You might not know that but I am not too fond of the majority of Early Access titles. Unfortunately, lately there have been thousands of unfinished games on Steam, with a slim chance to be completed and released. While the idea of supporting developers and influencing them with our feedback is pretty cool, we all know how it turned out in reality. Luckily, my faith in humanity is being partially restored by such beauts as Sunless Sea, Kerbal Space Program or… Assault Android Cactus.
Created by a small indie dev team called Witch Beam, Assault Android Cactus is a quite challenging and yet incredibly entertaining shoot ’em up/twin stick shooter, offering a local coop mode up to 4 players (kudos to you, devs!). There are no teary moments or mindblowing plot twist (well, there is a one or two but nothing more) — this game is all about havock and destruction.
Regarding the story presented in this title, it is kinda there. Basically, it all starts with a junior constable named Cactus heading towards the Genki Star — a massive ship that had transmitted a distress signal several days before. However, the vessel all of a suden starts shooting lasers at the main protagonist’s ship, forcing her (all the androids are female) to… smash into Genki Star’s hull. Inside the vessel she finds out that all the robots on board started rebellion. Cactus decides to investigate this case with an assault rifle in one hand and a flamethrower in the other. While it is true there is some violence, it is portrayed in a cartoony, child-friendly way with no blood on the screen and with death of our character being nothing more but a simple battery depletion. I would say that Assault Android Cactus is a fine title for the 9+ children, due to its cartoony artstyle and cartoony violence, light sense of humour and coopetitive mechanics.
But these are just some vague information. Let’s not prolong this any further and go straight to the details.
Assault Android Cactus belongs to the Shoot ‘em up genre (if you are playing with a controller it is also a Twin stick shooter), meaning it is centered around shooting countless hordes of enemies and avoiding their bullets at the same time. This game is easy to learn but hard to master, making it accessible to both casual gamers and hardcore perfectionists.
The game mechanics aren’t too complicated. Our goal is to complete a level before our battery depletes. No matter which android we play as, we always have two guns — primary, which is rather weak however can be upgraded by picking up Energy left by defeated enemies; and secondary, which is much stronger but can’t be upgraded and overheats quickly, so you can’t use it all the time. Each character (there are 9 of them; 4 from the very beginning, the remaining ones need to be unlocked) has her own playstyle, meaning some androids are more suited for close combat, while others work better at the safe distance. If we want to whizz through a level and/or get the best score possible, we need to pick wisely our heroine. And speaking of the score: after completing a level we are given, apart from the numerical score, a mark with “D” being the worst and “S+” the best. It all depends on how quickly we finish the level, how many times we were crippled and how big was the longest chain (i.e. how many enemies we could kill without taking a break). These results are sent to the global leaderboard, so we’ve got here a competitive aspect which might keep us playing for even longer. If you want to be in the top 10 or simply have S+ on every level with every character, you need to work on your reflexes and strategy. Moreover, another reward for our efforts are special credits that we can spend on concept arts or “EX Effects”, which include special filters, first-person perspective mode or enabling AI companions. While it seemed to me it’s somewhat difficult and troublesome to earn those, after some time I understood this solution is quite reasonable. After all, this is a reward for spending your time on the game.
Is there anything better than raising havoc with your friends?
Coming back to the gameplay, let’s discuss for a moment our opponents. Generally speaking, we have basic enemies like green four-legged robots coming in thousands or slow white drones, and larger, more dangerous enemies e.g. mine-shooting titans or spinning turrets with deadly lasers. There are also robots made to distract us like blue box-shaped (and reminding me of a little robotic dogs) enemies with magnetic laser pulling us towards them or containers with deadly mines inside. The A.I. is quite good, often thinking ahead — trying to flank us or sending rockets in directions where we might want to go. We need to be careful as some of the opponents can also cripple us (the game’s over only when our battery is depleted) with just one hit. When our shield is completely shattered, we fall on the ground losing all the upgrades for the primary weapon, giving our enemies the upper hand. Luckily for us, robots may drop special power-ups that will help us in various ways. The red power-up gives us temporary assistance of two fast-shooting turrets, the blue one freezes all the enemies while regenerating our shield and the yellow one gives us boost, so we move and fire our weapons faster. Power-ups don’t vanish, unless the ground below them disappears (what happens often in the Infinity Drive mode), so we can wait if we don’t like the power-up we’ve got (not like we’ve got time to wait though). These various bonuses are really nice and make the game slightly less repetitive.
If you want to feel real pain, try playing with the first person perspective mode on.
Speaking of repetitiveness, here’s the biggest flaw of Assault Android Cactus. I do realise that Witch Beam is a small team but the game may get repetitive quickly. The biggest problem I have are the enemies, which in my opinion lack variety. There are big titan dudes, there are four-legged spider-like dudes, there are these tiny boxes and yes, while some shoot laser beams, some shoot mines and some shoot simply more bullets, it isn’t enough and I simply wish there were something more. At least the boss battles are quite challenging and you really need to come up with a good strategy, especially if you want to get the S+ grade. Moreover, another praiseworthy thing is the level design — levels are challenging and work fine with the overall design. And if we get bored with the campaign, the developers included three additional game modes — Infinity Drive (an endless battle on the arena), Daily Drive (special challenge maps updated daily) and Boss Rush which is unlocked after completing the game. Yeah, we can argue that it is simply more of destroying the same robots but it is a shoot ‘em up game after all. Besides, you can always get some friends to play with you, that should make it all enjoyable.
Who needs a firework show when we’ve got Assault Android Cactus?
The last thing I want to mention here is the plot and the lore — things that are somewhat connected with the gameplay as they ultimately affect our experience. The storyline is okay, although my complaint would be that everything goes too slow throughout the game, only to accelerate at the very end. Yeah, the plot twist is pretty cool however I feel it is just a prelude to something bigger. There is a lore with its interplanetary police, nexus cores, the overcrowded Earth and so on, but it is presented in form of short entries in the Codex, somewhere in the main menu. Even our androids’ personalities are somewhat a wasted potential. I do hope we will see Assault Android Cactus 2, which would improve the ideas and concepts of its predecessor.
Dialogs presented in the game may bring a smile to our faces.
GRAPHICS AND SOUNDS
I was positively surprised about the quality of graphics in Assault Android Cactus. The artstyle reminds me of modern cartoons with… a slight anime inspiration I guess? It is not bad, at least the developers didn’t serve us yet another pixelated graphics. The models are (at least in my humble opinion) detailed and looking good, especially when it comes to the bosses. The texture quality is fine as well, particularly in the third sector. My only complaint is, as I have mentioned earlier, not enough variety of enemies. Now, regarding these 9 androids we own, I like how the developers have gave them different personalities. Each character is unique, not only in terms of her appearance or gameplay, but also in a way what they say and think. We have a timid Holy, battle-obsessed Shiitake or Starch which is… well, you need to see it yourselves. While the characters are likeable, we don’t see much of their personalities, something I have mentioned earlier — a wasted potential. Unfortunately, these few lines during boss battles weren’t enough for me to create a bond with the androids. Moving on with the review, another thing I liked were also these “EX Effect” which allow us to play the game with first person perspective or with some crazy filters, like a glittery filter or… a psychedelic one, making the game more enjoyable.
Do androids dream of psychedelic sheep?
In game there 5 sectors (25 levels in total), all of them beautifully designed with different themes, like a bio theme in the 2nd sector. I liked particularly the dynamic levels, when, for example, there is a rotating flamethrower in the center of the arena, because they make the game even more fast-paced. Also the menu is well-made with a representation of the ship floors, where our character needs to run from one point to another. It might get tiresome after a while however you can always click twice on the teleporter to quickly load the level.
Now, let’s discuss for a moment one of the best aspects of the game, i.e. the soundtrack. Whoever made it, knows for sure how to make a fitting music. While there are some fast, energetic tracks played when we are busy disassembling incoming machine hordes, boss fight music are somewhat slower, sometimes even sinister as if they were supposed to warn us “the fun ends here, this is a serious business”. All in all, the soundtrack is incredibly atmospheric and will stay in your head for quite a long time. Kudos to the composer, he has done an amazing job! The sound effects and androids’ voices are well-made too, although I couldn’t help but wonder… why during boss fights there are only subtitles. Apparently our androids know only programmed responses as “Battery here” or “Shutdown!”. This is not the thing in the intro and the outro though. By no means it is a flaw, it just looks weird. Perhaps the developers wanted to avoid a situation where the players would be discourage from playing due to awful voice acting? The only thing I know is that I’d like to hear more of our androids, as their voices are pleasant to ear and match their personalities perfectly.
Lastly, I shall discuss the performance since it is important as well. Accordingly to the Steam Store page, the minimum system requirements for Assault Android Cactus are: Windows XP OS, Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB RAM and Intel HD 4000 graphics card. The recommended rig is: Windows 7 OS, Core i5 processor, 4GB RAM and Nvidia Geforce GTX 460 or AMD Radeon HD8650 graphics card. These requirements seem fairly reasonable, don’t you think? I wouldn’t say that Assault Android Cactus is a demanding title — on the contrary, you should be able to run it with an older computer. My 5 years old computer would run it with no major issues. Yes, I did encounter some glitches or lags, nevertheless the game is well optimized.
To sum up, Assault Android Cactus is a decent game that managed to leave this hell called “Early Access”. Yes, it might be a short game (but only if we are mean and count only the campaign) with a wasted potential. Yes, it might be plagued with the same enemies over and over again. However, addictive fun gameplay, great level design and art style, catchy soundtrack that fits the game perfectly and a local cooperation up to 4 players makes me forget about all the issues (20 hours in and it’s still fun to play!). Assault Android Cactus scores a good 8,5 out of 10 — congratulations, Witch Beam! You’ve just earned yourselves a fan. I’ll be eagerly waiting for your future projects 🙂
The review copy was provided by Witch Beam.
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