Accessible Arcade Action

HIGH Zooming around an arena with a fully-powered robot.

LOW Without the speed boost, it can feel like a slog through mud.

WTF The drone-like helo attack.

As I sat down to write this review, a heated argument about accessibility in videogames was making the rounds through social media. Of course games should be as accessible as possible to a wide range of players, so it’s great that a developer like Witch Beam made it a point to add features that make Assault Android Cactus+ inclusive – but how is the game?

Assault Android Cactus+ is an updated version of the work originally released in 2015. The story follows Cactus, an android law enforcer, who’s received a distress call from a space freighter – the ship is under attack by its own robots, originally meant to help the crew. It’s up to Cactus and a few of her fellow android friends to stop this robotic mutiny and determine the cause of the uprising.

Assault Android Cactus+ is a standard twin-stick shooter – move with the left joystick, aim with the right. Movement is tight and aiming is precise.

Firing weapons is as simple as holding down a single button for rapid fire. To defeat hordes of robots, players choose one of nine androids, each offering a variety of attacks such as lasers, spreadshot, and even a drone-like attack bot. Each android also has an alternate, more powerful attack, like flamethrowers or rapid-fire missiles. These secondary weapons can only be used in moderation, but are helpful in quickly dispatching larger foes.

Weapons can be temporarily upgraded when defeated enemies drop power-ups. There are mini-gun assist robots, speed boosts, and a pulse attack that temporarily shuts down all enemies on the screen. The experience shines most brightly when Cactus and friends grab multiple powerups, supercharge their weapons and zoom around the arenas — it’s arcade action bliss.

Assault Android Cactus+ has an interesting take on the life system – the standard health bar is a constantly-draining battery. Moving around drains the battery slowly, while enemy contact decreases the charge faster. Fortunately, most of the levels provides ample energy boosts to collect – I wasn’t always able to restore my energy in time, but rarely did I feel cheated when I had to restart a level after losing all power.

Players will fight across five stages, each consisting of four levels and a boss battle. The standard levels feature wave after wave of robotic enemies using a variety of attacks – players will have to avoid missiles, shockwaves, laser beams, and of course, standard bullets. There are times where the screen is pure chaos and Assault Android Cactus+ mimics a bullet-hell shmup, but even when things become hectic, it still feels easy to move around and manage the field.

The final level in each stage consists of a large robot boss – each one a well designed, over-the-top robotic spectacle. However, the final boss highlights a problem that’s otherwise well hidden — it’s eight phases, but they don’t give as many power-ups as the rest of the game.

Without these power-ups, especially the speed boost, I began to realize just how slow Cactus and company move. Assault Android Cactus+ plays best when moving fast, and the final boss fight felt sooooo slow. After it took me a couple dozen attempts to defeat it, I had little motivation to keep playing, even with an unlocked new game plus mode.

As for accessibility, Assault Android Cactus+ includes numerous options to allow players of all kinds to enjoy it. Controls are not remappable (an unfortunate oversight) but Witch Beam did add an auto-aim option for those who would like some assistance. Powerups all receive an audio cue as well as a visual one, making them easy to locate even in a swarm of enemy robots. The story is fully subtitled, there are multiple colorblind options available, and there’s even an auto-revive option to further assist. It’s great to see so many options – if smaller studios can do this, there’s little excuse for other developers to fall short of this standard.

I appreciate what Witch Beam Games has attempted to do with Assault Android Cactus+ – they’ve created a game that’s accessible to almost anyone while simultaneously delivering a solid, twin-stick arcade shooter.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by and published by Witch Beam Games. It is currently available on PC, XBO, PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. Zero hours were spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Everyone 10+ and contains Fantasy Violence and Mild Language. Robot enemies explode when defeated and the main character simply falls over when energy has been depleted. Language is mild enough that I don’t recall a single instance of dialogue that might be of concern. This game is safe for most young players.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game is fully subtitled, but text size cannot be changed. Dialogue includes the character’s name as well as a picture of who is talking. All audio cues (like when a battery recharge drops) are accompanied by on screen visuals indicating where the power-up has been dropped. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The game does include an auto-aim assist option – the android will automatically aim at the nearest enemy. There is also an auto-recover option that negates pressing a button to get back up when knocked down.

Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options.

Brian Theisen
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