Everyone loves a good twin stick shooter, and when you grab an assault android called Cactus and slap her into a top-down frenzy with cut scenes reminiscent of Jet Force Gemini, surely it’s going to be a smash.
Assault Android Cactus is a story of an Assault Android, called Cactus, surprisingly simple, but when a seemingly friendly cargo ship starts firing dozens of lasers at her ship, it’s only naturally things get a little more complicated. Crashing through the hull of the ship, Cactus lands with a bang taking out a few enemies who are terrorising a few friends, and after a brief introduction, you’re thrown into a small arena, as enemies start to appear for you to mow down.
These early stages of Assault Android Cactus are somewhat below par, the levels consist of only small basic areas, just a few enemies on screen at once and the light attempt at a story does little to grab your attention. Cut scenes are well done, in a last -gen kind of way, and while artistic direction feels similar to Jet Force Gemini, the characters don’t feel quite as approachable.
These early steps are quick, levels lasting barely a few minutes, and after 5 levels, you’re on to the second zone, but things are a little different, more enemies are starting to fill the screen and what was just a basic twin-stick shooter, soon starts to touch on a much deeper challenge as new enemies are introduced.
After about an hour, you should be well on your way through the third Zone, and you’ll find yourself paying as much attention to dodging enemies as you do shooting at them, you should have a good grasp on collecting power-ups and keeping your ‘battery’ topped up whenever necessary, now things are getting tougher, you’ll start to notice that the constantly draining battery needs some micro-management all of it’s own, and with more enemies on screen than ever, there’s a welcome sense of achievement with every level you pass.
Around the half-way point of the story, Assault Android Cactus changed quite drastically, I started to realise how much fun I was having, drifting across the map, dodging lasers and carefully switching between primary and short-term secondary power weapons to dispatch one group of enemy robots after another. At this point Cactus and her friends had already gone up in my estimation, but there where a few more things that would change my opinion even further.
After one death, I decided to switch to a new Android, firstly Holly, rather than the standard assault rifle and short-range flamethrower that Cactus wields, Holly uses a short range Seeker weapon, that’s not as powerful, but will dispatch of small multiple enemies far easier, and her Cannonball secondary would take down heavy foes with ease. Lemon, the third android had a wide spreadshot primary, but long range, powerful rockets to make up for it, and with each android I’d find a new weapon combo, the most drastic step was Aubergine, without a primary weapon her buddy Helo spins around the screen, great at precision movement around the map, but not the most accurate when you’re getting attacked from all sides, however her secondary move Singularity would open up a black-hole which is as powerful as it sounds and one of my favourite weapons in the game. With each android / weapon combo comes a whole new approach to play and while some will prefer the Laser of Starch others will get on better with Peanut’s short range magma.
On top of the relatively short story mode, you’ll unlock the endless Infinity Drive mode which tasks you with wave after wave of enemies to see how long you can last, and there’s also a Daily Drive, which changes day to day resetting the leader-board each time. These extra modes add some longevity, but the real step-forward is exploring Multiplayer, on any mode you can play with up to four players, and this is when Assault Android Cactus really starts to shine, unparalleled mayhem, that for some reason reminded me of Fusion Frenzy with a fantastic Party game vibe, especially on the final (5th) zone, when there’s literally hundreds of enemies flying towards you, these moments are really something special and more than worth enduring those bleak early moments.
Under the main menu, you’ll find collections, which mostly consist of concept art and sound bites you’ll unlock throughout the game, but heading into EX options will give you the chance to spend the credits you’ve bene picking up on some really neat extra’s such as enabling AI bots, mega weapons, or making things quite different with a selection of screen filters, removing the HUD, or trying a whole new perspective with a first person view.
Graphically, the cut-scenes aren’t the best, and the 90’s arcade style overlay as you hold a brief conversation with the bosses you’ll encounter don’t do Cactus any favours, but with so much going on during the latter levels, I was never left lost, whether it’s the array of blue and red projectiles, or the similar coloured backdrops, I was always able to keep track of my character, which helped avoid blind-deaths. There’s a nice variety in the various enemies you’ll come across and the promise of Xbox One X enhancements only push the score higher. The soundtrack is again reminiscent of last-gen arcade games, but it works well and sits nicely within the realms of the game, and the ‘little android’ song is worth dying for again and again. What took me an hour to realise was Assault Arcade Cactus, isn’t trying to break new ground, it doesn’t want to set a standard for what games should be like in the future, instead it’s taking a step back to when the twin-stick shooter was relatively new, and it’s showing us what the genre should be now, chaotic mayhem that feels rewarding and exciting with screens packed full of enemies and a weapon/character system that rewards experimentation.