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Assault Android Cactus (PC) artwork

Assault Android Cactus (PC) review

"It's basic gameplay is so fun that you just want to keep playing and playing and playing"

I kind of thought I had had my fill of twin-stick shooters, but recently I've played a few really great ones that have totally renewed my faith in the genre. Namely the very fun Nuclear Throne, and the subject of this review, Assault Android Cactus. These games are so good, I'm actually actively interested in the genre again after really not feeling it over the past few years after playing a few games that felt too samey.

Assault Android Cactus just feels different than most twin-stick games. I'm not quite sure what it is that sets it apart, but something about the gameplay just works and makes you steer clear of typical, boring, same-old-same-old twin-stick tactics. In each of the game's many levels, you pick an android that carries two weapons; a primary gun with unlimited shots, and a secondary weapon that can only be used for a few seconds and must cool down between uses. This main mechanic of weapon switching is smooth and wonderful, and the mix of weapons each android has makes each feel totally different. For examples, the main character, Cactus, has an assault rifle as her main weapon and a flamethrower as her secondary. The assault rifle has long range and rapid fire, allowing her to shoot far across the screen and send out a lot of ammunition at a time, while the flamethrower is much shorter range but deals an unbelievable amount of damage to large targets or can melt right through a group of smaller enemies if they are clumped together. Another of the androids, Coral, has a short-range shotgun that blasts a big arc, but only right in front of her and at a slow rate of fire, and her secondary is a dome of energy that pushes enemies and bullets away from a static spot while damaging them. This allows her to stand in the middle of the dome and blast away as enemies struggle to try to get to her. Yet another, Holly, has a weak, rapid fire seeker gun that fires homing shots and a secondary weapon that fires an extremely slow but ridiculously powerful cannonball. There are six more androids, 9 in total, and each one plays totally differently. Some even use melee weapons and exotic weaponry; there's some really cool stuff in here. The gameplay really flows in a different way with each one. I should really mention a small but ingenious touch; when you are using a secondary weapon, and it overheats and needs to be unequipped, you automatically switch to your normal weapon. This sounds basic, but is really a great touch. It doesn't hurt that this happens in a flashy animation where the android throws the gun up in the air and grabs the other one as the first lands right in place on her back, making the hectic situation you are in seem even more epic. I played the whole game through as each android and had a blast doing it.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image

It didn't hurt that little bits of the story are revealed to you through the dialogue each android has with the boss characters. The story line is always the same, but each playthrough as a different android yields new nuances to the main plot, such as relationships between characters, the attitudes and motivations of the different playable characters, and a better understanding of just exactly what is going on in general. You only really get a clear picture of what happened in the game if you playthrough as all of the characters and get to see each android's view of the story. It's a neat story telling technique that blends with the fact that each character plays so differently to create a great motivation to keep playing the game over and over as different characters. The basic plot is that police android Cactus is investigating a transport ship that has gone dark. It attacks her, and she lands to see what is going on. Inside, she finds that the ship's robots are going crazy, possibly due to a problem with the ship's core, a massively complex AI system. She rallies the ship's assault androids to help her fight her way to the core to figure out what is going wrong...

There are many levels, and each is unique not only in the enemy composition it throws at you but in what happens as you blast your way through. Many of the levels are dynamic, transforming as time goes on. Most feature one location that goes through several forms, but some involve traveling long distances on foot to work your way through. Some feature hazards, and some feature things that help you out. In short, there is a great amount of variety; no two levels are alike, and each of them is really well designed. Helping you through the levels are power ups. There are three kinds; one gives you two robot drones that fly around and shoot where you shoot, greatly increasing your fire power, one makes you much faster, and one freezes all enemies in place. Each of these power-ups also feature some secondary effects. I wish the secondary effects were explained in the game itself; as far as I can tell, there is no mention of these effects, but when I found out from outside sources what they were, I started using the secondary effects as much as the primary. For example, the freezing power-up also causes your hits to do more damage, and the speed-up one causes weapon-increasing power pickups and batteries to fly toward you so you don't have to go pick them up.

Oh yeah, batteries. One of the main mechanics here that is probably responsible for how different this game feels is the health system. You have regenerating health; don't get hit for a few seconds and it will regenerate. If you lose it all, you get knocked down and have to tap fire until you get back up. The only thing that can kill you is running out of battery power, which is a separate meter that is constantly going down. This meter is unaffected by damage; it only goes down with time, and if it ever depletes, you are dead. Every once in awhile an enemy will drop a battery, and you have a few seconds to get to it to pick it up to recharge yourself. What it boils down to is that no enemy can kill you, the only thing that can kill you is you not killing enough enemies to get the next battery to drop. This leads to frantic, aggressive play while also making the game feel less punitive as no enemy is able to kill you. They can slow you down, that's it. This, along with all the game's other interesting mix of features is ultimately what makes it so much fun.

That and the overall aesthetic. The player characters are an all female cast of plucky, spunky, psychotic, scared, reckless, and crazy bunch of androids with big chibi heads and sleek robotic frames. The whole game is rendered as 3D models, even though the gameplay is top down and therefore 2D. This gives it a great look, especially in the animation department. The quadrupedal basic enemies are especially cool looking as they crawl out of holes in the floor by the dozen to charge at you. The many enemy types, are varied both in looks and function; you face massive swarms of tiny bee robots, hulking titans with heavy firepower and armor, enemies that charge up giant lasers, fire missiles, anchor you in place, and chase you down to melee you. And just when you think you are doing good, the game spawns a massive amount of strong enemies and they all go for your throat. It also has this hilarious trick that really adds to the tension; it will spawn a horrible enemy that you need to kill right away even though you are being chased by a huge mob, and then the second you kill that horrible enemy... it spawns another one in the exact same spot...

The blazing electronic soundtrack is a perfect match with the frantic action. It adds a lot to the tension, whether it is pulsing and driving or soaring and epic. It's either a steady beat as you face impossible waves of enemies or a soaring sonic moments as you smash your way through and think, “I can't believe I survived that! Oh no, here comes more!” The characters voice work is good and they all have different and interesting personalities and reasons for doing what they're doing, whether it's seeking adventure, reveling in chaos, taking advantage of the situation, cutting loose, or seeking a challenge.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image

The game features a bunch of extra modes and challenges beyond the campaign. There is an infinite mode, which is fun but gets extremely hard, and a boss rush mode. There are also lots of “EX Options” which you can unlock with money you earn for beating levels. These include cosmetic features, like screen filters, and weird stuff like a hilariously inefficient first person mode, the ability to add extra enemies to the levels, and alternate weapons. Some of these things are fun to play around with, but I found that the main enjoyment for me came from the lengthy process of beating the game as each of the 9 androids.

I guess I should mention the bosses, which are really great. Each boss fight is totally unique and is a multi-stage epic fight against an ever-changing enemy. These fights are a great change of pace from the normal levels. They feel more like a shmup than other levels as most of the bosses launch “bullet curtains” at you and require dodging as if you were in a shmup. I don't want to spoil these fights at all, but they are really awesome, and the last boss... well, it's a doozy. It's exhausting and epic in just the right way, and extremely hard yet doable. It reminds me of the exhausting ending sequence to Metal Slug 3.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image

Assault Android Cactus is such a cohesive and well-made game in every way, from it's story to its characters and tone to it's extremely polished and balanced gameplay and its huge amount of variety in playable characters with unique weapon combinations and a large amount of uniquely different levels to blast through that don't get stale even after many repeats. It has the hallmark of a great game; it's basic gameplay is so fun that you just want to keep playing and playing and playing before you even add in the variations of different characters that work to keep things fresh. The game's attitude sucks you in too through the music and visuals and the story and the voice acting and the funny cutscenes and the crazy amount of on-screen enemies you can just barely defeat and the epic levels you can just barely survive. It's a wonderfully re-playable shooter that just stays fun and cool for hours and hours. It's a 5 out of 5!


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (May 19, 2016)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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