The Sony Access Controller Is a Beautiful Addition for All Gamers

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When Sony announced its Project Leonardo access controller at CES in January 2023, I was confused. I thought it was too small for disabled players like me. I couldn’t figure out how the player would get to the “sundial” of buttons. It was supposed to be a well-intentioned but failed attempt to start another company. Then I tried the review unit that Sony sent me.

Project Leonardo has become an entry-level controller and will sell for $89.99 starting December 6. (“Leonardo”—Leonardo  Da Vinci—would have been a much cooler name than the clinical “Access Controller.”) Sony partnered with non-profits AbleGamers, SpecialEffect, Stack-Up, and other disability experts to create the access controller.

Unfortunately, it only works with the PlayStation 5 and cannot take advantage of PS Remote Play. Being able to use an access controller for computer gaming or everyday computer tasks would have been a nice bonus.

The Access Controller has 23 round, curved, and flat button covers, as well as two thumb covers and the tip of the control button. I would have liked the thumbsticks or joysticks to be locked or stronger when I fully grab them and massage them, like in a fighting game.

The button covers are held on by magnets and released by pressing the latch, but this has never caused me any problems, even though I am a quadriplegic with stiff right fingers and left-handed ataxia. But I don’t need to connect buttons or foot pedals to 3.5mm jacks. I can’t stress enough how nice it is that the gamer can use Sony’s button covers and joystick at no extra cost, unlike an Xbox adaptive controller or an expensive custom controller. However, if you need extensions for your setup, Logitech is offering a bundle in January that includes wired buttons for $79.99.

You can create up to 30 button configurations on your system, name each one for a specific game, and assign three to your controller. I separated the parts with Handy Loops and opened the controller and peripherals with one hand.

One design element Sony wanted for the Access Controller was for all buttons to be accessible on a single plane. The DualSense controller has the buttons horizontally on the front and the shoulder buttons vertically. The access controller has all nine buttons on the same level, but the holes where you can attach the sticker are at the bottom of the buttons, making it hard to tell which button you need to press. If the holes were closer to the top, they would be easy to see, regardless of the position of the controller.

Another concern I had from the pictures I took of the flow guide was that it moves when I use it. After handling it, I was pleased to find that it’s the perfect size to hold in two hands, with an adjustable control lever that makes it wider or narrower for added comfort.

However, Sony has designed it to be hands-free, so if you need to place the access controller on a flat surface, it has rubber feet (although I’d recommend the Dycem cloth) to prevent slipping, and if you need a sturdier stabilizer, it can be attached to almost anything, including the wheelchair.

The Access Controller’s only competitor, the Xbox Adaptive Controller, acts more like a port hub for connecting peripherals and other buttons. This may have been Sony’s only glaring mistake in this case. The access controller only has four 3.5mm jacks for extra buttons, while the adaptive controller has 19.

The access controller could fit 10–12 extra ports on the perimeter, and even if the player uses it at different angles, the peripheral ones are long. Cables give the player freedom of movement and placement. However, this may be indisputable if future innovations such as PlayStation Link (Sony’s new audio interface standard) bring wireless peripherals to the access controller via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

That said, if you have two Access controllers, which can be combined with the ‘Share’ feature, which is Sony’s answer to the Xbox’s Copilot, which allows two controllers to be used simultaneously as one device, the player can have two giant buttons. , eight 3.5mm jacks, 16 programmable buttons, and two joysticks for character movement and camera control.

For a cheaper option, you also get a joystick and additional customizable buttons by pairing the Access Controller with the DualSense controller that comes with the PS5.

I used the controller with one and two hands and played a few games with just one controller. However, in games where the player needs to use all the buttons or complex combinations, it is almost necessary to connect two controllers. Using access control with the DualSense was a seamless experience, and using two access controls made me even more efficient. If peripherals are not critical to your installation, the Access Controller is an excellent choice.

These may seem odd propositions, but the touchpad and the sip and blow functions are puzzling omissions. Given that PlayStation’s DualSense controller already has a touchpad, why couldn’t that big button become an access control? Or, since the PlayStation app lets you connect your phone to control the system, why not add the ability to use your phone as a touchpad in games?

Either way, it would give users two directional pads. Similarly, when DualSense first came out, headlines and YouTube videos advertised how gamers could blow into the microphone to perform certain tasks. It seems like this tool should be included in something called the Access Controller. The microphone would also provide more auditory feedback for the blind and hard of hearing.

Sony rightly believes that DualSense haptics adds so much immersion that every PS5 since launch has included Astro’s Playroom, a tech demo/video game to help you familiarize yourself with the console and controller. This game expertly showcases the haptic capabilities of DualSense.

Access control does not have this feature. This is understandable, as many players with disabilities don’t like or can’t use haptics, but some can. This option would be nice, especially since the access controller seems to have enough room for a haptic motor.

On the software front, there are several features to get excited about. First, the player can combine two button presses into one input. For example, if the game has a combo attack, the player can combine the jump and attack into one button that is easy to press. But the most useful software addition may be the ability to turn buttons on and off for long periods.

So if a game requires the player to hold down a button for a long time, like Gran Turismo 7’s ignition button, the player can turn on the switch and press it twice, and the system will recognize it as a long press.

There is a software problem with the access controller. When the player sets it up, they are asked to point the joystick in one of the four main directions. It is not possible to direct the joystick diagonally. Although you can turn the joystick wherever you want, the player still has to follow four directional parameters. However, this problem can be solved with a firmware update.

Also, speaking of accessibility, it would be encouraging to see Sony offer a tab dedicated to the accessibility controller in the PlayStation app. In the future, gamers with disabilities will be able to make the Access Controller or PS5 compatible with voice commands or eye and head tracking.

Given the established infrastructure of the PlayStation app, it would be convenient to have all the functions of the software in one place when you buy an access controller.

Sony Access Controller will always be associated with and compared to the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and that’s a good thing. There’s never been a time when two of the biggest gaming companies offered a first-party controller designed from the ground up for gamers with disabilities.

I bring up the criticism to show how far the industry has to go to bring disabled gaming to the same level as disabled gaming. But in the past five years, all engineers and developers should be proud of the progress made in gaming accessibility.

Time will tell, but the greatest value of an access controller may be its longevity. Diseases and injuries evolve, and our bodies must adapt to these changes. Because the joystick and buttons on the access controller can be moved and used in various ways, the product can be changed as the body of a disabled or handicapped player changes.

In addition to the extra ports, Sony has created a wide array of hardware to play with, and with a few software updates, the Access Controller could be truly revolutionary.

Video games can take someone to unimaginable worlds and provide the player with new experiences. Therefore, it is a shame to deny anyone this artistic environment. I used to play all the time when I was in high school, then I dropped out of high school and college, and recently I have been following the industry closely, but I played sporadically because of skill problems.

The ingenuity of the access controller quickly solved my problem and opened up gaming for me. The only problem now is finding the time to play.

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