|Assault Android Cactus
|September 23, 2015
|PC, Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita, Wii U
I have a long history with Assault Android Cactus. I got the opportunity to play the early access what feels like ages ago and was quickly impressed by the production values, creativity and challenge. I suggested folks give the game a look to help bring it out sooner. Now that the full version of Assault Android Cactus is out and has gone through several tweaks and minor changes since the early access, do I still feel the same? Or should Constable Cactus have stayed safe in the vacuum of space?
You wouldn’t know from looking at the game that Witch Beam isn’t a AAA developer. In fact, it’s almost shocking how good of a job the Brisbane-based dev has done with a small team of three. Assault Android Cactus is a polished, good-looking game with tight controls. It also has a lot of heart and humor, as expressed by the diverse cast of android characters in the game. When the game starts out, the titular Cactus crash lands on a stranded space freighter which suddenly starts opening fire on her. In her quest to discover what has gone wrong, she will come across other androids who can help her along the way. Each and every one of them is a cute, chibi-looking female android that packs serious firepower, and no two are the same. Some of my favorites were Holly, a bookish, nervous green-plated android who fights with her Seeker Gun and Cannonball; Lemon, a cheerful, blond android who attacks with a Spread Shot and Rocket Launcher; and Peanut, who I call Mad Maxine, who looks like she arrived from some dystopian future, armed with a Flamethrower and giant Drill to charge foes with. There are several more androids to pick from, and each will be automatically unlocked as you progress through the game. They each offer different battle options to help you stem the tide of robotic chaos.
There’s a lot of chaos to fight against in the 25 levels in the game. Those are broken up into five sections, each composed of four basic stages and one insane boss fight against a Section Lord. While you can play with mouse and keypad, the game wisely supports controllers, and the XBox 360 controller is the way to go with the PC version. It may be a twin-stick shooter, but Assault Android Cactus has a unique twist — you technically have unlimited life. If you are downed, you can bring your droid back online again and again. The catch is that when your battery runs out of juice, you lose. As a compromise, you will acquire batteries by fighting progressively harder waves of robot menaces. You can also find temporary boosts in the form of a Firepower upgrade, wings which Accelerate your android and a Shut Down that freezes all foes on screen for a time. As if that wasn’t enough, you also can pick up energy orbs from downed foes to boost the basic stats of your android permanently, at least until you get downed by an attack. Then you’ll be forced to mash the buttons to bring your android online, losing all your acquired boosts in the bargain. Finally, you can switch between a Primary and Secondary weapon for each character. Doing so will give you a small window of invincibility. To keep this from being broken, there is a cooldown for each of the secondary weapons, so abusing this feature can blow up in your face.
As a result of the way combat is structured, the game is in a constant state of finding balance. You have to be constantly moving about, nabbing upgrades before they disappear and switching between your two weapons to find success. The devs themselves refer to the game as a “manic twin-stick arena shooter,” and it certainly lives up to that description. Even in the early stages, you will quickly be overwhelmed with hordes of robot foes, and they have no compunctions about cornering you and murdering your cute little androids. You will constantly need to improve your skills to successfully make it through all 25 levels. For the most part, the challenge is totally fair, but I do have some complaints. One issue is that the movement speed for your androids is relatively slow. While this isn’t an issue for stages that stay still, there are lots of stages with moving parts and hazards which complicate things. For example, a few stages have floor sections that rotate in various directions. If you get caught on one of these and get downed by a foe, there is a very good chance you will be separated from a battery when it pops up. If you can’t make it to the battery in time, it will disappear for good, spelling disaster for your little droid. When you throw hundreds of robots into this equation, you start to see how things can get tricky. To be fair, the vast majority of levels are structured fairly, but you’ll need to be on guard for the nasty ones. My other complaint is the with the bosses.
Now, it’s certainly true that it’s a feature of this genre to have crazy difficult bosses. I expect that from twin-stick shooters. But the bosses in Assault Android Cactus are something else. Each of them turns the game from a twin-stick shooter to a bullet hell disco of death, and every boss is composed of multiple phases. Even the very first boss, Embryo, is a stiff challenge, and they only get harder from there. In order to beat them, you’ll need to learn their attacks, figure out which upgrades help the most and cross your fingers you can beat each phase before you run out of battery. I honestly had to spend multiple attempts to beat every boss in the game, sometimes just because I took too much damage too quickly, thus reducing the amount of battery charge I had left. The vast majority of them are very beatable, and fun in a insane sort of way, with one exception — the final boss of the game.
I won’t go into spoilers, but suffice to say the final boss of the game made each preceding boss look like a walk in the park. It is a stiff challenge that I literally spent hours fighting before I was lucky enough to pull off a win. Even then, it was by the skin of my teeth. I don’t mind a challenge, but I honestly feel this final fight was too hard. In fact, it was so hard that I was only able to beat it by making use of the unlockable EX Options the game has to offer.
Essentially, they let you spend points to implement new gameplay options. Specifically, I had to make use of Mega Weapons in order to beat the final boss. These are powered up forms of your primary weapons that replace your secondary at the cost of not being able to upload your high scores to the online server. Though it pained me to make use of such a crutch, I wanted to be able to beat the game, and was willing to do whatever necessary in order to do so.
I don’t want to give the impression to anybody that the final boss ruins the game. While it certainly soured my experience, and still frustrates me, it doesn’t take away any of the other great experiences I have with the rest of the game. I said earlier that the game looks like a AAA game, and that is mostly due to the great production values. Assault Android Cactus is a bright, colorful game with many different levels that show absolutely no slowdown even when dozens of foes are present on screen. I also particularly enjoyed the chibi aesthetic of the androids, as well as the design of the enemies and bosses. Each of the enemies has a distinct look, from the scuttling robots to large ape-like brawlers to robo-jellyfish and much more. The difficult bosses, likewise, all looked fantastic, and each had their own distinct personality. Finally, though there are only a couple of them, I absolutely loved the cutscenes in the game. They breathe life into the universe of Assault Android Cactus and really make me eager for a sequel. The music and sound effects also work wonderfully in the game. There is a visceral quality to each of the effects that keeps you invested in the combat. The music is also a nice touch, nothing too fancy, but full of energy and constantly reflecting your progress with dynamic alterations. Perhaps best of all is that each of the androids has their own VA, and yell out catchphrases as you play.
Though I was able to finish the game in about nine hours, there are many features to keep you coming back for more. One of these are the aforementioned EX Options. While most of these are mere cosmetic changes, there are some really fun ones, such as FPS camera, normal-proportioned androids and more. You can also unlock art gallery pictures and other goodies. If that’s not enough incentive, you can also try your hand at the Daily Drive and Infinity Drive. These let you take on hordes of foes in your spare time. Overall, I would venture there are hours and hours of fun to be had in the game, and that doesn’t even take into account that you can try each of these modes with multiple androids with unique play styles.
Much as I enjoyed Assault Android Cactus, I can’t help but lower the score a bit for the boss difficulty. That said, there is still a lot to enjoy about the game. If twin-stick shooters are your thing, and you don’t mind a bit of masochism, I highly recommend it. This is especially true if you have some friends to tackle it with locally, up to 4 at a time. However, if you are thrown by steep challenge and can’t stand bullet hell, this might not be for you. You can normally purchase the game for $14.99 for PC, Mac and Linux, though it is 20% off until this Wednesday. It is also slated to release for PS4, Wii U and Vita at a later date. Overall, I was pretty happy with Assault Android Cactus, and I look forward to what Witch Beam cooks up for their next game.
Review copy provided by developer