforming sections that were too difficult for me.
This isn’t a platforming game, though. This is an RPG. Even in platforming games, there are usually options to skip a level if you fail enough times. Not so, with Bug Fables. If you get stuck, there are no hints and no options to skip a platforming section.
Non Visual Cues 6/10
I struggle with how to score this category because there are non-visual cues, but because of the lack of assist and accessibility options, they don’t help you too much by themselves. There are certain attack mechanisms that have excellent audio cues, to the point that you don’t need any vision at all to be successful. The different sounds for the different characters are also a very handy aid to follow the dialogue. Rumble could be used to much greater effect to help with platforming sections, enemy detection, and blocking enemy attacks.
Decent Fonts 7.5/10
The font is clearer than the Paper Mario font that it’s mimicking. The fonts are very bold and generally quite large. It would have been nice to select a very plain font, because the font is still stylized, but it’s definitely an improvement over Paper Mario’s font.
Necessity of Text 0/10
(The higher the rating, the less necessary the text is)
There’s no way around it. This game is text-heavy. There are many stat counters that affect your play strategy, and there’s really no way to avoid it. You do not need to speak to every NPC, and they hide quite a bit of the world-building-but-not-required text behind pressing the minus button.
Handheld Play 9/10
Handheld play is easier than most games given the great outlines and text size. My only slight complaint is that the lighting and depth perception issues are exacerbated in handheld mode because of the lower resolution, and there isn’t a fix implemented for this. I’d like to see options for screen brightness, particularly for handheld mode.
Level of Precision Required 4/10
I’ve said already that the platforming is fairly difficult. There are times when you need to use one character’s ability and then switch characters quickly to use a different ability. These switches can be hard to pull off if it takes you a while to recognize that the characters have switched. The battle system is also based on QTEs, and there’s no option to select which of the mechanics are easier for you to do.
Controls and Depth Perception 4/10
The depth perception in both the 3D-fixed-perspective overworld and the 2D battles is very difficult. One of the things that makes platforming so difficult is that after using an attack in the overworld, the character turns. This is very frustrating if you miss the first time and need to try again because your character needs to be repositioned, which can be difficult given the 2D nature of the characters.
In the overworld, assist features to aid with platforming and options to adjust the brightness would help a great deal. Assist features to control the opacity of characters during enemy attacks would assist greatly with 2D battles.
Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment
I’m going to guess that you could enjoy the game with about 20/600 vision, though you are going to need a good amount of stamina for all of the reading you’ll need to do. I could only play in about 20-minute sessions before my eyes became too tired to continue, and I can normally play games that don’t involve reading for a couple of hours. You’ll also want to make sure you have patience for platforming sections, and you may also need to find a darker space than usual to see the darker sections of the game.
Overall, I do not recommend this game. I don’t think Bug Fables is worth it for most visually impaired people because of the precision required in platforming and battle. That said, if you have played Paper Mario and found it accessible for you, then I think you will enjoy Bug Fables. I also think this would be a good game for people who have been advised to practice reading to build up eye muscles but be wary of the difficult platforming.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher.
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