There has been no shortage of quality twin-stick shooters lately. True arcade games at heart, they often push off narrative or remarkable characters for the sake of frantic action. Assault Android Cactus, finally making an entrance to Xbox One and specially enhanced for the X model, certainly doesn’t hold back in insane action, but it has something that separates it from the mass: personality.
Assault Android Cactus gets its uncanny name from its titular character. Cactus, an eager junior constable of Interplanetary Police Department, crashes her ship into a space freighter Genki Star. On-board, she befriends three other androids who join her in a mission to fight the hostile robots and eventually gain control of Genki Star. The campaign takes place over Genki’s six levels, each divided into four stages and boss fights. More android girls join the fray as the missions continue.
The game can be played either solo or with up to four players in local co-op. In addition to the campaign, there’s infinity drive which is basically a survival mode, only ending when the androids’ batteries run out. Daily drive is pretty similar to infinity drive, but the level layout and enemy patterns change daily. It's mainly played for credits as it doesn’t keep an online scoreboard, unlike the other modes of play. Everything in the game can be achieved by playing solo, but as is often the case with these kind of shooters, the more players, the merrier.
Assault Android Cactus is pure top-down arcade action and marries twin-stick sensibilities with bullet hell shooters. You practically have to keep the right trigger pressed constantly down to keep firing with main weapons and smash the left trigger to unleash devastating special attacks as soon as their cooldowns reset. Dying doesn’t matter much - only a dip to the score - and rapidly pressing the shoot button gets androids up again. Game over presents itself only when the androids’ shared battery runs out. It depletes gradually but can be boosted with battery recharge pick-ups, rewarded for clearing out a wave of enemies. There are also pick-ups for boosting weapons and additional drones for added firepower.
At its best (or worst, if you’re not keen on games testing your reflexes), the game is one big mayhem. It’s easy to lost sight of androids amidst all the gazillion bullets, enemies and effects flying around. Often, in the thickest of action, all you can do is trace the bullet trail to keep the track of player characters. Thankfully, the view is quite close to action, scaling smartly when the co-op players drift apart in different directions. Even though the game is Xbox One X enhanced, offering true 4K resolution, have no fear. It runs perfectly on the basic hardware too in a silky smooth 60fps action all-around, no matter how much stuff is happening on the screen.
The big part of the game’s appeal, apart from the heart-pounding action, comes from the cute android cast’s personalities and differences in their gameplay. My favorite character was a broken, lethargic and slightly psychotic Starch for her continuous laser beam and homing micro missiles, while my brother preferred Holly, partly because she’s a freckled and bespectacled redhead nerd (eerily reminiscing a comic strip character we once created). But he also liked her seeker missiles and demolishing cannonball. Having played most of the campaign with Starch, I’m intrigued to learn to play Shiitake effectively for her impressive and hard-to-use railgun (and her wide grin is a charmer!). The banter between androids and bosses brings forth their respective characterization.
My biggest gripe about the game is its somewhat monotonous level design. Most of the stages are restricted battle arenas where you fight against the waves upon waves of enemies. That can end up being a bit repetitive in the long run. The few push-scrolling stages are most fun as the cumulative firepower shows its true awesomeness in them, with the rogue robots being mowed down in a spectacular fashion. The boss fights are divided into phases, with each depleted notch of their health bar rewarding the battery pick-up. The bullet hell is most evident during these encounters, as you have to keep on evading barrages of projectiles. The left trigger doubles for both the dodge and the special attack, which is quite handy. You either evade or fire off the special, a win-win situation! Curiously, some boss fights felt easier when played solo while others clearly benefited from the added firepower of multiple androids.
There’s always lots to do in Assault Android Cactus. Even though the main campaign is relatively short, the live scoreboards for each sub-level tempt to re-play them and try out different character set-ups for the best possible score. In-game credits gained from playing the game modes are spent unlocking art gallery entries and Ex Options, ranging from cosmetic filters to different camera views. Progressing in the campaign unlocks more thumping good, MOD music-style tunes by Jeff van Dyck to be played in the game’s jukebox.
Lots of personality, android girls looking like cute super-deformed action dolls (you can opt for normal-sized heads too via Ex Options), mad action, smooth and fast gameplay and groovy soundtrack. These are the delectable ingredients for Assault Android Cactus’s tasty cocktail, with only sometimes samey level design adding a tad of sour savor to the mix. Even my brother, who’s usually useless in twin-stick shooters, liked the gameplay here and was actually a big help in demolishing the enemies onboard Genki Star. It goes on to show the game is catered for many kinds of players, all finding their favorite androids to fit their natural skills. Assault Android Cactus sucks you into its crazed action until your eyes start to water and fingers cramp.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.