Assault Android Cactus PC Review
If you like arcade games or twin stick shooters, then stop right now! Yep, you heard me, don’t even bother to continue reading past this opening paragraph, because that is wasting time, and I’m sure you would rather be playing an incredibly fun game. You see, Assault Android Cactus is one of those twin stick shooters that arrives every so often and makes itself an example in how to spice up the genre with energizing gameplay and well implemented mechanics. Twin stick shooters can often feel like pet projects to experiment with, due to the genre’s openness to simplicity – it makes a good task for new game creators to make something – but playing this game showcases that Witch Beam has done much more, and have a beautiful understanding of what makes the genre tick. Wait! Why are you still looking at these words? I guess you aren’t convinced or aren’t much of a fan of the genre – let me see if I can change your opinion with the following statement, Assault Android Cactus is likely the best entry in the genre since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. I know, that is a huge announcement to make, but just hear me out on why I think this game is a bliss to play and should be in everybody’s Steam library.
It all begins with Assault Android Cactus‘ characters. This is a title that makes sure all nine of them are incredibly diverse in how they play. Initially, the character selection is limited to four androids, with more unlocked as you make your way through the 25 stages that fill up the story campaign. Each character comes with a primary and secondary attack, both unique across all characters. The titles heroine, Cactus, comes with the standard assault rifle for a primary and a flamethrower as a secondary that deals powerful damage up close in an arc. Coral has a shotgun, meaning she has to get up close and personal, but the damage output is much more than the assault rifle, while her secondary, a plasma field, deals damage over time against enemies trapped inside its area of effect.
I had already found my soul mate before I unlocked all the characters. You just know that you have gelled with a character after a few rounds on the battlefield. My two favourites were Starch, an silver android armed with a laser gun that can deal damage from any distance at a constant rate, while the secondary is a barrage of small homing missiles that flood out of her gun like a diet version of the mecha spamming rockets in Bangai-O. The other was Peanut, an android who looks like she has seen a lot of action due to her damaged rusty armour. She comes armed with a magma arc launcher that spews lava, and a Giga Drill that dashes forward through enemy machines that stand in its route. The different styles is something that should be noted as a great accomplishment, as it’s not easy to hit the spot in offering ways to change how the player should assault the enemy. Switching to a different character for the first time is like receiving a surprise present, especially when they feel drastically different, such as controlling Aubergine’s flying bot, Helo, that slices and dices with its blades.
One thing that is similar across the board is how easy it is to control the characters. Both keyboard/mouse and controller work well, with the pad feeling more natural for me. Assault Android Cactus supports Xbox 360/One controllers and includes native PlayStation 4 pad support, a good inclusion for people who want to make use of the game’s four people cooperative action – sadly there is no online play. For pad controls, there’s the typical movement with left stick and aiming with the right stick, while right trigger will shoot in the aimed direction. The secondary weapon is assigned to the left trigger.
Using secondary attacks cannot be abused, as there is a cooldown after usage. A neat feature is that you can click the left trigger at any time during cooldown to use the secondary again, but it won’t be in use for long, due to the lack of restored time. Also tide to the secondary weapon is a dodge that can go through any attack. The dodge is super important to the game’s mechanic if you want to stay alive and keep the high scores rolling. Adding the dodge to the activation of the secondary weapon is a clever little trick to give the incentive to press in times of need, especially when levels can become so jammed with enemies and bullets, but if you time it so you have a full metre for secondary fire mode, then it’s almost a retaliation on the git who forced you to initially dodge, giving them some of that sweet revenge.
Levels are constructed to keep a constant flow of action and intensity. It’s a good job the controls are responsive, as dodging becomes an art in dancing around danger, using nimble reactions to ballet bullets and enemies. Stages begin as simple boxed arenas in various shapes, but later other elements are introduced. One level is set in the dark, with only the light emitting from your direction for sight. Another has turrets that can be controlled by standing near them, and even the ground joins in the creativity, as it eventually develops a life of its own – rebuilding and shifting into different layouts or rearranging itself around the characters. Chuck this in with the ever increasing enemy counts and you have a hectic cocktail of wonderful colourful carnage sprayed all over the screen. Even when the screen is packed with action, the colour is key to indicate what is friendly and what isn’t. Blue bullets are enemy fire, while yellow is the colour of the android, and since every other unit bar yourself is after you, it’s straightforward to see where these killer machines are on the screen. One thing that can be shadowed by the mass amount of enemies are power ups, as these can often be covered up, with only a small symbol shimmering to alert you that a power up is available.
Lives are non-existent here, meaning death is only a handicap that drops the android to the ground for a few seconds, while removing any power up or primary weapon buff gained from energy orbs dropped from the defeated. Tapping the fire trigger brings the android back on their feet ready to battle on. With no death, life is instead represented by a battery icon that drains over the course of play. If it empties, the level is a failure, and the only way to stop this is by collecting green batteries that appear by blasting evil robots. Don’t think this makes the game easy, as dying constantly will prevent you from killing enough machines to generate the next battery. For something like Assault Android Cactus, a game that tips on the spectrum of becoming a lite-bullet-hell playground of blue plasma towards the end of its campaign, the implementation of the battery system is a intuitive idea. It deals with death in a way that helps newcomers and unskillful players stay in the action for longer, but it also removes irritation often felt when one is harassed with repeated retries.
Sublime is a nice word that fits when talking about the game’s power ups, as it follows the belief that more does not mean better. Only three exist, lockdown (sends out a wave that freezes everything in sight), drones (two assistants lend some firepower) and speed increase, highly effective for getting around. It might seem a small amount, but these three buffs are all extremely useful for various situations. Powers up left on the ground switch colours, offering a choice for the player to grab the item when desired. Throw this in with the battery system, and what you have is a game that tailors more for aggressive gameplay. It wants you to get into the action and stay there without a moments downtime. This is a game that requires a person to be on their toes at all times, and for that, I love that it rewards the aggressive player with its chain system that combos enemy deaths until the next kill has been too long. Apart from the last boss, I’d say it’s stress-free to past the stages in Assault Android Cactus, but getting that holy S+ rank will offer serious challenge.
In fact, the only negative I have is that people who have an attitude more in line with playing games for their content rather than progressively improving to gloat about where they placed on the leaderboards (there is one for each level and for the amount of players involved (1-4)), might find the two-to-three hours it takes to complete the 25 stages on the short side. After the campaign ended, I was thinking of the possibilities the developers could come up with their refreshing levels, but alas, it sounds like no more additional content will arrive, as Witch Beam are busy working on bringing the console version early next year. I personally don’t find its length a problem, as I am a person who loves taking on the endless mode or repeating levels to improve myself. Daily challenges, where a set level and enemy wave count is offered and you get one attempt to post the best score, is included, plus credits earned from playing can be used to unlock artwork and gameplay modifiers – one includes a amusing first-person mode that opens up a whole new perspective on the game, and it can be played with up to four players as well.
Assault Android Cactus is a slick game that feels so good to play, feels so right in your hands with its satisfying controls, intelligent game mechanics, charming presentation, terrific levels and exciting weapon styles. It manages to bring refreshment to such an ancient way of playing video games, which is no easy feat to perform. Assault Android Cactus does all this while never slipping up. It’s a shining example of the genre and one of the most easiest recommendations I can give to anyone who enjoys exciting chaotic action, while people looking for the next adrenaline fix with a group of friends or on their own should totally slap down the cash and pick up Assault Android Cactus – it’s the best example of an arcade game for quite some time.