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The Xbox and I share a kind of kinship. The Xbox was a gateway into online gaming for me. So many YouTube ads were popping up like catchy-looking operatic confetti, so I was hooked from the word Halo. In its infancy, able-bodied friends and I sat side-by-side taking cover behind rocks and taking point in Halo. I taxed my brain with Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, relaxed with a gaggle of friends with Fuzion Frenzy, and fell in love with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. The controller was something different and yet it worked. The joysticks were a new kind of precision, making shooting games a lot easier than they were before. The first Xbox provided me hours of entertainment and endless supplies of “OH MY GOD this is cool!” moments.

The future that games are heading in with motion controls will be the end of my gaming regimen because of the emphasis in movement and voice commands. There are still some great moments with older titles with the Xbox that I have had over the years. Some were true video game moments, where I didn’t use cheat codes in order to unlock something or get the one up on my buddies. Others were games that I will never forget, such as Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee with cute characters and difficult puzzles that introduced me, in many ways, to the world of levers, doors, and brainteasers. There are a lot of golden accessibility gems both in the first generation machine and in the 360.

crystal defenders menu

One of which, I found the other day as I was browsing the Xbox website on my computer. Upon first glance, it looked like a basic puzzle game. The title, Crystal Defenders, sounded like a play on words with a hint of puzzle mechanics. I downloaded it for a whopping $4 because I love catchy titles that happen to be on sale, and figured that I just stepped into something bleak and trite. The menu is what first shocked me. Usually developers make a habit of designing their menus as small as possible, sometimes even including with waving animation and poor contrast. This game however, didn’t make it to the trendy video game sector. The menu had really easy to read text and it sported enough contrast to where I didn’t have to develop a new kind of squint in order to read the menus.

Wondering what this game was about, I figured that I’d jump right in and start playing, even though I had no prior knowledge of the options menu. I chose the first stage, and I was off to the races, my brow furrowed in utter anticipation. Immediately as I started out, I knew three things. This game didn’t have a story, as it was a tower defense game, and this seemed to be Final Fantasy encased in a tower defense skin. The classes of characters I had at my disposal were Thieves, Soldiers, Black Mages, Time Mages, Archers, Dragoons, and Tinkers, and each had their own strengths. It was as if I were picking different kinds of Pokémon, something my strategic mind loved doing. Since Crystal Defenders didn’t have a story, I opted to make one as I destroyed Final Fantasy baddies before they reached the other side of a set grid. My band of misfit soldiers, consisting of a few men from different classes, had to protect the entrance to their base because my soldiers had found a cure for fascism. Someone tweeted their discovery, including the hash tag epic within the tweet, and now the entire Final Fantasy faction was marching to steal the discovery and then loot my soldiers of their boy band CD’s. Even though the story I created didn’t fall within the Final Fantasy universe, I stuck with it, plot holes and all.

Crystal Defenders Gameplay

I didn’t even get past the first level to try and develop the rest of the story or fill in my own plot holes. But it wasn’t because the game was inaccessible. The game is very much accessible. Controlling a mouse pointer with the Xbox analog stick or D-pad, I was to place my genius soldiers in strategic locations so that they would automatically attack any enemy that they could reach, gaining money with each kill to buy power-ups. The reason why I couldn’t get past the first stage – even though all of them were open and available for me to try, was because I could never make it through all the waves of enemies. No matter what strategy I implemented, pitching my soldiers out in front to swing the first blow and then back it up with a platoon of archers, or having the archers’ fire first and then leaving thieves to steal even more loot from the baddies, I always failed to kill all of the waves.

The beauty of the gameplay doesn’t lie within the plot-hole filled story that I concocted, or any challenging button mashes or scavenger hunts, or lines of dialogue the deaf have to read with subtitles. This game, by Square Enix, stretches the boundaries of your critical thinking ability to new distances with an accessible point and click interface that emphasizes your mind, not limbs. I became so engrossed, and annoyed that I just couldn’t get the right strategy down to beat the easiest stage, despite winning in the harder stages. I spent days playing this game, leaving my other downloadable content jealous of the attention. Even though companies are trying to bulldoze to a reality where Hal will be sitting in your living room playing your games for you, there are still wonderful Microsoft moments to live, even today, and Crystal Defenders is definitely a memory with a controller that you won’t want to miss. Voice commands and motion sensory just can’t capture the accessible example it is now.

Robert Kingett

Robert Kingett is a blind journalist in Chicago who is the author of Off the Grid, living blindly without the Internet. He has been gaming ever since he picked up his first Atari back in 1990. he actively makes a living writing for various blogs and websites with the occasional guest post. He is also an advocate, encouraging education about video game accessibility on mainstream gaming publications