Upon starting Assault Android Cactus I couldn’t help but to feel a little disappointed. I’d somehow managed to convince myself that this was a game that starred android cacti that went on all-out assaults. I wish I was joking. Fortunately, upon actually playing Assault Android Cactus the disappointment was quickly replaced with excitement – it’s easily one of the most enjoyable twin-stick shooters I’ve played in a long time.
Assault Android Cactus begins with titular character Cactus, a police android, responding to an SOS call from a space freighter. Cactus smashes her ship down on to the freighter and saves three other androids from the deadly robot workers who’ve been taken over by evil AIs. Cactus discovers that the only way to save the freighter is to take down these rogue AIs, so she teams up with the other androids and works through the freighter to save the day.
There’s nothing particularly unique about the tale being told, but it does at least offer some reasoning behind the events that are unfolding. Twin-stick shooters don’t always try to offer a narrative, so the presence of one in Assault Android Cactus is appreciated. Besides the opening introduction, the story progresses through interactions with the various enemies you’ll encounter throughout the game. These interactions are character specific too and with nine different androids to control that all react differently to each situation there’s a surprising amount of variety to be found in conversations.
Of course this is an action filled twin-stick shooter – the narrative isn’t important, but rather the gun-fuelled mayhem. If you’ve played games like Geometry Wars or Helldivers you’ll know what you’re in for. The left stick controls your character movement whilst the right stick controls the direction you’re aiming. Enemies will come flooding at you from all directions and it’s up to you to take them out whilst carefully manoeuvring your android past the enemy’s attacks as well as any hazards that might be present in the stage.
There are nine different androids to control in Assault Android Cactus though only four are available from the start with the rest unlocking as you progress through the game. Each of the androids looks great too. There are varying colours, costumes and styles – each android looks and feels unique. There’s a real old-school vibe to the character style too with characters looking like they’d fit in perfectly on the cover of 90s video games. Everything looks great in-game though with vibrant colours and slick visuals present in each level.
The initial four androids available consist of Cactus, Holly, Lemon and Coral. Each android plays completely differently too, offering both different primary and secondary weapons. You’ll have to try them all out to see who you prefer best, though often it comes down to the level design or enemies you are up against.
Cactus uses a machinegun that’s both fast and precise as a primary weapon and a short-range but highly powerful flamethrower as a secondary weapon. Holly’s primary weapon is a very accessible homing machine gun that whilst lacking in power always hits the target, whilst her secondary weapon is a more powerful cannonball that’ll smash through anything in its way. Those who like to get up close and personal might prefer Coral – she comes equipped with a shotgun that’s deadly up close whilst her secondary plasma shield can not only stop enemy bullets hitting you but does damage to anything within its vicinity. Whatever you choose, you’ll always a have a good time wreaking havoc with your weapons.
As you unlock more new characters you’ll get to try out all new weapons too. How would you like to use a magma welder that unleashes puddles of scorching magma to defeat your foes? Or how about a weapon that creates mini black holes that suck enemies together? There’s a ton of cool weapons on offer that even rivals the likes of the Ratchet and Clank series, but most importantly they’re a hell of a lot of fun to use.
You’ll need your expansive armoury too considering Assault Android Cactus throws tons of enemies your way. The action is non-stop and hectic throughout, with a good variety of enemies coming at you from all directions. Each enemy manages to feel unique too, some requiring more thought rather than just blasting them with your weapons to take them out. Whilst you do have your standard grunts that fall with ease, you’ll also come across bigger and nastier enemies along with those who have more creative means of taking you down. Teleporting around you, using homing mines, blasting you with lasers – you’ll face severe adversary throughout the games twenty five levels.
Twin-stick shooters are known to be quite difficult, but I actually found that Assault Android Cactus was surprisingly accessible with a learning curve that eases you into the game. Yes, you’ll be inundated with enemies and yes, the screen will become a bullet hell for you. It never feels unnervingly difficult though – well, not until the later stages anyway.
Rather than a health bar you have a ‘battery’ meter. This battery meter is constantly dwindling down, but can easily be recharged by grabbing one of the many battery power ups that enemies drop after their demise. Whilst other twin-stick shooters adopt a ‘one hit kill’ policy, Assault Android Cactus instead sees you get knocked down but allows you to get back up at the expense of some of your battery meter. You won’t actually die unless your battery is completely drained. Don’t get me wrong, there’ll be plenty of occasions where your battery will get completely drained away – as long as you play it safe though you’re always given an extra chance to defeat those foes who knock you down or at least try to re-fill your battery.
The twenty five stages can be beaten in a few hours – I managed to get through the game in roughly three hours, though it does come down to how good you are at twin-stick shooters. Though a fairly short game, there’s plenty to keep you coming back. Each level gives you a rank at the end and shows you where exactly you place on the leaderboard. There were a few occasions where I’d think ‘I can get a higher rank than that’ – I tried to aim for an S-rank minimum, something that requires you to beat a level without even being knocked down. It’s hard, but not impossible.
As you progress through levels you’ll earn credits than can be spent on additional bonuses including a first person camera mode (this is tricky to play in but fun to use), visual filters and additional secondary weapons. It’ll take you a long time to unlock everything, but it’s neat to have access to cool unlockables that actually change up the game a little.
Other game modes get unlocked too, such as the endless ‘Infinity Drive’ that sees you take on never-ending waves of enemies and the ‘Boss Rush’ that challenges you to beat all of the game’s bosses in one vicious cycle. There’s also the ‘Daily Drive’ that offers a new challenge to the player every twenty four hours – be warned though, you only get one attempt at the challenge and you don’t want to leave an embarrassing score for your friends to laugh at.
Speaking about friends, Assault Android Cactus offers up to four player local co-operative multi-player – if you thought single player was hectic try playing with three friends at the same time! It’s actually a ton of fun and you’ll find certain characters really compliment each other. It can be a little hectic and there’s a lot happening on the screen at once, but it’s never that much of an issue as you’ll always be having fun. Be warned though, you all share the same battery meter – prepare for arguments if you’re constantly getting knocked down and holding the team back. There’s no room for slackers in Assault Android Cactus!
There are plenty of twin-stick shooters available these days, but developers Witch Beam have done something special with Assault Android Cactus. There’s a ton of great characters and weaponry to use, plenty of game modes to play through as well as a bulk of content to unlock. There’s so much to do in the game and with the excellently insane four player co-op on offer you’ll spend a ton of hours blasting through endless robotic foes.
– Plenty of different androids and weapons to use
– Fantastically hectic twin-stick shooting gameplay
– A ton of cool unlockables to earn
– The co-op multiplayer is great fun
– The main campaign can feel a little short
Developer: Witch Beam (www.witchbeam.com.au)
Publisher: Witch Beam (www.witchbeam.com.au)
Release Date: 08/03/2016 (Playstation 4) 23/09/2015 (PC, Mac, Linux) TBA (Wii U, Playstation Vita)
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed) Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux, Playstation Vita