Assault Android Cactus marries two things: the bullet hell hectics of a twin-stick shooter, and the charm of a budget Dreamcast title. That second aspect may strike a damning impression, but I mean it with high esteem. Assault Android Cactus feels, looks, and sounds like an action game torn from console libraries of the early 2000s, not to mention its humble price tag. I could watch others dismantle rampant robots in a maelstrom of flames, lasers, shotguns, and singularities for hours. I needed to, actually, to review the patterns of the game’s bosses. The pandemonium of managing the abysmal HUD and fighting mechanical spiders, giants, bees, and reapers is too much to acclimate to at once.
The HUD contains too many elements that the minds at Witch Beam expects players to track. Glancing at my android’s health bar, battery level, secondary weapon cooldown, or main gun’s upgrades routinely cost me. How the hell do I monitor the seconds until my flamethrower recharges while I am dodging bombs that fall from the sky? When will I have time to check my remaining health when killing one enemy causes a dozen to take its place? In most cases, too much damage leaves your android in a down-but-not-out state. Drain her battery meter entirely, however, and you fail a stage.
The chunky, colorful androids demand a steady supply of electricity, which enemies drop as a power-up. Players that keep the battery meter above the red can keep fighting, and your little droid will even revive itself if incapacitated, if it has some juice remaining. Honestly, I like the battery concept. In most dual-stick shooters, a minor slipup or two culminates in a restart. With Assault Android Cactus, I relaxed the white-knuckle grip on my controller, unfazed by every bullet and bomb hurled my way. I charged headlong into a hail of gunfire on occasion, knowing I could restore my android to tip-top shape.
When obliterated robots offer an excess of batteries, I had time to admire the amount of bullets and robo-fodder that clog the screen. Sometimes, however, those power cells do not drop when needed. Neither the menus, nor the tutorial say what causes batteries to appear. They tend to spawn when your android comes dangerously close to shutting down, though batteries spring from any foe, big or small. Must I scrap an unnamed total of the damn machines? Do I wipe out the previous wave of hostiles first ? I failed stages because I had no idea who to decimate, who presented the greatest chance for me to re-energize my character. More robots just meant my anger growing in turn.
Doing anything, even nothing, consumes an android’s energy. A self-revive also eats a chunk of her leftover charge. Some enemies detract a couple blocks of health. Bullets and melee attacks will do that, but explosives rob players of an health entire bar. I wish Witch Beam settled for one (the battery mechanic) or the other (a health system). Assault Android Cactus affords zero free time to peek at a health meter – relegated to the upper left corner of the screen, no less – while avoiding lasers, bombs, and missiles. Make incoming attacks a one-hit KO instead, and adjust weaker bots to act more passive. The team could also mitigate the damage dealt by explosives.
Bullets flood each stage, from the androids and their aggressors, matching the volume of robots shot for shot. Assault Android Cactus could stand to reduce these numbers. I perished time after time because I could not see a bullseye painted on the floor, denoting a missile strike. Assault Android Cactus is no shoot ‘em up, where players scrape by while watching out for the nearest projectiles. Players must move about the game’s unstable environments. Zone 4 introduces platforms that fall into nothingness, for example. Witch Beam prevents players from walking to their deaths, thankfully, but the fluctuating floors sealed off all retreat from bombs that literally rained down on top of me, downing my character instantly.
Although I hate to be down on Assault Android Cactus, it occupies a genre alongside Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Renegade Ops. Settling for second best is not an option. For what it is worth, Witch Beam handles the actual gunplay well (again, just not the mechanics related to the HUD), and its debut release carries charisma. A lone police android named Cactus breaches a space freighter held hostage by four rogue AIs, and because the androids possess independent cores – ones not controlled by the ship – Cactus and the survivors intend to blast through three kilometers of frigate and one hundred thousand robots to reclaim the barge.
Assault Android Cactus showcases one of my favorite title cards in recent memory, thanks to its setup. The voice actress for Cactus portrays her can-do attitude wonderfully, downplaying the gravity of a situation. The eight remaining androids and their spunky or oblivious personalities grabbed my attention, too. None of the dialogue betrays Assault Android Cactus as the work of a novice studio. No garbled lines or audio hiccups mar the conversations, and while pre-boss fight banter simply includes text, that text changes depending on what character you choose.
Three friends could jump into bullet bedlam alongside you, yet I suggest you limit the fun to two players at most. Assault Android Cactus should afford hours of replay value for a few people to tackle in tandem; it never does. The weapons fire from four androids (and the enemy numbers that increase to balance yours out) further obscures your view of the action. The camera cannot support several friends and the game’s run-and-gun play style. The isometric angle pans in and out as it attempts to keep everyone the center of attention, though I lost my android amid the confusion at least every other second. I just hoped my shots contributed to the collective effort.
The campaign will tide players over for an afternoon. Of course, you might get more days out of Assault Android Cactus if you enjoy seeing your name at the top of public leaderboards, or obtaining S ranks on every level. I ditched the tedious score-chase grind, however, since stages carry on too long for my tastes. They don’t provide enough currency, either. Finishing stages awards credits that unlock a smorgasbord of extras. New perspectives, graphics filters, and AI bots that accompany you fundamentally alter how Assault Android Cactus plays, and no more than a few goodies feel like an afterthought (i.e., the codex entries). On the downside, buying all the bonuses requires tens of playthroughs before you earn the prerequisite funds.
The nauseating first-person mode, while thrilling at first, prevents players from seeing what lurks behind them. If the pristine white walls of Zone 5 seem too plain, you can enable the so-called psychedelic visual filter, too. In truth, the filter looks something akin to an oil spill staining your driveway – fun over function, apparently. Whereas I applaud Witch Beam for programming AI androids for fans that want to witness the chaos that co-op boils down to, they repeatedly stole power-ups. That means allies pick up new batteries right away, but they drain energy shared between the party when they become incapacitated. The AI stymies progress when enabled, getting hung up on the geometry or standing next to insta-death environmental hazards.
Some stages you will want to go it alone, since the nine androids provide a counter to certain situations. Starch’s laser served me well during boss encounters. The long-range beam and her heat-seeking missile swarm helped me chip away their health from afar. In normal skirmishes, I preferred Lemon. Her spreadshot injures multiple foes at once, as does her devastating rocket launcher. Picking up a power-up to temporarily freeze robots or boost my weapon’s firepower then allowed me to control the discord of Assault Android Cactus that I loathe and adore.
While a couple campaign playthroughs sated my twin-stick shooter hunger, the more ravenous players will lose themselves to the additional modes. The Boss Rush mode sounds and does exactly what you assume. You battle the ship’s guardians again, one after another, as they alter their forms. You also face these metal monsters in the Daily Drive mode, where competitors vie for leaderboard positions with one chance to do so. Putting up a terrible score on your first and only run lets the disappointment linger for 24 hours before you can try again. Infinity Drive is an excellent opportunity to hone your skills, then, since enemy waves won’t stop until your battery level reads zero.
Assault Android Cactus throws players into a den of chaos they cannot escape. Witch Beam pushes the robot anarchy to a new extreme, but I already lost the motivation for attaining high scores years ago. Nowadays, the less time spent nursing a health bar, battery meter, and other cooldowns in a lawless dual-stick shooter, the better. While the gunplay exhibits a polish people seldom expect of a small indie team, superb controls and a fondness for making robots explode cannot save Assault Android Cactus from its other flaws.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided.
Assault Android Cactus – between its twin-stick gunplay, dialogue, and ample modes – exhibits a rare polish among its peers, but the atrocious HUD, useless unlocks, and local co-op that’s actively better without friends keep Witch Beam’s debut from rivaling the genre’s titans.