Ever wanted a twin stick shooter with beautifully designed androids, a dash of humor with some pretty cool back story? Australian based Witch Beam has a game with all those elements and more in Assault Android Cactus.
Normally, shooters aren't really my thing unless there is something special about them, and there is definitely something special here. Everything about Assault Android Cactus ticked all the right boxes, from character design to the music score to the smooth gameplay. When one of our editors asked if anyone was interested in reviewing, I jumped at the opportunity immediately thanks to the trailer. One of the common mistakes I see in trailers is too much emphasis on fluff with little on gameplay—Witch Beam nailed it.
PS: If you were expecting a game about rogue cacti getting mowed down military style, this isn't quite the game you were looking for.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zludenp6QRE
Assault Android Cactus features a cast of all female characters with weapons as diverse as their personalities. Each character offers a different feel in game play which is a nice touch over being re-skins of one another. Kudos to Witch Beam for giving the player a nice variety to work with! Depending on your preferred play style, you will want to try out each character for a few stages to get a feel for them.
Do you prefer firing a fury of bullets or would you rather hit with hard hitting single shot attacks? The choice is all yours with the many droids to play, once you unlock them of course. You'll discover some characters are a lot harder to master than others—looking at you, Aubergine. To any curious readers, my personal fav is Coral.
Originally, Assault Android Cactus was released as an early access title back in 2013, but now the game is ready for prime time as it hits full release today! Whether you're a veteran at twin stick shooters or just coming into the game, anyone can pick up and play. Mastery on the other hand, that takes some practice. A lot of practice.
Like many people who play a game for the first time, the options are one of the very first things inspected to get a feel for what we can tinker. Witch Beam gives us video settings, audio and game settings respectively. For a stylized game, the video settings are pretty decent beyond the usual screen resolution and play in fullscreen mode. What's nice to see are shadows, SSAO, Bloom, image processing, reflecting, various forms of anti aliasing and a frame rate lock rounding off the visuals.
Things are more basic in the audio department with various game volumes, stereo or mono, and being able to enable subtitles. Don't expect any 7.1 or even 5.1 surround here, but I don't think the game really needs anything beyond stereo for what it is. Trust me, you'll be too busy focusing on projectiles launching at 5,000MPH than trying to pin point exact sounds behind you.
Lastly, we have our game options, which consists of toggling leaderboards, boss dialogue, rumble, inverting Y axis and of course the choice of keyboard vs gamepad. There's a hidden option here known as "Pro Mode" that's unlocked once you get your first "S" rank.
Beyond these options in the options section, there are extra options known as "EX Options," which are found under collections. EX Options consist of bonuses ranging from enabling a first person perspective to "mega" weapons. To unlock these, you need to purchase them with credits. No, not those pay to play type credits. Assault Android Cactus uses credits as it's in-game currency; the better you rank, the more credits you're rewarded. Besides being able to purchase extra options, credits can also be used to purchase artwork and codex entries.[caption id="attachment_55994" align="aligncenter" width="587"] "Don't worry, I am the police!"[/caption]
Now that we got the options out of the way, let's tackle the plot. Our story unfolds with you getting a distressed message from a freight ship known as the Genki Star. Being the brave officer that you are, you investigate the Genki Star only to find fellow androids fighting off rogue robots that wish to destroy them. By investigate, I totally don't mean crash land. Yep, you had everything planned out.
This is the point where you learn a few key things about how things operate within Assault Android Cactus. While in our world an android is considered a hybrid of man and machine, within Cactus' universe, androids are human-sized machines with a core roughly the equivalent to a human brain. This core combined with higher defect allowance is what makes Androids behave more human-like. In contrast, robots lack cores and are instructed to do as they are told.
Aboard the Genki Star, bigger bots known as Section Lords are masters of the ship and each have a designated purpose. These behemoth robots are in charge of various tasks throughout the ship, ranging from cargo to security. While Section Lords are well respected by the crew, they are not of the same sentience of an android and are able to be easily manipulated in spite of also having complex personalities. The highest authority above all the robots on a ship is the Nexus Core—the ships brain in a sense. A Nexus Core is responsible for overseeing everything and to do so without any fault. With the Nexus Core being the way it is on the Genki Star, it's up to you to figure out what went awry.
Just thought I'd touch up on that. Let's resume where your crash landing left off. After an, um, brave rescue, the game forces you into an easy to follow tutorial with cute artwork explaining the basics. From the mini tutorial, new players are introduced to the various game mechanics. Within this tutorial, you learn about your more powerful secondary weapon, power-ups and most importantly, your battery.
One of the unique mechanics in Assault Android Cactus is a battery system—androids need energy like any other life form. You're able to get knocked down an infinite number of times per stage with the only real negative impact being your final rank, though once your battery is depleted, it's game over.
Nothing says urgent like an alarming sound warning you are moments away from shutdown. Whenever you do hear this warning, you really want to destroy some robots quickly for a battery charge drop. As a side note, the composer did an excellent job capturing the fragile nature of existance in the musical score "Depleted." This tune is eerie when you think of it from the perspective of someone who is dying. Maybe I'm over-thinking a bit here, but the track conveys the message well whenever you get a game over.
Above everything else to focus on, your battery should be your number one priority followed by chains if you're trying to get a high ranking. The more you play, the better you become and you will be less panicked over low battery warnings. I'm saying this as a warning to the new players out there to anticipate a legitimate moment of panic. Oh Witch Beam, I forgive the moments of pure dread since this is a nice mechanic that adds a little bit of extra depth.
Batteries and options isn't what you came to see, is it? You wanted to know about the actual gameplay!
Story wise, Assault Android Cactus isn't going to draw crazy bouts of emotional outbursts. Robots run a muck while you blast your way through 3 kilometers of ship to reach a Nexus Core that's malfunctioning. You shoot things to move up to shooting stronger things until you take on the final boss. It's how gratifying shooting things feels that is the appeal of Assault Android Cactus. At it's heart, Assault Android Cactus is a fast paced arcade twin stick shooter with a heavy emphasis on skill. In a way, the game is alive. The more you destroy aggressively, the more intense it becomes.
In fact, the game urges you to be as aggressively skillful as possible—that's how you achieve S+ ranks. With the right amount of timing, you can rack up some serious points if you've mastered crowd control. On your first play through, don't worry too much about getting super high ranks because you're going to want to get a feel for which character to master. Since the game is called Assault Android Cactus, this is who you're going to be playing as first, at least for the tutorial bit.
As far as the beginner droids go, Cactus is very balanced and is a solid choice no matter your skill level. Nothing like a well timed flamethrower to the face to earn some credits. Let's say your accuracy isn't exactly the best, what can you do? Enter Holly! Both Holly and Lemon are great for wild fire guaranteed to hit something. I'd say these two are the best for beginners. If you're confident enough for in your face gunfire, Coral is your gal. I absolutely adore her plasma field secondary!
Once you've blasted your way through the end of a section, you'll come face to face with a Section Lord not quite acting themselves. As much as it pains you, there is no other option than to fight. Upon defeating a Section Lord, they'll tell you bits of information in relation to the story before they ultimately shut down. You'll discover as you progress that there is definitely foul play at work.
Fun little detail, who you play as determines the dialogue for both you and the bosses. Peanut and Venom is probably the best interaction; you can cut the tension with a butter knife. The writing reflects the character personalities perfectly—good job, Witch Beam. I love it when a game knows when to have fun. One word: Starch.
Upon beating bosses, you'll unlock more androids. From what I've read about the early access, when it first hit there were only 4 playable androids. Final roster for the completed game is 8 + 1 hidden droid. Players who have already played early access are already familiar with these 8; I'll save the 9th as a secret for gamers to discover on their own. It's much better to discover for yourself.[caption id="attachment_56150" align="aligncenter" width="940"] Left to right: Cactus, Holly, Lemon, Coral, Starch, Aubergine, Shiitake and Peanut[/caption]
Incidentally, the order of the pictured androids above is the order in which you unlock them. If I broke down every single character, this will end up less of a review and more as a walkthrough! Instead, have some more in-game shots of complete and total domination!
Nothing feels more satisfying than having your weapon at max charge coupled with the extra fire power power-up! Depending on which android you have at max capability, your entire screen may be covered with hundreds of projectiles hurdling everywhere—and I enjoy every second of it.
Word of advice before wrapping up this review, remember the patterns of the Section Lords. You're going to need this information towards the end.[caption id="attachment_56102" align="aligncenter" width="587"] I miss being ranked #1 ;_;[/caption]
Not much to say for negatives on this one. Characters are endearing, gameplay is solid, and the visuals remind me of a much nicer representation of something that would have been right at home on the N64. Difficulty scaling is just challenging enough to encourage you to get better, but not so much to rage quit. Well, the final boss might cause swearing, but that's what final bosses tend to do. Really, the only two gripes I have is that the multiplayer is local co-op only, and it would have been nice to have a bit more length. That said, if you have a buddy to play with, it's one hell of a rush with so much chaotic action going on at once!
Would I recommend? Yes! I have no problem giving Assault Android Cactus a seal of approval, especially if you have someone to play with locally! Maybe in a future patch, Witch Beam could add in online multiplayer—hint hint. Even when going solo, the leaderboards will give competitive gamers something to work towards. Mmmm, delicious S+ rankings.
I'd like to give kudos to the team at Witch Beam for creating a wicked nice twin-stick shooter and would love for Assault Android Cactus to become a series, even a TV show. It's a nice little game that was a joy to play.
Review code provided via publisher.
Fun twin-stick shooter with endearing characters. Grab a friend and unleash a fury of projectiles for the Genki Star!