By William Haderlie / March 8th, 2016
|Title||Assault Android Cactus|
|Release Date||March 8, 2016|
|Genre||Twin-Stick Top-Down Shooter|
So, are you a top-down twin stick shooter like Smash T.V., or are you a bullet hell shooter like Mushihimesama? Knowing Cactus, she would say, “Both?” And how right she would be. When the story begins our intrepid police android Cactus is responding to an emergency call from a stranded freighter ship out in space. Her welcome is a bit less than warm, so she recruits other androids that she meets to help her make the ship a bit safer. Of course, by destroying everything that pokes its head out. One to four players can play the story with the difficulty adjusting dynamically to accommodate the increase in players.
You’ll notice with the above screenshot that each character features a wildly different array of shots. Primary shots fire continuously when you hold down the R1 or R2 button. The secondary fire only occurs when you press (or press and hold, depending on the type) the L1 or L2 button. There is a charge gauge around your character signifying the heat load of your secondary weapon. When it is full you have to wait for it to cool down before you can fire it again. Additionally you will have a few frames of invincibility when changing between the primary to the secondary weapons. This is very important strategically. The differences in the android shot styles makes up a large portion of both the fun and also the replay value of the game. For my first playthrough of the game I stuck with Cactus, just so I could gauge the difficulty using the “stock” character, and also to experience the dialogue from her perspective.
You pick up the clear crystals from destroyed enemies to help upgrade your primary guns. The upgrade lasts until you faint from getting hit too many times without your health having a chance to recover. More importantly, you have a battery gauge up top that is slowly depleting (they are androids after all). You have to keep up your stream of attacking because only after killing a certain number of enemies killed will they drop a battery recharge. You can recover from fainting due to hits any number of times (although it does lower your score to faint), but a battery death is the route to a stage failure. To help you wreak destruction, the enemies will also occasionally drop power up spheres. They can be red, yellow, or blue. Red gives you two mini-robots for a supplemental fire boost, yellow gives you angel wings and a speed boost, and blue locks down all enemy robots (including bosses) for a time making them immobile and you immune to their shots. If you don’t like the color of the upgrade drop, you can wait to pick it up and it will change colors. This is an important strategy for completing the game, to only pick up the upgrades when it is the color you need at the time.
Some of the stages are fairly basic arenas like the above one. But that is not true of all of them. Other stages will have you moving a fairly large distance. And one late stage even has floor appear or disappear under you as you travel, and you can select the direction you go yourself. Many of the stages feature obstacles to use as cover, others feature death traps such as rotating flamethrowers, and a couple even include beneficial items such as turrets. So there is quite a bit of variety in just the story alone. The marathon mode and daily challenge dungeon modes also provide a different variety as well.
This all sounds a lot like a typical top-down twin stick shooter. So where does that bullet hell shooter style come in? Well, a little bit with the number of enemies and their fire patterns. But mostly it’s with the boss fights. Get used to learning bullet patterns, as success in the boss fights will involve a lot of dodging. Also that strategy of only picking up the upgrades when they are the color you need really comes into play here. Additionally, you cannot just sit back and evade and wait for your moment. Because of your battery gauge continually depleting you will have to keep up your attacks against the bosses. They will only drop battery recharges when their current phase gets destroyed. Thankfully their health bar is marked with each phase’s health. So you know how far you need to go in order to get your next battery charge. There are 5 (kind of 6 but it’s a bit different) major boss fights in the story mode of the game. And each boss is extremely different in both looks and patterns from the others.
Beating each boss in story mode unlocks additional androids to take into battle, including my favorite girl, Starch. And that is where this game goes from being good, to a classic. Each android plays extremely differently. And each boss has a different dialogue with them as they start their fight and as the fight ends. Each girl also has various statements during the heat of battle that are direct extensions of their personality. One of the reasons I love Starch so much is her running commentary. But in the end, this can be a difficult shooter. So you will likely settle in on the android that best fits your playing style. I’m not sure if the characters are really unbalanced, or if it’s just my own play style coming through, but definitely some girls worked out better for me than others. Playing through as Cactus could be pretty difficult at times and required a number of continues. But my second time through the game, using Starch, I was able to complete the run without ever having to continue. Of course, I also knew the patterns at that point, and I had learned how important it was to wait for the correct upgrade to appear. My first time through involved a lot of continues and so it took me about 4-5 hours to beat. But my second time through only took me an hour or two with good old Starch. So it can be a pretty quick and delightful experience to just pick up and play.
It took me a little while to figure out why this title was so popular. But after finishing the story, and especially after playing with girls different than Cactus, I definitely understood. In fact, I became surprised that it didn’t win the monthly PS Plus vote. There were zero hiccups or issues with my play of the game. It looks beautiful, the enemy designs are very expressive, and the androids are all super cute. The models themselves aren’t super high resolution, but they still look nice, especially the girls. The voice acting and script is quite funny. And the music and sound design are quite good for an indie title. One notable addition from the Steam version is that the android’s voice plays through your PS4 controller, and that can be fun. Even after my review, this is a game that I want to go back to. The different modes are fun, but for me the highlight of the game is going through the story as different characters and also with trying to get a higher ranking score. Each time you faint you lose a bit from your score. And at the end of each stage, your score is compared against the other rankings of people who have played the game on PSN. That continuous challenge will likely drive many competitive gamers to keep going back to this game. The highest I ranked on a stage was #3, but that was quite the heady feeling to see that ranking pop up. This is definitely a game that I am happy to have played and very keen to recommend especially for only $14.99 MSRP. You get a ton of fun for that price in this darling indie gem.
Review Copy Provided By The Developer
Assault Android Cactusbullet hell shooterPS4PSNTwin stick shooterWitch Beam