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Assault Android Cactus Review – Hitting the Twin-Stick Sweet Spot

Chasing high scores at the arcade and the constant struggle to stay on top is still very much alive in gaming today. However, with the help of online play, we’re not just competing with Jimmy from two streets over, we’re up against the whole world.

Although Assault Android Cactus might sound like a Plants vs. Zombies spinoff title, this game is closer in relation to Galak-Z than Garden Warfare. Pinpoint controls paired with a competitive scoring system pits gamers against each other all in the name of being top dog, and with a short but sweet campaign, co-op mode, boss rush mode and more. Assault Android Cactus (AAC) will keep you coming back whether you want to collect trophies, break world records or just relax.

AAC Crash
Like many video game adventures set in space, this journey starts out with a crash landing.

AAC follows the conventions of many other twin-stick shooters: move your character with the left analog stick, kill your enemies with the right as they appear from all angles. While some twin-stick shooters call for too high of a skill ceiling that could alienate casual players, AAC proves to be easy enough to pick up and play for anyone, but challenging enough that genre veterans will still be able to battle for the glory of first place without being treated like a newbie.

Now, in order to make this title so universally accessible, AAC took a familiar formula and made minor adjustments where necessary . Assault Android Cactus relieves some stress normally created by the genre with the inclusion of a regenerating health bar. This gives leeway for the occasional slip-up, but still calls for heightened attention when more alarming hazards present themselves.

Maybe the tiny, blue bullets won’t kill you in one hit, but that giant bomb will. Decisions. Decisions.

This allows priorities to surpass precision in a hugely rewarding way, giving the player who dodges everything more points and the one who dodges the biggest problems a second lease on life. A battery display on the top of the screen also indicates how much time the player has left before failing a mission. The battery can be charged by collecting energy from enemies. If it is fully depleted, the stage must be restarted; but to counteract this stress, players can revive themselves an unlimited number of times to grab that energy if their life is drained before their battery power. It’s another give and take that challenges the player without overwhelming them.

Power-ups are also done in a wonderfully accessible way: they don’t over complicate the gameplay. Arcade shooters can sometimes go overboard with their boosts in that they give too many options or asking the player to keep track of certain power-up combinations. While this can create further complexity to a game, often times it just adds an extra, unnecessary step to a quick, claustrophobic game genre. Translation: bullet hell overload. And although some might enjoy that, not everyone has the patience or skill to pick up and play something like that. Thus, many people would never give said game the time of day.

Assault Android Cactus fixes that problem by keeping things simple from start to finish. Three power-ups can be collected: a speed boost, a lock down ability that immobilizes all enemies and – my personal favorite – extra firepower. Nothing more, nothing less – and it’s this simplicity that allows the player to truly make knee-jerk decisions in the heat of the moment. Hopelessly outnumbered? Stop those bastards in their tracks with lockdown. Is this new boss’ bullet stream too fast to maneuver around? Grab the speed boost. Each player will attack each situation in their own way, and these three temporary upgrades will foster that varied plan of attack without slowing down the action.

AAC bullets
Finding a character you’re comfortable with is important when fighting against the like of this.

Variety is also the name of the game when it comes to AAC. Not only does combat vary by the player’s choice to use their main weapon or more powerful, but limited secondary weapon, but by the title’s conclusion you’ll have access to nine playable combatants (four of which are available from beginning to end).  Each android has their own fighting style. Cactus, for example, is the game’s protagonist and boasts an automatic rifle that fires a steady stream of destruction or an ultra-powerful flamethrower for close-range combat. Coral, an athletic android, uses a shotgun and deployable force field that zaps nearby enemies and deflects hostile gunfire.

This variety again gives players a chance to pair up with play styles more conducive to their own gaming tendencies. Not only does this put a different spin on gameplay nine times, but it alters characterized combat catchphrases and results in different dialogue with AAC’s bosses. It’s a nice little layer of detail that indie developer Witch Beam never had to explore, but we’re glad they did.

A whole slew of gameplay options open up to players after completing a few missions and collecting credits. This currency can be used to purchase a first-person mode(fight from the android’s point-of-view), an overpowered secondary weapon mode, filters to change up the game’s look and a few other neat bonuses.

AAC Boss
Go figure, a developer that goes by the name Witch Beam has a fetish for gigantic, deadly beams.

Speaking of bonuses, in addition to the 5-hour campaign -with replay value in the form of high scores- a boss rush mode, daily missions (that haven’t gone live yet), concept art, a music player, and character, dossiers are also available to create a full look at the world of AAC. Witch Beam even invited some guest artists into the game as fanart can be purchased along with the impressive concept art created for the game’s development.  So, all in all, not only will AAC offer new missions to fans who boot up the game daily, but it will also give loads of extras to anybody willing to scrounge up the proper amount of credits to buy it all.

As a whole, Assault Android Cactus is everything you could want from a game like this. The controls are responsive and fluid, the soundtrack, while it had me wanting more, bumps along to the furious pace of gunfire and explosions, the visuals are crisp and clean, and there’s plenty of cool collectibles to pick up along the way. Four player offline co-op is just the cherry on top that perfectly compliments this twin stick sundae. The only thing missing is an online co-op mode because crowding around one computer monitor can prove to be quite a challenge. However, true couch co-op is right around the corner. Assault Android Cactus is set to release on PS4, Wii U and PS Vita by the end of 2015, and for $15, you can’t go wrong. Even if you’re not a fan of assault (Who could blame you after Star Fox?), androids, or cacti, you’d wont regret giving this title a try.

Twin Stick Shooter for the Masses

Assault Android Cactus might be a confusing game title, but once you pick it up everything starts to make sense.


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