Urban Flow is a single-player game that can also be played as a couch co-op game. Your goal is to manually control stop lights to try to keep cars from crashing into each other. You can use touch controls to change the stoplights, or you can play with button inputs in handheld or docked mode. It’s an interesting game that takes something we usually take for granted and shows the complexities in a fun way. But can you play it if you’re visually impaired?
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 6/10
(Contrast, Lighting, Tracking, Clutter)
The game is done in a cel-shading style. The colors are still highly visible, but they aren’t as glaring as some games, which may be welcome to those who suffer from eye fatigue. The lighting in the game varies from level to level. Some levels are set in a daytime environment, and others are done in a nighttime setting. Later on, the levels begin adding in elements such as rain, birds, or haze to make things more difficult visually. Urban Flow suffers in the areas of tracking and clutter simply because of its game mechanics.
Urban Flow is designed to overwhelm you with traffic in the same vein as Overcooked and Moving Out. The environments are fairly complex, including scenery and buildings, which makes the game more immersive. This immersion comes at a cost, though, and it contributes to make the game more cluttered than is strictly necessary, which is a significant shortcoming in a game that is naturally cluttered due to its core mechanics.
I would like to see options to turn off background elements like birds and turn off game mechanics like rain and haze. Urban Flow doesn’t have online multiplayer, or even an online leaderboard, so it seems quite easy to allow players to tailor their play style.
Accessibility Features 4/10
The game includes options to independently adjust the music and special effects. It also includes an option to make the streetlights work better for colorblind folks. You can choose to have the streetlights fully illuminate in red or green, or you can have the lights illuminate the top half for green and the bottom half for red. I appreciate this mechanic, but I dislike that the green is at the top, when in a real stoplight, the green is at the bottom.
The game includes a set of tutorial pages that can be accessed at any time in the main menu. It also includes settings to remove the HUD or button prompts, which can be helpful in reducing clutter, particularly in touchscreen mode.
Urban Flow could be improved significantly by adding audio cues, button remapping, and font scaling. The button prompts are integral to the gameplay, particularly in higher levels where there is no room for errors. It won’t work to spend the first few seconds of a level testing which button controls which light. Additionally, when there are too many lights, the lights are mapped to button combinations. Those combinations are particularly difficult to see and execute.
Assist Modes 4/10
There aren’t any assist modes, but I’ll be nice and call the “endless” and “chill” modes an assist mode. The endless mode is essentially a high-score chase, while the chill mode allows you to replay levels that you’ve already beaten in a high-score chase without the restrictions of a time limit.
An assist mode could allow the chill mode to be played without having to beat the level first. The assist mode could also operate a few of the lights with an AI instead of requiring the player to handle each light. The game includes a certain number of lives built in that allow you to keep playing after a crash. It also includes a powerup that slows down time. An assist mode could raise the number of these powerups that are available and make them regenerate faster.
Non Visual Cues 1/10
The lack of cues is where Urban Flow really falls down. The game includes sounds when a crash occurs, but that’s it. There is no controller vibration. I would have loved to see unique sounds to indicate when each light was switched. If you wait too long to change a light, the cars will become impatient and go on their own. This change can be really easy to miss. There are small meters to measure the impatience of the cars, and sound effects or haptic feedback could be used to communicate that information.
Sounds could also be used to indicate special vehicles like ambulances, trains, and trash trucks. Everywhere I look, it seems like information could be conveyed through non visual cues, but they just aren’t used.
Decent Fonts 8/10
The font is a very bold sans-serif, and it is really clear. It has a helpful shadow, and when an option is selected, the colors are inverted. I would like to see options to increase the font size, particularly for control prompts. Given that Urban Flow can be played with touch controls, I’m willing to forgive this a certain amount.
Necessity of Text 9/10
(The higher the rating, the less necessary the text is)
If you want to play with touch controls, the only text you need to worry about is the menu. The menu could be much larger. It is focused on the left side of the screen, which actually makes it easier to use the Switch’s built-in magnifier feature. I don’t think they were thinking about that when they made the menu, but it ends up working in their favor.
If you’re playing with button controls, you’re going to need to see the button prompts. I wish that the pause menu didn’t cover up most of the button prompts, because it would be really nice to be able to pause the game for a few seconds at the beginning of each round to memorize the button prompts.
Handheld Play 10/10
Urban Flow is a good example of a game that benefits from the optional touch controls on the Switch. Being able to use the touchscreen instead of button controls helps alleviate the need to learn button inputs.
Level of Precision Required 4/10
While the game markets itself as a relaxing game, it certainly isn’t easy. If you’re the type who wants to three-star each level, you’re going to have to work for it. The game is more or less a constant QTE. I had difficulty executing the combination button inputs because it kept registering as a single button input and changing a light that I didn’t intend. In touchscreen mode, I frequently had trouble pushing the light accurately.
The hitbox is not generous, and I frequently missed my timing because my touch wasn’t accurate enough. That said, the game does offer you a number of lives and options to slow down gameplay to assist you. In the button-input mode, the slow down powerup is activated by pushing in the left stick, which can be very difficult to execute quickly.
Controls and Depth Perception 6/10
As I just mentioned, the controls suffer from requiring a combination of inputs and the precision needed in touchscreen mode. The depth perception in the game is made easier because of the top-down fixed view. However, the vehicles travel at different speeds, and that makes things more difficult. I’m not going to criticize that as it’s a core game mechanic, but you should be aware that part of the game requires judging the speed of travel of cars moving at different speeds.
I haven’t touched on the local multiplayer too much, but there is local multiplayer. It can be very helpful in certain levels to have a second player control some of the lights that are unrelated to other lights. In other levels, the multiplayer makes things more complicated. In either case, it’s a good exercise in cooperation.
When playing in docked mode, as most people would want to for multiplayer mode, each player is assigned certain lights and can only control those lights. This may not be very helpful as you can’t choose which lights each person controls, meaning if one player needs an easier time, they can’t have that.
Recommendation for visual skills needed for enjoyment
I’m going to recommend 20/400 or better and good tracking skills.
Overall, I recommend Urban Flow. It’s a game with simple, easy-to-learn mechanics, presented in a visually pleasing style. It is held back by its lack of assist modes, non-visual cues, and multiplayer options, but it is more accessible than some other popular couch co-op games for visually impaired folks.
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