Living with a disability can be very difficult, I think most can agree on this. We regularly take what we have for granted and fail to show empathy to our fellow disabled humans. Wheelchair Simulator attempts to correct that lack of compassion by putting us in the shoes of the main character in a wheelchair.
Using a wheelchair alone is not enough to capture the feelings of a lifetime of disability, so Wheelchair simulator opts to put you in a hyper-aggressive world. This is played for laughs and works perfectly as I couldn’t help but chuckle every time our narrator informed me that the drivers in the cars I was dodging were actively trying to hit me. It highlights that lack of empathy with humor.
To aid the player in their quest for empathy Wheelchair Simulator uses a narrator to lead you through its threatening world. This helps to add both a voice and personality to the game and is where most of the humor of the game comes from. Wheelchair Simulator is also available in VR in beta form, and we will be looking at both version and comparing them.
You have to fall to get up
While Wheelchair Simulator controls mostly fine in normal mode, the controls turn into an unresponsive mess in VR. The primary method of forwarding propulsion in VR is using the Vive’s grip buttons to hold your wheels and moving your arms. This, in theory, would perfectly parallel wheelchair use, but the unresponsiveness of the grip buttons and the unrealistic momentum lead to frustration.
Frustration would have been bad enough on its own, but Wheelchair Simulator VR is the first VR experience to give me full on motion sickness. This is in part due to the primary objective of actively dodging traffic. While this is difficult enough in the regular version, it’s a dizzying nightmare in VR. Motion sickness quickly set in as I struggled with the Physics while looking around rapidly to make sure an eighteen wheeler doesn’t send me rocketing.
While mostly fine, the regular version of Wheelchair Simulator also has plenty of issues with how it handles. Moving the wheelchair is a slow, clunky mess and anything on the floor, yes even a small tree branch, can send you into a faceplant. Not to mention a frequently encountered bug where I would fall backward instantly upon spawning sans button press. The main gameplay loop is primarily built upon losing and restarting, with the narrator encouraging you every step of the way, this bug rendered that system frustrating and sluggish.
The primary objective of each level is to cross the finish line. On the way to the finish line there are coins and collectibles to gather, and not to mention countless obstacles to dodge. Not only is there car dodging, but there are also numerous people walking around looking to bump into you. Not to mention trains, cranes, and garbage trucks that dump assorted furniture on the road.
A good laugh goes a long way
While video games can have a tougher time than other forms of media at conveying humor, Wheelchair Simulator does it mostly effortlessly. The game’s premise of a world filled with people who would go out of their way to purposely harm disabled people is inherently as humorous as it is preposterous. The physics and ragdoll effects are also worth a good chuckle and can add a considerable amount of spontaneity to the levels.
The best part about Wheelchair Simulators humor is that it’s in service of the primary goal; to teach empathy for the disabled. Its hyperbolic world and the cartoonish art style is disarming and helps the message come across as sincere. Getting mauled by a pedestrian only to hear the narrator chime in with words of wisdom or inspiration makes for a strangely hilarious situation.
Attempting to sell a game off a comedic premise can be a daunting task as humor is mostly subjective. While the humor in Wheelchair Simulator works for me it’s not the type of universal humor that you could readily suggest to anyone (if such a thing indeed exists).
Wheelchair Simulator is an intriguing study as it attempts two things that video games are traditionally unsuccessful at: comedy and teaching. While continuously tripping over branches and getting mauled by pedestrians sounds frustrating it’s intrinsically apart from the point trying to be made. Although the slingshot is an attempt to switch up the general obstacle course formula, things can get repetitive.
All in all, Wheelchair Simulator will most likely be worth no more than a good laugh and a couple of hours of entertainment. Not to mention a mild case of motion sickness if you opt into the VR version which is, in fact, a completely different one. Points for originality aside, Wheelchair Simulator left me wanting a more profound, better controlling game, but originality does go a long way.