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Assault Android Cactus (PC) artwork

Assault Android Cactus (PC) review

"Me and the Girls Partying at the Arcade Like the '80s"

For those of you who enjoy score-attack games or placing on leaderboards with thousands of other players, Assault Android Cactus is likely a game you’ve already played to death at this point. That statement is more conjecture on my part as I’m not a part of that scene of gaming to inform you whether the game is thriving or not. However, I do enjoy these arcady experiences when they are the main course rather than being a side addition, and that distinction is something I would suspect is shared amongst all types of players. Why else do we sink dozens or even hundreds of hours into Devil May Cry or other “Spectacle Fighter/Character-Action” games, or even games as basic as Pac Man, if not for the simple thrills of pseudo-competition?

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
I never said "I" would do that well.

Every now and then, we all need a break from games with engaging plot-lines or complex mechanics; instead, the simple, gleeful pleasure of enacting mass carnage while watching the placement ratings rise up is enough of a reason to keep playing. To that end, Assault Android Cactus will satisfy those score-junkie cravings as well as those of you who play more for the gameplay experience. Even after you’ve beaten the game once, there is more than enough incentives to immediately replay the game eight times more to see everything it has to offer. Maybe by that point, you’ll find yourself replaying one stage ten times to savor every moment of its delight.

Note About the Epic Game Store

Epic Games bad. Enough said.

Now I don’t view this information as anything that influences my opinion, but I did purchase Assault Android Cactus in response to the Epic Games store turning down this game. This information is old news anyway, so its importance has been lost with time. However, I would suggest if you do care about the developers getting more bang for their buck, then you should buy the game off the developer’s website with the Humble Widget. You get a Steam copy of the game; the developers get 95% of the revenue--go check the FAQ for yourself--and you get all the features on your platform of choice (DRM Free or Steam.) The only negative is the page doesn’t account for Steam Sales--the game is slightly cheaper than the original price ($14.99), which might be corrected in the future.

An All-in-One Arcade Cabinet Without All the Archaic Annoyances

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
Nothing out of the ordinary; I'm only cleaning the garden with some Startch.

If you’ve played your share of Twin-Stick shooters, you might write off Assault Android Cactus as simply another entry in the genre, except with chibi-like proportions. Similarly, you could write off any Metroidvania as being a Metroid or Castlevania spin-off, or you could describe any first-person shooter with the same core mechanics. In all these cases, when you examine a game beneath its immediate similarities, you can find subtle differences to make each game stand out from its many peers.

Assault Android Cactus borrows various ideas from its many influences such as shmups (shoot-‘em-ups) and classic arcade games as well as creates its own distinct mechanics. Instead of a health bar or a lives-count, there is a battery that drains with time, and the only way to recharge your health is to kill more enemies before you go down. In addition to batteries, enemies drop various power-ups like extra projectiles, stun locks or wings for extra mobility that all are on short time-limits. The only way to keep your upgrades as well as your combo streak is to utilize the enemies’ spawn patterns from practice to maximize the effectiveness of your power-ups. As a result, all of these elements come together to preserve what is a traditionally arcady experience while forgoing many unnecessarily elements that would eat away at your quarters.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
Me and the Girls are going to blow stuff up.

Even if the appeal of replaying stages for better scores and higher ranks doesn’t immediately interest you, you’ll find yourself relearning stages for all nine characters. Each character provides a distinct play-style along with two weapons that provide you a brief moment of invulnerability when you switch them out. This mechanic becomes essential during boss-fights where you will sometimes have to dodge rather than kill enemies as you focus your attention on the boss. While these mechanics are fairly straight-forward and there aren’t many weapons to manage, some androids have lower skill-requirements than others. Your loadout preferences and level of skill will mainly determine which character you will choose rather than any distinct differences between characters.

As far as my preferences, any girl with a name like Shittake who has a railgun automatically wins my adoration, but I also enjoy playing as Starch and Lemon as they also have long-range weapons. However, from my limited experience with all nine characters, I wouldn’t argue that any single android overpowers the others; the stages, the enemy placements and the player’s arsenal often determines the difficulty of a stage, so you may find yourself switching your roster if one strategy doesn’t work. There are one or two stages, especially the later boss-fights, where I do question if every android was properly balanced, but if you preserve long enough you will figure out the intended route of destruction.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
If number one doesn't work, number two will guarantee it.

However, great arcade experiences live and die purely on the immediate handling of their controls, and, thankfully, Assault Android Cactus handles beautifully in that regard. With two years of an Early Access and the extra polish of the Plus edition four years after its original release, the game plays exceptionally well whether you prefer the keyboard and mouse or a controller. In my experience, the keyboard and mouse set-up is more to my liking as I like having more feedback while aiming. During levels with a higher number of projectiles, I will prefer the added mobility from an analog stick, but this game definitely shows the character’s movement was designed with a keyboard in mind. In addition, your mileage for controls may also vary depending on the character you play as some androids like Holly have auto-targeting projectiles while others like Aubergine have a constant saw-blade spinning to your cursor’s location. Overall, and when combined with the fixed camera for clear on-screen feedback as well as off-screen threats, Assault Android Cactus floats like a butterfly and stings like a--er--Cactus. (Maybe Cactaur would have been a better example.)

Imagine If Life Was a Race to a Charging Station When Running Low

Before we discuss any flaws with this game, let’s address any issues people may have with the price-point versus the amount of content. Originally, Assault Android Cactus had twenty-five stages (five of which were boss stages,) but with the Plus edition there was the addition of Campaign+, which essentially remixed all those stages with more challenging threats. (For an idea of how long this campaign takes, I would estimate that a first run would take most players anywhere from three to five hours depending on how many times they have to retry the stages.) In addition, there is an infinite mode as well as the daily challenges to extend your runtime. However, these core fifty stages wouldn’t include all the total possible stages--for now, I’m ignoring the fact you can play with nine characters--as there is the addition of the extra (EX) options.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
There is a surprising amount of options to extend your gameplay (Camera tweeks, Bots, Scaling Options, etc.)

Now some people may not consider these stages legitimate because they have no scoreboards, but I’ll bet somewhere on the internet there are unofficial leaderboards for the “Virtual Player” EX option. What this setting does is it scales the stages as if you were playing the game cooperatively--oh yeah, this game also has local coop--up to four-players. (There is also a first-person and isometric camera mode, but those options break the core gameplay too much to be worth playing.) For the sake of keeping this topic simple, think of these stages as extra remixes for the most dedicated audience.

So let’s do some basic math--don’t worry English majors; I promise it will be painless, mostly--and let’s calculate how many “total” possible stages there are to complete: Every main stage has three additional versions (four total), but boss-fights are ubiquitous on all settings so we’ll exclude them. In short, we’ll consider this multiplier for the main twenty stages. For the normal campaign, this result would be eighty-five stages; for both campaign modes, this total would be one-hundred-and-seventy stages. Finally, when you factor all nine characters into the equation, this total comes out to 765 stages and 1530 stages respectively. (Note that we haven’t even considered the process of relearning stages, so we’re only counting the minimum totals.) Needless to say, there is more than enough to play to get the full mileage of your purchase.

Besides the non-issue of the amount of content, are there any legitimate problems? Certainly.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
It can be hard to get a screenshot of those mines before they blow up.

For starters, while the gameplay imbalances per android were already stated, there are also issues with certain enemy types; the spike-mines are perhaps the worst offender as they will constantly knock you down if you let them get too close. You might be able to counter them by using the invulnerability state when switching weapons, but I never could get the timing window right to rely on that option. Secondly, the projectiles’ colors can become lost in the background when there are too many on the screen, but there are several colorblind options to help others who may have more trouble than I do with this problem. Finally, while I earlier stated the androids feel balanced as far as their load-outs, I wouldn’t say the same with respect to the battery timer as some androids like Aubergine can take more time to get another battery. Some stages can be incredibly stingy on batteries (or cheap like the boss in Level 4 of Zone 5 who steals them from you,) so the solution, more often than not, is to maintain the streak of your power-ups. If you want to place higher on the leaderboards, then you are already striving for that goal; having the game kick you down with Game Over screens because you cannot find batteries (or an ability to recharge) reliably feels unnecessary.

Again, these issues are not deal breakers, more so annoyances you learn to overcome on your own through practice. Besides the battery problem, most of these issues are genre-specific, so if you are more accustomed to these games you probably won’t find the problems as bothersome. The only disappointing aspect to this game is the inability to play cooperatively online; however, given the constraints of the development team, it’s not fair to expect that feature. (LAN would still be nice, but that feature is so dated few people would probably make any use of it.) The only thing you should take-away from this game is that you are bound to have a good time when the game is at its worst, so cherish as much as you can before it all comes to an end.

Assault Android Cactus (PC) image
Practice will train you to perfection, or madness will get to you first.

In with the Old, Out with the New? Or in with the New, Out with the Old?

Whether you care more about playing for the experience itself or placing on the leaderboards, games like Assault Android Cactus are living proof that, while the era of the arcades may have long past their prime, these types of games can continue to thrive. While we cannot enjoy huddling around the cabinets, cheering others on the sidelines or typing the highest score with A-S-S initials, we can still share these experiences, anonymously and in person, with all the same vigor (although we have enough asses online like myself, thank you.) In short, Assault Android Cactus is a party for one room that makes you wish everyone else could join you to keep the good times going.


Brian's avatar
Community review by Brian (March 16, 2020)

Current interests: Strategy/Turn-Based Games, CRPGs, Immersive Sims, Survival Solo Games, etc.

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