The art of the twin-stick shooter. From humble beginnings, a la Smash TV, to more recent particle-effect heavy affairs like Nex Machina, the formula has remained an unwavering rock among constantly changing genres. Sometimes simplicity is key, and Assault Android Cactus+ recognizes that sometimes it’s best to focus on what makes a formula work.
After a quick introduction with some googly-eyed protagonists detailing a mission to reach the core of an alien ship, we jump right into the action. A simple stage layout allows access to unlocked levels in each of the four “zones,” each with their own theming and music. Everything zips along, from the briefness of the levels to the quick-fire results screen and level replay button, ensuring that no frustration can linger for long after a botched run.
A focus on score-chasing is critical for even a casual twin-stick fan to feel incentivized to not only survive but to do it stylishly. Assault Android Cactus+ features the regulars: an ever-increasing combo meter, upgrades based on how well you’re performing, and (most importantly) a reluctance to kill the player instantly upon a mistake. Getting higher scores takes a bit of strategy – if you drop your combo or take damage don’t expect to walk away with an S rank easily. Luckily, levels are only about 2 or 3 minutes long, so replaying them to perfection is an enjoyable conceit.
There’s not much to the core gameplay — shoot with the right bumper, move with the left stick, and dodge or switch weapons with the left bumper. The simplicity to its design in much to the game’s benefit and even the most casual companion can jump in for some quick action. The heat gauge, which dictates dodging and each character’s special weapon use, is a simple and effective way to balance simple movement and shooting with flashier techniques. The controls are tight, everything feels responsive, moving on.
Something interesting I noted about Assault Android Cactus+ was its PlayStation 2-era charm. Characters look like the goofy mascots of a children’s show, and textures aren’t exactly eye-popping. Then again, everything is very deliberately designed in a way that exudes heart, and I found it all very endearing. This isn’t meant to sound patronizing to the game’s art style, what I mean is that it captured some long-lost nostalgic feeling. It just goes to show that a bit of earnestness and quirk can bring to life some simple designs.
Then there’s something that I felt even the amazing Nex Machina was lacking a bit — seriously bumpin’ electro tunes. I actually made it a point to turn down the dialogue and effects a bit to get more of that sweet-sounding nectar into my ear holes. Each act has a different musical motif, and while I’m not an electro connoisseur I can testify that the “botanical” section sounded “planty.” Just kidding. But seriously, the music here is great.
Of course, there’s local four-player multiplayer as well. Playing with the better half proved to be a good time, and we each delegated a section of the level as “ours” to clear. The generous helping of playable characters to choose from, each with a unique weapon and special ability, complemented each other well when paired. I chose to play the laser-shooting Starch, while she preferred the spread-shot of Lemon. Even when total chaos ensued, we never lost focus, a testament to the readability of Assault Android Cactus+’s action. The simple designs and clearly color-coded attacks mean precise strategy even when things get hairy.
Even though the main campaign doesn’t take long to beat (just a few hours), there’s plenty of incentive to replay stages. From score-chasing to trying your hand at difficult modifiers and the new game+ mode, the game is as scalable to your skill as you can manage. And there’s always the online leaderboards, at least if you’re anything like me and can’t stand being less than first place among your friends list.
On the Switch, Assault Android Cactus+ is an obvious winner. Quick action, simple stages, and high-score chasing mean it’s perfect for handheld play. Pop the Switch in the dock for some local multiplay action and everything’s gravy. A twin-stick shooter this polished is proving to be a rare breed, especially since Nex Machina developer Housemarque has strayed from the genre. It’s an easy choice if you like fast-paced action, high scores, or classic game design that nails the fundamentals. There really isn’t much else to say, if you’re out there reading this, you probably already know if it’s the game for you.
Assault Android Cactus+ is the baked potato of twin-stick shooters. A perfectly cooked center, loaded with all the extra goods, and a dollop of charm for good measure. It's a perfect fit on Switch with its drop-in multiplayer and bite-sized levels, especially for those with score-chasing in mind.