If I had to describe what Assault Android Cactus is like, I’d sum it up by saying that this is the game you’d get if you’d combined Contra, Smash TV, Gunstar Heroes, and tossed in some bullet hell game-play for good measure. That’s the best way to do this game justice. A top-down, twin-stick, adrenaline drinking, hyperactive, can’t stop won’t stop, shooter. A game that will have you and friends playing non-stop, either to beat the game or to prove who’s the better player.
Platform(s): PC, PS4, PS Vita
Publisher(s): Witch Beam
Developer(s): Witch Beam
Release Date: September 23, 2015
This game is a blast to play; get it, blast?
Anyway, the goal in this game is to blast your way from point A to point B. Sure there’s a story and a plot, but who cares about that. I relate the story to akin to a summer movie. We’re here to blow stuff up, not to read the dialogue, or to get emotional. Screw that noise, I want to use my big guns and use them, and this game lets me do that. And when I say we, I mean none other than the star of the show, Cactus and her cast of reluctant androids; Holly, Coral, and Lemon.
But these other androids aren’t simply for show either, as several are available play with as well, with several others becoming playable after you’ve laid waste to a few bosses. In addition, each character has a different weapon layout and have their benefits and also negatives. For example, Coral is powerful and wields a shotgun. Yet if enemies are outside of her range, she’s all but useless. At the same time, another character may have a weapon that covers the entire playing field but has less firepower overall. How you play the game and which character you use will determine your outcome, and there’s no such thing as any specific character being overpowered; it’s all in the wrists… er, hands. I will say that there are tiers of characters; easy, medium, and complicated, so learning each character is the best way to enjoy the game.
This game screams to be used via any dual-stick controller such as an Xbox 360/Xbox One/Dual Shock 3/4 controller, but my preference was the Xbox 360 controller. The left stick handles the character’s movement, while the right-stick handles aiming your weapons, left trigger handles swapping in your secondary weapon, and the right trigger is your blast them all to hell… ahem, fire button. Movement is tight, and it has to be as you’ll find yourself dodging in and out of gunfire, so no issues with that. I was on a controller again, so I can’t speak to anyone wanting to use a keyboard to play the game. Your Android also has a personal shield that can help you take few hits without suffering, but take too many, and you’re knocked to the ground, rendering you useless, and also strips any power-ups you earned away from you as well. The only way to recover is to tap the fire button as fast as possible to get back into the game. Straightforward stuff, right? Aim, fire, profit.
Ah, but it’s not nearly that simple, my friends. You’re an android, and androids need power; as such, you’re running off battery power. A battery which is your lifeblood, is a clock that is steadily counting down. However, you’ll be able to pick up extra batteries as you mow down the enemies or damage bosses. Batteries are handled exactly like the power-ups, except they don’t change colors or functions. What’s more, if you get hit more than you should, you’ll stop to notice your battery is affected as well.
Just like the gameplay, the power-up system is pretty simple and easy to pick up. You can choose from several power-ups, which are dropped randomly by downed enemies or when you drop a boss down to a certain damage threshold. The blue power-up acts like a freezing mechanic that locks enemies into place. The yellow power-up gives you a considerable speed boost. The red power-up gives you added firepower by providing floating side-mounted gun turrets on the side of you (Or, as one of the characters calls them, tiny robots). Each power-up can change the game’s pace and give you an advantage. It seems simple enough, right? Well, it’s a lot deeper than that. For example, when a power-up appears, you can gobble it up or wait for it to change to another one. Or you can continue to pick up the same power-up repeatedly, gradually increasing the power-up time and usability.
Throughout the game, when you blast the baddies, they’ll drop a silver-looking dot, don’t run from it as it’s not bombs or the enemy’s brains on the ground. Collect it all to use in the store or collections as it’s referred to. In the collections areas, you’re able to do several things such as purchasing renders/art, add enhancements in the EX Options, view detail on your motley crew and bosses you’ve downed so far, and listen to music. There’s a song called “Gonna Kick Your Ass,” and I’m serious about that.
In EX Options section, here you’re able to purchase different game-play altering options, from changing the side of your androids heads, removing the HUD, opening up a mirror mode so everyone can use the same character, have the game-play affect the speed in which the music is played and even enable a first-person mode. The options tend to be slightly higher priced than the other items in collections, so get those silver bits.
And where would a review be if I didn’t talk about the graphics and the audio? Well, let’s see… the visuals are damned good; there’s a considerable animation across the board. The characters you controller are quirky and have their personalities as do the enemies; there’s even a specific enemy that reminds me of a little robotic dog that even lashes onto you and won’t let go until you blast him sky-high, cute but deadly. Even the bosses are extremely detailed; you see pause the game or not and see how much attention they put into this game.
And seeing it in action is a sight to behold. I’ve had the graphics maxed, and I’ve yet to see any slowdown, despite having a screen full of baddies, gunfire, and stage animations….. oh, those stage animations. I don’t want to spoil it, but these backgrounds are some of the best I’ve seen in a game like this, as these aren’t your standard backgrounds. These things are alive, and they change doing gameplay, or move throughout the game-play or change and move through the game-play. Sometimes you’re on a stage which resembles a moving puzzle, to a train platform where you’re battling enemies while doing giant energy beams being shot at you, and other times you’re…. well, I’ll save some of the magic for you to find out for your self. Just trust me, they’re “oh shit” worthy.
The audio has also received the same treatment as the graphics. Between the gunfire, damage sounds effects, voices, and upbeat music, this game will have you jamming while you’re trying to stay alive. I know that’s not much to say, and that’s because it’s audio, and it simply needs to be heard to be understood, but let’s say it can’t get any better than what it is, and it’s already damned good.
While Assault Android Cactus is a short-lived game when it comes to game-time, it doesn’t mean this game doesn’t have legs. I’ve come back to the game long after I’ve beaten the game, thanks to the challenge it poses. Sure, you can fumble your way throughout the game, but if you do, then you’ll never score very high, and this game is about busting heads while doing it with style. Every stage and encounter earns you a grade, all the way up to “S+” ranking. This is tied into an online leaderboard, where all games are scored in real-time. So there’s always that incentive to good well and push you to do better with every passing game. The game also includes two additional modes; Infinity Drive, which is a never-ending wave of incoming enemies determined to take you down and Daily Drive, a daily challenge that pits you against waves of enemies, and the victor gets to brag with their feats being pushed to the leaderboard.
Not to mention that Assault Android Cactus is perhaps the ultimate party game for local co-op. Up to 4 people can play at any given time, and it’s a lot of fun, regardless of how good or bad you are at the game. I’ve tried this with my kids and a few of my friends, and it is pure chaos but lots of fun. It’s maddening to see how frantic the screen becomes; with zero slow-down, I might add, it’s bullet hell x 4, and it … is… FUN!
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Can't stop, won't stop until my battery dies
In short, despite it’s cartoon-ish appearance, beneath the surface of Assault Android Cactus is a complex yet simple to pick up shooter. With tons of action and charm to get the player to come back or try to beat their score over and over, from the ability to allow 4 people to team-up and tackle the enemies together, I’ve never stopped playing or enjoying this title. And while the game does not feature any online game-play, apart from ranking on the online leaderboard, I haven’t found one single fault with this game.
Witch Beam has created a title that incorporates old school mechanics and game-play, souped it up to 9000 and gave it a new coat of paint. The result is perhaps the single most fun title I’ve played in a very long time. A game that doesn’t take its self too seriously at all and more importantly, a title that anyone, regardless of skill level, can pick up and enjoy.