Assault Android Cactus is a demanding dual-joystick shooter that adds in bullet hell mechanics to keep things interesting. When a malfunctioning AI becomes a serious threat, Cactus, the main character and fast-acting android, is called in to help. Cactus isn’t alone though; she’s got a rag-tag team of humorous androids to help her, ranging from a fire loving Irish-sounding android, to an apathetic android who looks like she fell out of a William Gibson novel. There is a definite tone to Assault Android Cactus and that tone is silly. This juxtaposes well against the craziness that is often taking place on screen, even if that craziness is sometimes to the game’s detriment.
Modes in the game include a short, but fun, campaign, an infinite mode that is pure survival, and a daily challenge. Completing levels leads to earning currency to unlock fun modes and mods that reminded me of games from yesteryear. Fun additions like small head mode or faster bullets change the game up enough to make them worth seeing. In a genre that feels hard to innovate on, Assault Android Cactus does its best to stand out.
If you’ve played one dual-joystick shooter, you’ve played them all. At least, that’s how some of these games make me feel. Assault Android Cactus is, thankfully, different in many ways. The premise is simple; players drop into a world, avoid enemies while shooting at them, get power-ups, and move on. Where Assault Android Cactus changes that well-established formula is in its characters and battery system. Each character has a primary and secondary fire type. The primary type of fire is a main weapon that changes from character to character. The main character, Cactus, uses a standard assault rifle with decent range and steady fire. Other gun types include a shotgun with a short range but massive damage, a lava gun that has some damage over time effects, and the really strange helicopter that shoots on its own but is controlled by the character’s right stick. Some of these characters are harder to use than others and like a good fighting game, I found a character I could work with and stuck with them.
Secondary fire offers characters a way out of sticky situations with a special move that deals a lot of damage. My favorite character, Holly, shoots a huge cannonball that moves slowly but kills just about anything in its path. These special moves act as a way to quickly take down bosses or difficult enemies. Speed is the name of the game, as characters in Assault Android Cactus don’t care much about health. Instead, it’s all about battery life.
While you do have a health bar that ticks down with each hit you take, it’s not the biggest concern. Losing all your health causes your character to faint. Rapidly pressing the fire button brings them back to their feet and you continue from there. What really matters is the battery meter at the top of the screen. It ticks down steadily and is replenished by dropped batteries you get from enemies. This can make for some truly stressful moments where you’re near the end of your battery and get that last-second recharge to keep you from death. Those moments are when Assault Android Cactus is at its best, making you manage your health, time, battery, and character all at the same time while blasting the evil robots that are swarming you.
Assault Android Cactus really shines during its boss fights. Each boss plays very differently from one another. In fact, each one plays in a completely different way than the game itself. Main levels are completed by clearing waves of enemies without dying. You dodge bullets here and there but the main game feels akin to Geometry Wars. The boss battles are different in that they are patterned and feel like a great bullet hell shooter. Layered perfectly on top of the dual-joystick controls. While you move and shoot the bosses they send out tremendous waves of bullets and it’s up to you to dodge them. Failing to dodge them is often a problem as dying in boss fights means a big waste of time as you rapidly press fire to get up. Bosses only drop extra batteries once a piece of their health is gone so it’s in your best interest to stay alive and keep firing.
While I found the boss fights to be the best part of Assault Android Cactus, I found a couple of the bosses to be a little ridiculous as they utilized techniques that I hadn’t seen before. The game is great at teaching you new things without making it feel like a tutorial. You constantly see new enemy types and understand how to best dispose of them while dodging their attacks. Justice, my least favorite boss, deploys a number of techniques that felt unfair and, pardon the pun, unjust. I eventually learned the techniques and managed to best Justice, but I couldn’t help but feel like I did it by accident. Whereas the rest of the game felt like an achievement, Justice felt like I squeezed by somehow. That difficulty imbalance feels like a problem in later levels as well.
Assault Android Cactus is sometimes too crazy for its own good. As you get deeper into the campaign or infinite mode, the enemy numbers and difficulty increase. There were a few times in the later stages where I felt like even if I was above mediocre at the game I wouldn’t have survived. The amount of stuff happening on screen becomes incredibly overwhelming and hard to keep up with in those moments. These moments are prime for your special abilities but there were times when those abilities didn’t seem to do enough to make a difference.
If those late stages are too crazy for you, I can’t even begin to recommend the absolutely insane co-op mode. Up to four players can group together to take on harder and more numerous enemies. To say that this is an enjoyable chaos is an understatement. If you’re the type to play these games for perfects and best scores I recommend staying away from the co-op. For me, the co-op was pure, dumb fun that was a welcomed break from the tense and strenuous single player mode.
While there is a lot going on at times, I have to say that Assault Android Cactus makes it all look pretty. While not revolutionary, the game has a clean, crisp look to the world and character models. The androids you play are bright and colorful as are the robots you destroy in droves. My one complaint about the look is that it can be hard to tell what’s a bullet and what’s a collectible at times. Destroying enemies causes white bits to fall that fly to the player for added points. Enemies shoot blue and red lasers and bullets, and when those overlap with the white bits, or vice versa, it can be a little hard to know if you’re supposed to dodge or not. It’s not a huge problem but it was a noticeable frustration at times.
One of the biggest strengths, and misses, of the game has to be the characters. They’re so fun and diverse and their attitudes are all enjoyable, but the game does little to flesh them out in any meaningful way. I really enjoyed Holly’s constant fear of everything, Cactus’s go-getter attitude, and Starch’s bleak, apathetic view of what was going on. The little quips the characters say during combat and at the end of the level were fun and the occasional cut scene did a little to make these characters feel more real but I wanted more when my time with the campaign was over.
Assault Android Cactus is a great dual-joystick shooter for those looking for a new one. It makes some smart changes to the well-known formula and takes the genre to places it’s never been. Trying to add a story and characters on top of that doesn’t pan out for the best and the action can get a bit too chaotic to feel like you really stand a chance but those don’t take away from the overall experience too much. Assault Android Cactus had me locked in for hours, wanting to beat my high score and try every character to see which one fit me best. Like a great fighting game, I studied the characters to find the right one to match my play style. While incredibly stressful and demanding, there is nothing quite like beating a boss or besting your high score to make that stress seem worth it.