When the main character of a game introduces herself with the words, “My name’s Cactus” [the Aussie equivalent of ‘my name’s mud’], you know you’re in for a fun time. Made in Brisbane by Witch Beam, Assault Android Cactus casts you in the role of the assault-class android, junior constable Cactus. Your mission: reach the AI core of the stricken spaceship Yankee Star and save its human crew and android population from a rampaging army of service robots and their mechanical overseers.
Some games are about the joy of slowly discovering the richness of the game world. Of finding journals and logs, carefully observing the environment and deducing the story and how it all fits together. Some are about the satisfaction of watching a carefully thought-out strategy, slowly and painstakingly crafted, come to fruition. And then some are about split-second decisions and fast reflexes – the rush of adrenalin and excitement as you seamlessly weave, dodge and carve your way through an endless wall of enemies and projectiles, and the sharp kick of frustration and disappointment as a slight miscalculation or slip-up on the controls brings it all unstuck. A frenetic twin-stick shooter with a generous dose of insane bullet-hell thrown in, Assault Android Cactus fits snugly into this last category.
With its vibrant colours, exaggerated cartoon-like and family-friendly art style and boppin’ soundtrack, Assault Android Cactus perfectly captures the arcade-game feeling. Enemies are colourful and varied. Whether it’s the run-of-the-mill service robot with its melee attack, the swarms of fast-but-fragile wasp robots, laser-toting drones or the section overlords, there’s always something to keep you on you toes. Not that you need loads of enemies to be put under pressure: your character, being an android, runs off battery power. This slowly drains and, when it runs out, it’s game over. The only way to keep your battery charged is to collect batteries that are occasionally dropped by destroyed enemies. While taking too much damage will result in a temporary ‘knock-down’ and loss of whatever upgrades you’ve acquired (whether it’s a temporary speed boost or upgrade to your main weapons rate of fire/damage/weapon spread), the real hurt comes from the fact that your battery continues to drain during those few seconds of downtime, bringing you ever closer to the dreaded ‘battery depleted’ screen.
Adding to the variety is a generous raft of nine playable androids. The animation and voice acting perfectly captures the characters’ personalities, whether it’s Coral the gym instructor, or slightly snarky and nervous inventory-manager Holly (who dreams of a peaceful desk-job but suffers from work-related stress). These are more than just cosmetic changes, however, and each character has unique weapons which wildly change your style of play. Coral, for example, sports a shotgun (powerful at close-quarters but useless at a distance) and a projectile-deflecting-and-robot-damaging plasma screen, whilst Holly packs a gun which fires homing-bullets and a cannonball launcher. While each character’s powerful secondary weapon has a short cool-down period, swapping weapons also activates a dodge ability which, when timed right, will let you pass unscathed through an otherwise solid wall of incoming fire.
Like all good arcade games, while the game itself is fun, the real challenge comes from trying to hit the high-score. Whether it’s in the story-driven campaign, the daily challenges, boss-rush (which challenges you to defeat all the games bosses one after the other) or infinity mode (what it sounds like), there’s plenty here to keep you engaged, and each failure has that ‘oh so close’ feeling that will keep you coming back again and again. The mix of variety, levels and challenges make it ideal for both extended gaming sessions or when you just want to dip in for a short and fast game.
If this wasn’t enough, there’s also a host of extras, including the Codex containing character information, the Art Gallery (featuring concept art and illustrations by guest artists), a jukebox which lets you pick which soundtrack you want, and a mode selector. This last one lets you widely change the feel and look of the game, from changing colour schemes and android proportions, to increasing the number of on-screen enemies or even putting the game into first-person perspective (a whole new challenge in itself).
Witch Beam also released a massive update on the 30th of April. Alongside features like ‘aim assist’ (for those who just want to focus on the dodging and shooting, or find the controls confusing), and a new paint-job for each robot (including a cool cyberman/Ultron/necron look for Starch) there is the Campaign+ mode. Only attempt this if you want a serious challenge. Vastly increased numbers of faster, more aggressive enemies, and tougher boss-fights means that all but the best will be brought unstuck. Repeatedly.
Great for single-player and totally hectic in local four-player co-op mode, with its fast paced gameplay and tight, intuitive control, Assault Android Cactus is an easy to learn, hard to master, masterpiece. Without any doubt, one of the best twin-stick shooters around. With the demo freely available on Steam, there’s no excuse not to have a go. ■