Any frequent readers of AccessWorld will recognize me as one of the magazine contributors who often reviews games. I have played many different types of games over the years on my Windows PC, Mac, and, though less often, my iPhone. I have generally found audio games on my phone to be less responsive than I would like, and often game play gestures do not seem as intuitive as I would prefer. Throw in cheap sounds and cheesy voice acting, and you have an experience that is usually not what I had hoped for, and occasionally just plain disappointing.
There have been exceptions over the years with games such as Papa Sangre, but some of those games are no longer in development. If games are not produced specifically for the blind community, developers must be educated on the needs of the blind when it comes to playing their games. Sometimes developers step up and make games such as DiceWorld fully accessible to blind gamers, but more often it is necessary for a blind person to work around accessibility challenges to enjoy the same game that their sighted counterparts can enjoy with ease.
Recently, a new game has come on the scene that has caught my interest in a way that games seldom do. FEER is a game developed for iOS and Android known as an "endless runner" game. Designed primarily as an audio game that is fully functional with a smartphone's screen reader, it has some graphics that make it playable by sighted people as well.
FEER is based on the simplest of plots. You are running through a forest and must avoid zombies and ravens in order to stay alive. Catching white fairies along the way will not only provide light so that your screen doesn't go dark if you are using vision to play, but allows you to obtain lights that can be used for various purposes through the game including saving your life if you get killed.
When you start playing the game, you are running in the center lane of three—one on your left, and one on your right. Each time you begin playing the game, you are running fairly slowly. If you hear a musical tone, you can swipe left or right to change lanes in order to place the sound in the center of your stereo field. You must, therefore, use headphones or earbuds to play this game successfully. Simply running toward the musical tone will allow you to collect lights from the white fairies mentioned earlier. Of course, there are times when the musical tone is already in the center of your stereo field, so it isn't necessary to do anything other than to stay on course in order to collect lights.
As you run, you will hear zombies to your left, right, and in front of you. If the zombies are in front of you, you must swipe left or right to change lanes and avoid them so that you will not be eaten. In addition to environmental sounds around you, you will hear the sound of your own footsteps running. If you switch to the left lane, your footsteps will come from your left earbud, even though all other sounds are still present in the stereo field. I find this to be a particularly appealing aspect of game play, since there are no abrupt shifts in sound as I play.
In addition to musical tones and growling zombies, you will sometimes hear ravens overhead. When this happens, you must swipe down to duck under them and avoid death. There is no switching lanes to avoid these bad boys.
Finally, as you run, you will hear the sound of crackling leaves as a hand reaches from the grave to grab you. You must swipe up in order to jump over the hand. Switching lanes doesn't let you avoid these death traps either.
As you run along collecting lights and avoiding death, you will become aware that the sounds of your heartbeat and running footfalls are getting faster. So too does the rate at which lights and evil creatures approach you. Eventually, you won't be able to keep up with the pace of oncoming creatures and you will die, thus ending that particular round of game play. You can review your high score and see how many lights you have collected at the end of each round.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could get some help along the way when it came to dealing with evil? Fortunately, you can. As you play through the game, you will hear sounds that let you know of the presence of a power-up object that will assist you. If necessary, switch lanes to place these sounds in the center of your hearing, and collect them as you would lights.
Boosters simply let you relax for a bit as game play accelerates for a time. You are invincible, so there is nothing that you need to do, or in fact can do, until this power-up item wears off.
You can also collect light doublers, which double the number of lights collected with each fairy you encounter. As with all other power-up items, this effect is only temporary.
Another useful power-up is a weapon that will let you kill zombies with a one-finger tap on the screen. The weapon does not kill ravens or hands.
The shield power-up allows you to encounter any of the creatures in the game one time without dying. Either coming in contact with any of the killer creatures or exhausting the allotted time will disable this power-up.
Once you have collected enough lights, you can spend them on upgrades that will lengthen the effectiveness of each of these power-ups.
You are able to level up in FEER by completing three quests per level. Quests can be a simple as dying two times by zombie or as hard as changing lanes75 times in a single run. If a quest is too difficult to complete, you can skip it for, say 1,500 lights. As the levels increase, it costs more lights to skip quests.
I found moving around in the game to be pretty responsive. I have had difficulty jumping over hands with a swipe up gesture, and I have seen others on social media mention the same problem. I'm still not sure whether this is a bug in the game, or an imprecise gesture on my part.
It is possible to invite friends to share statistics with you as you play the game, and you can post high scores to social media if you like. You can easily access help and a full user guide from the main menu of the game, as well as links to contact the game developers.
I have watched my sighted wife enjoy games on her phone that I knew I would probably never be able to play. She has mentioned struggling with levels, and I have heard her exasperated sighs as she failed to complete a particularly tough one. I feel that FEER gives me an experience approaching that of my wife's. The game commands are easy to learn, and the unlimited levels make for endless replay value. For $3.99, I don't believe you can ask for more from this game.
In case you have been wondering, the name FEER comes from an old Swedish word for "fairy," as well as an old Scottish word that means ploughing a furrow. Therefore, the name 1) is a play on the word "fairy," 2) implies ploughing new territory when it comes to an audio game with graphics that can be enjoyed with people who have vision and 3) is a play on the English word "fear."
This article is made possible in part by generous funding from the James H. and Alice Teubert Charitable Trust, Huntington, West Virginia.
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