The Last Case of Benedict Fox is a brand new Metroid-Vania side-scrolling platform title with Lovecraftian influence. Developed by Plot Twist, and published by Rogue Games, Inc. the story follows the eponymous paranormal detective and his side-kick Harry Houdini. They attempt to piece together the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Benedict’s father and one Mrs. Floyd following The Great War. Lets investigate the accessibility of The Last Case of Benedict Fox.
Accessible Lovecraftian Platforming Art… with blemishes
Right from the start it’s apparent that the game is going to be different from other games of this genre. There is no dedicated accessibility menu in Benedict Fox, but there are a handful of options in the settings menu. These options allow players to choose whether Benedict is invulnerable, and if foes (excluding bosses) should perish in one blow. This feature should be implemented more in all genres, but it’s especially welcome here. It reduces the amount of simultaneous inputs because there is no need to dodge and block, which is done by holding RB. Combat consists of using X to slash with a bayonet. However, LB in conjunction with X are both required holds in order to fire Benedict’s flare-gun. The inability to remap controls is a large barrier for fine-motor impaired players.
Invulnerability is great, but even though players lose no health, the attack will still knock Benedict off his feet. Falling long distances can still be a setback. However, I don’t consider this to be a huge barrier to motor-impaired players because auto-saves are quite frequent. And most platforming sections don’t require twitch reflexes. Some can be challenging but none during my time with the game were insurmountable. They become even easier once the player has acquired double-jump and other abilities Benedict acquires in the form of tattoos. These are made from the accumulated essence of monsters he defeats, and finding magical trinkets for Houdini. Given how much jumping is required here it’s wonderful to be able to say that I experienced little to no fatigue in a genre commonly associated with it for motor-impaired players.
Further adding to the title’s appeal is the dark revelation that Mr. Fox can enter the minds of the recently deceased, and this is the basis for the dungeons. While making a grand effort with regards to the platforming, it loses its footing considerably when it comes to puzzles. Despite being one of the title’s most prevalent features, they are often difficult to solve. Nothing in the form of hints or even clear instructions are provided. For example, early on Benedict receives an objective simply stating “Investigate Father’s Magnum Opus”. There is neither a way to mark the objective’s location, nor any contextual or verbal cue to let players know they cannot complete a certain task. This happens even when the “I Hate Feeling Lost” exploration option is active, which is meant to assist navigation.
“I hate feeling lost”
There are no difficulty options in the traditional sense, instead different aspects like puzzle-solving, combat, and exploration can be tweaked individually at any point during play. Particularly with regards to exploration and puzzle-solving, the results of adjusting them are frankly not effective. When exploring, players can choose an unassisted option, which only marks fast travel portals. The “I hate feeling lost” option doesn’t actually guide players. Rather than guide them to a selected objective, it simply marks doors players have discovered, even impassable ones. That’s all, there’s no waypoints or trails, leading to long periods of wandering.
“I hate puzzle-solving”
It’s unfortunate that this contradictory aspect also extends to puzzle-solving as Benedict can even interact with puzzles which he doesn’t have the means to solve, which can often leave players feeling stuck, only to find out you missed the required object, or that it isn’t available until much later. The developers offer an “I hate puzzle-solving” option in settings which allows puzzle to be solved by pressing right on the directional pad.
Much of the leniency afforded to players by this feature is lost when instead of skipping over the puzzle entirely, it makes players search for components without giving any leads on where to search for them. Once you possess the required components, at the very least Benedict could remark that he can now access certain passages, but he doesn’t. Once you arrive at the desired puzzle, no instructions or hints of any kind appear. If players who use auto-solve are still required to search for components, the purpose of the option is defeated. It’s obvious what the developers were going for, but it wasn’t well-executed.
A little help is better than no help
I’d prefer if the first press should trigger a hint. When that fails, a second press should explain the goal. If that falters a third press should solve it outright. This would help solve it while still keeping players engaged and not robbing them of the rewarding feeling that comes with completion. Last year’s Return to Monkey Island is a great example of how such a system can be properly implemented. However, auto-solve is a much better alternative to not being able to progress at all, so all things considered it’s a positive. While not perfect, it’s the most accessibility I’ve seen in this genre, and that alone makes it worth a try. Motor-impaired fans of the genre and Lovecraft will be satisfied, even if resorting to YouTube is needed. It’s a small price to pay for what is ultimately a very enjoyable journey.
Vile Visual Shortcomings
Unfortunately similar pitfalls afflict this title visually. It does a decent job with subtitles, despite not being adjustable the size was legible to me. It also changes color based on who speaks. White for Benedict, purple for his demon companion, and blue for the tattoo artist to name a few.
However this adventure does not allow any objective tracking as mentioned above. Although the map does mark the locations of doors you’ve encountered, it doesn’t mark the type or allow fast traveling. When a newly acquired ability can be used to open something, players may have to manually return to each marker. Checking if it’s the correct one if they can’t remember the exact location. While backtracking to access new areas comes with the genre, it becomes a barrier when there are multiples of the same type and no way to separate one from the others. Because of this and mostly transparent interaction prompts often blending into environments, the accessibility of Benedict Fox is lacking for low vision players.
No Audible Aberrations
Fortunately for hard of hearing players, the ability to hear the game’s audio isn’t necessary to enjoy the experience. Subtitles have tags and are color-coded and don’t bleed through or blend in with any in-game assets. Dialogue sequences are generally short and concise but don’t generally carry vital information. The game prioritizes environmental story-telling over expository dialogue, allowing the creators to make the most of their fascinating world.
Light at the End of The Tunnel
The Last Case of Benedict Fox is far from perfect. Its map design in particular is a point of contention along with limited tutorials when doing puzzles. But invulnerability, frequent auto-saves, and forgiving platforming make for a level of accessibility not often seen in this space. The Last Case of Benedict Fox is a fine template for what accessibility could be for the genre, should more developers build on it.