Simulator games have an awkward reputation in today’s gaming industry, especially those that are born from the indie scene. Sure, you still got your hyper-realistic flight sims, but those are vastly outnumbered by cheap joke games where you can pretend to be grass, or perhaps a goat eating grass. Wheelchair Simulator falls somewhere in-between, as this Ukrainian addition to our indie month is certainly comedic, but also uses the “simulator” label to tell an interesting story.
Looking beyond the wheelchair
The game is entirely narrated by Dmytro Schebetyuk, a young man who suffered a spinal injury that left him bound to a wheelchair. Opening up on an introduction stage, Dmytro talks at length about how becoming wheelchair-bound changed his life and what wheelchair users deal with on a daily basis. This includes voicing his dislike for inaccessible areas, but also goes into the social aspect and how people tend to treat their less-abled peers.
It’s a story that gels well with the gameplay, as Dmytro’s words become very clear as you are trying to steer your bulky wheelchair through crowds of people or up steep slopes. His words are also very encouraging, especially when he goes into detail about overcoming his initial depression and learning that a handicap isn’t the end of the world. The game also has dedicated “Storytime” missions, which have no challenge and just involve listening to the narrator. Most of these, however, do have a finish line the players can head for if they want to get on with it.
Story score: 8/10
Cars know no mercy
The goal of Wheelchair Simulator is to conquer its 10 levels, which all have you complete obstacle courses that vary in realism. This can be as simple as trying to cross a busy street, to as complicated as trying to roll around a perilous construction site. Your wheelchair controls very simply using a combination of WASD and the mouse.
Obstacles include cars, pedestrians, twigs, and rocks, but also falling construction materials and trucks that deliberately try to drop steel beams on you. You are incredibly vulnerable to just about anything and will restart from a checkpoint if you fall out of the chair or end up toppled. And learning what you can get away with is most of the puzzle, as my greatest obstacles would be simple stuff like train crossings or pavements. You never quite realize how perilous those are until your wheel gets stuck and the train plows right through you.
The obstacle courses are fun to go through and are generous enough with checkpoints. You’ll fail many, many times, often for reasons that seem kind of bogus, but you never have to replay too much. While the crazy obstacles are fun when a truck launches you into space or a simple twig has you faceplant the dirt, Wheelchair Simulator is prone to some wonky physics that get you stuck in odd terrain or have you clip through the floor. In fact, I ended up beating the fast-paced level 10 only because the physics broke and canceled all the acceleration you are supposed to build-up.
The game is challenging and manages to turn the joke of an obstacle course with crazy twists and wheelchair controls into a game that is actually fun and legitimately challenging. Even those times where the collision bugs out are minor frustrations at best because of the reliable checkpoints and comedic nature of the obstacles. It’s a fun simulator, but one with true substance to it.
Gameplay score 7.5/10
I won’t dedicate too much time to the visuals, because Wheelchair Simulator aims for a very deliberate, low-effort look. Your player avatar is a goofy looking dude and all the obstacles you’ll deal with are chunky, simplistic assets that move with rigid animations. My favorite are the trains that often aren’t even touching the actual tracks.
The game does feature some extras. Each level is filled with coins that can be collected to be exchanged in the main menu. This allows you to purchase a few customizations for the wheelchair itself, like different wheels or a spoiler. Levels also contain hidden trophies that can be collected, which will then be displayed on the table in the main menu.
All in all, Wheelchair Simulator can be beaten in under an hour. It does offer some bonus levels and there is a VR version of the game. Surprisingly, though, the game has no support for mods and no level editor.
Presentation and Extras: 7/10
Wheelchair Simulator appears like a joke game on the surface and it technically is. It has wonky physics and unconventional controls, which you’ll have to overcome to complete a variety of levels. The quality of the models is rough and the animations are stilted, but all of that hides a game with a message. Listening to Dmytro’s encouraging story is a real treat and the shell of a joke game simulator crafted around it is entirely deliberate.
I won’t go so far as to say that it’s a great game, but it’s one with a well-executed message. They also donate profits made from Wheelchair Simulator to charity, so I’d recommend taking a look if you are curious.