Let’s get two birds with one stone here and explain the premise of the game and its strange name at the same time: using various robots called Assault Androids, you have to overthrow a robotic rebellion on-board a spaceship. This involves shooting and shooting and a lot more shooting, and maybe some strafing as this game is firmly in the twin stick shooter camp. Oh, and one of the Assault Androids is named Cactus.
The reason to stretch your itchy trigger finger isn’t as important as the experience of the shooting here. Once in game, you’re only told that various bosses (called Overlords) need to be beaten to reach the ship’s core AI and save the day. Simple, right?
Assault Android Cactus review: Mechanics
As the player characters are androids, Assault Android Cactus pulls a switcheroo with how damage works. Instead of lives or a health bar, there’s a battery charge. The charge will tick down at a constant rate and a pickup to restore it usually only appears when a wave of enemy robots has been turned to scrap.
This doesn’t mean that the cute androids are impervious, though, as taking damage will decrease the effectiveness of the guns (which get powered up from enemy drops) and they can also be knocked down. Being in this state means no shooting or moving, but the charge of the battery will still fade away. Tapping the fire button like a person possessed will get you back into the action.
But that’s the boring part; let’s talk about the guns. Each of the androids are differentiated by their appearance and their two weapons. The main weapon is weaker and can be used indefinitely while the secondary is much more powerful but has a cool down period. While we thought we’d have to budget our efforts and save the stronger weapon for the bigger enemies, we found most success in using it as often as possible.
Since this is an arcade shooter you get a score and a final grade at the end at the end of the level. This is the first look into Assault Android Cactus’ replayability as you can blast through the campaign in three hours with horrible grades (like we did), or you can retry until you get the perfect S+ rank. If you’re a perfectionist you’ll be there for days on end.
This game may unseat Hotline Miami as the tightest feeling game out there. Even when there’s dozens of enemies and hundreds of dangerous projectiles on screen, we always felt like a few deft movements would get us to safety. Gunplay feels equally good, as corralling enemies into groups on which to unleash your bigger weapons is just so satisfying.
We did feel a lack of variety in the early game as we continued to use one android and the enemies remained constant, but as we progressed – unlocking new androids and shooting at some new obstacle – this subsided.
Assault Android Cactus review: Did the floor just collapse?
While almost the entirety of this game is fought in closed off areas, we never felt bored or frustrated with our environments. The number of different, dynamic elements was a real surprise. One level in particular is constantly built and rebuilt as it progresses. We almost felt cheated when we got to a level that was a simple, circular arena.
As far as pickups go, disregarding the all-important charge for the battery, there are only three. The pickups are dropped as a single unit and waiting a certain amount of time will let it cycle through the options. Those options are: shutting down the enemies for a time, a boost to speed and two little, floating robot friends that will shoot for you.
These three do their job, but there really could have been more. They almost feel like an afterthought and the android’s weapons are far more fun to use.
To keep you pumped there’s fast-paced electronic music that perfectly matches the action. We suggest that you leave the sounds on, though, as your android will let you know when a battery drops; that alone saved us a number of times.
Assault Android Cactus review: Insert coin to continue
Aside from the main campaign, there is tons to keep this game alive. Two versions of an endless mode as well as a boss rush are available and have almost infinite replayability; we definitely see this as the type of game you throw on every once in a while for a good 30 minute play session.
There is also an in-game currency that you can use to buy unlocks. While they can be used to view art and additional information about the game, a group of unlocks called “EX Options” is the most interesting. You’ll find game modifiers such as filters, giving the characters normal size heads (anime proportions be damned) and our favourite: first person mode.
While obviously not intended to be a main game mode, it is reasonably fleshed out and fun to play. Getting through the campaign and going back to replay some missions in the new perspective was really unique, and aiming our laser right in the centre of the heads of the most difficult enemies was therapeutic.
Other time-wasters include a jukebox to listen to songs from the game and full controller support. While this is a twin stick shooter, WASD and a mouse still work nicely and we actually preferred this setup for some boss fights.
If you don’t want to go it alone, you can play local co-op with up to four people. While fun on easier stages, once the difficulty ramps up trying to make sense of the screen that is mostly moving, colourful ordnance will lead to a headache, and likely a lot of swearing.
Assault Android Cactus review: Conclusion
Can we recommend this game? Yes, it offers solid arcade action that will leave you with white knuckles and a smile on your face. But, if you’re the type of person to finish a campaign and never look back, this isn’t the game for you as it’s a bit short. Even though it is reasonably priced, the three-hour-or-less main story isn’t quite worth it if all you’ll do is play once and not go back.
However, if you’re interested in a game you can keep coming back to for some quick fun, and exploring all the nuances of the varied cast of characters, jump right in.
You also get to use cool lines like this on your friends: “Yeah, my main for the mobs is Coral, her scattershot is great, but when you get to a boss Starch is your girl. I wonder why she says ‘Pineapple!’ on the selection screen?”