Astro's Playroom Physical Accessibility
Astro’s Playroom is a gloriously entertaining homage to the legacy of the Sony PlayStation. It’s For The Players - but not the physically disabled ones.
Score4 out of 10
Guest review by Bobby. Find him on Twitter @WheelyBadTweets.
Astro’s Playroom is a free game, pre-installed to every PlayStation 5 console. Whilst initially awestruck by the game, it didn’t take very long to see why Sony’s catchy ‘For the Players’ tagline is an admirable slogan built on a history of gaming icons. Yet, in practice, true accessibility for all is not here. This game is incredibly well-made; the care put into it is visible in every corner; but as it is it was not made for people like me.
I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II, meaning when it comes to gaming, I struggle with dexterity, strength, and mobility. The very opening of this game before even accessing a menu guides you through the controller, including the need to forcefully push down both triggers simultaneously. The use of resistant triggers has been a concern of mine since the announcement of the new DualSense controller. It is very important I mention that Sony does include the ability to change the trigger resistance at the system level – it can even be turned off completely if necessary. Astro’s Playroom however has no native options to adjust it for this specific game, forcing players to exit the game and hop back in repeatedly to adjust the resistance to their ability or cut it off completely.
The core quest in Astro’s Playroom is to retrieve the four main artefacts across four different, diverse levels. Each level is split into four key areas, two of which are reliant on a feature of the DualSense, all are mandatory to complete the levels. As soon as I encountered the first of these, I knew I would have serious issues with this game when it comes to my disability. I opted to enter Memory Meadow first, a charming area with fields aplenty. The mandatory interaction area in this level required the use of the touchpad, namely to flick repeatedly in the direction you wish to travel to move the ball. I managed fine at first, but the muscles in my hand rapidly began to exhaust before I had even completed the area. There is no way to turn the touchpad controls off, nor is there an alternate control method. I handed the controller to my sister asking her to do the area for me, with the expectation this would be a one-off.
Surprise – it wasn’t a one-off! Every area had the same problem of mandatory physical interaction to get through the level, none of which were doable for me. These areas involved becoming a springy-frog creature, holding down the triggers and pivoting the control to angle a launch, entering a spaceship and controlling each booster with gyroscopic controls and, my personal worst, becoming a monkey and using the L2/R2 buttons to grip whilst tilting the controller side to side to climb. This was incredibly challenging for me to deal with. Every single level reached a point where I couldn’t proceed, leaving me no choice but to ask for help. There are no options in the menu to adjust any controls whatsoever – all motion and physical controls are mandatory.
Every time I had fun with the game, it always ended in me encountering an area that is simply impossible for me to finish. This includes all the aforementioned key areas of levels with physical mandatory controls, but also some minor elements that appear briefly through the game. Further mandatory physical interaction with the controller includes blowing into the microphone and flicking your finger to launch Astro like a slingshot. Whilst there are serious problems, I personally found these to have a workaround that made them doable. The microphone can be spammed by rubbing your finger against the built-in mic of the controller, simulating blowing, and the slingshot allows you to be quite slow and gentle with just brushing the touchpad backwards.
The only redeeming trait of Astro’s Playroom physical accessibility is at the system level. Button remapping can be done in the system settings, as can the intensity of vibration and the trigger resistance. This, in my opinion, is simply not enough. The use of mandatory motion/physical interaction segments in every single level of the game is completely inaccessible. If I did not have the help of my sister, I don’t know what I would have done. These areas would be completely doable without them. The pivoting of the controller could be based in the analogue sticks, and the resistant triggers could be an in-game option to flick off whenever needed. Unfortunately, underneath all the bright and beautiful graphics with charming, engaging world design is a game that welcomes only the players who possess the ability to use all the DualSenses’ features.
Astro’s Playroom is a delight and it is free – but physically disabled gamers are sadly not yet welcome in the world of PlayStation. Sony should come out For the Players, and update this game with the accessibility options it direly needs.