I love twin-stick shooters. It is one of my favorite genres as the frenetic pace most of them employ keeps you engaged throughout the experience. While some people enjoy testing their skill against others in multiplayer FPS games, I enjoy the score chasing and leaderboard climbing of a great twin-stick shooter. How does Assault Android Cactus, the first game from Witch Beam, stack up? Quite well. Quite well indeed.
Jumping in, you take control of Cactus, a police android who is responding to what she believes to be a stranded space freighter. Once inside, Cactus realizes the freighter is actually being taken over by the robotic crew, and she must fight her way to the automated brain of the ship in order to regain control of the freighter. Along the way she recruits a crew of other androids who assist in the assault and bring their own skills to the fight.
Each of the androids are beautifully rendered with big personality. This is one of the best parts of the game. Often in twin-stick shooters, other characters just have different color clothes. Not in Assault Android Cactus. Each android has their own personality and their own weapons. This immediately brings a ton of replay value to the game. How you approach the levels and enemies changes dramatically based on the character you use. There were definitely characters I prefered (Holly and Starch) over others (Aubergine…I just…I was so bad) but all of them were fun and made each time I played feel unique.
While having a unique primary weapon may have been enough, each android (9 in all) also has their own secondary weapon. These weapons are used when you need to turn the tide of the battle. Whether it be dealing big damage or getting a brief breather from the onslaught, juggling between your primary weapon and secondary weapon (which has a cool down) often spells the difference between victory and defeat. Rest assured, defeat will happen, but not in the way you typically expect.
Instead of having a set number of lives, these androids live off of a rechargeable battery. This battery is constantly depleting during the battle. Once you kill enough enemies, a battery pack is dropped, and you recharge your battery to continue the fight. If your battery ever completely drains though, that spells the end of your android and you will need to restart the stage. While this is going on, you still have a health meter. If your health is depleted, you get knocked down. While this is a minor penalty compared to death, it takes you out of the fight for a crucial few seconds, resets your weapon power (your weapon increases in power as you destroy enemies), and your battery continues to drain. This means once you get back up you have to jump into the fray with a bit of a weaker weapon and less time to get that crucial battery juice. One knockdown can mean the difference between clearing a stage and having to give it another go.
In addition to batteries being dropped, you will occasionally relieve your enemies of power-ups. These grant short boosts to things like your movement speed, add some extra power to your offense, or freeze the enemies on screen. After a power-up has been on screen for a few seconds, it morphs into a different power-up. This just adds an additional layer of strategy to the game of grabbing power-ups at the right time to give you the boost you are looking for.
Staying true to the genre, high-score chasing is a central part to Assault Android Cactus. Killing enemies in rapid succession increases your chain, and the longer your chain gets, the higher the score multiplier. At the end of each stage you are given a grade based on your score, with the elusive S+ being the goal. There are a total of 25 levels in the campaign with every 5th level being an epic boss fight. While the whole campaign does not take too long to complete (just a few hours), completing the campaign is a small part of the game. Continually going back to increase your score, utilizing the different androids, and doing whatever you can to increase your score and rank is where the fun lies. And it is really fun. Outside of the campaign are two additional modes to partake in (Boss Rush and Infinity Drive) and while they are both fun, I continually found myself replaying the campaign levels.
I really enjoy the presentation of Assault Android Cactus. While the visuals are not cutting edge, I believe the art style and color palette in the game are excellent. There is a constant barrage of bright reds, blues, greens, and yellows exploding across a more muted backdrop of grays and browns. I personally love this. It helps keep me focused on the things that can kill me, while giving subtle visual information in the environment to help me avoid walls, pits, and other obstacles I need to navigate around. This, combined with an absolutely thumping soundtrack, makes for an excellent presentation. The music is something really special about this game. I do not write much about video game music, and there are many games where I turn the sound off completely and listen to other music or podcasts. That was not the case in this game. I played this game with my headset on, and the volume probably a bit too high.
If you notice, I have not even mentioned the controls yet. For a twin-stick shooter bad controls can be a death sentence, but there is nothing to worry about here. The controls are tight, responsive, and intuitive. Veteran twin-stick players will settle right in, and folks new to this style of game will be able to understand why fans of the genre are so passionate about it. I couldn’t even fake that a death was because of bad controls. It was all on me, and that is the way it should be.
Have you played Assault Android Cactus? What did you think? Comment below or chat with me about it on Twitter!
Overall Assault Android Cactus is an excellent twin-stick shooter. It does not have the RPG elements you are starting to see in many newer entries into the genre, and the story is light and straightforward. However, the tight controls, diverse lineup of characters, challenging levels, and addictive gameplay make this an essential game if you are a fan of high-scores, high-action, and high-quality games.