I have been looking forward to getting my hands on Assault Android Cactus ever since I played an early build back at Gamescom 2014. Over a year and a half later, and it has finally made its way to PlayStation 4. And boy, has it been worth the wait.
At face value, it doesn’t sound like anything special. It’s a sci-fi dual-stick shooter. It has power ups, leaderboards and a focus on replaying stages to get a higher score. Sounds just like any one of the dozens of games in the genre. But Assault Android Cactus stands out. It stands out a lot.
Multiplayer: 4 player local co-op
Firstly, let me take you through the basics. Cactus is an Assault Android, which is the game’s equivalent of the space police. While on her rounds, Cactus comes across a massive space transport ship, which suddenly attacks her and causes her to crash land inside it. Once inside, she is met by a small band of Androids who proceed to explain that the ship’s AI robots have gone crazy and turned on them. It’s up to Cactus and her newly formed friends to battle them to the ships core and stop the metal threat.
From there on it, it’s a stage by stage fight through the various sections of the ship, with each area punctuated by a boss fight. At the start of the game, the player can choose one of four androids to take in to combat, but through progression, four more can be unlocked for use. Each android has their own style and weapons (and funny name). For example, Cactus’ main weapon is an assault rifle, with her secondary weapon being a flamethrower. The other girls have weapons like a rail-gun, laser, shotgun or spread-shot. This resulted in me trying out different androids and mixing up my strategy when things got tough. Not only that, but each android has their own unique conversations with the stage bosses; giving a little more insight to that character and their place in the game’s narrative. And then there is Starch, who is definitely the most colorful android of the bunch. I won’t spoil anything here, but she is bonkers (literally!).
Each zone of the ship has four stages and one boss arena to battle through. The androids don’t have ‘Lives’, but instead rely on batteries to power them. These batteries are constantly discharging energy, and once depleted its game over. The batteries also take a dive when hit by an enemy or their fire. Luckily, battery power-ups appear at various points in the stage to help. There are also three other types of power-ups that will be essential in making it through the stage. These can add additional fire power, freeze enemies for a short time and speed up your movement.
The enemies in this game are relentless and varied. It all starts off simple enough, with ground based robots, but it quickly escalates to include other enemy types. At some point I found myself up against five or six different robots, each with their own patterns of attack. It’s at times like these that I was really tested as a player. The boss battles are also incredibly tough, with the game not pulling any punches, even on the first boss. Each boss has a pattern of attack which I needed to learn. Even then, they are ridiculously difficult to beat, with some of their attacks seeming impossible to dodge. If there is one downside to Assault Android Cactus, it is this. But then maybe it just speaks to my ability as a gamer more than anything else.
Along with the main campaign, Assault Android Cactus also sports two extra modes; Infinity Drive, a survival mode, and Daily Drive, a challenge mode that updates every day. It may not sound like a lot, but it adds new challenge to a well crafted game. And of course, you can always go back and replay any stage previously completed to try and increase your ranking.
You can also add to all of that an art gallery, a codex (full of lore) and even EX Options that allow you to modify the game both visually and mechanically. There is a lot of stuff crammed in this little game. If all of that sounds a little too much for you to handle, then you can always team up with some friends for a little co-op action. There is support for up to four player local co-op here, with the game’s difficulty ramping up accordingly. Playing co-op does have a slight downfall though, as the screen gets really busy and I often had difficulty picking my character out. Still, it’s a lot of fun with other people. And if you don’t have any friends, then you can unlock an AI co-op mode as well.
Everything about Assault Android Cactus feels perfect. From the controls and gameplay to sound and design. All lovingly crafted by Witchbeam, a development team of just three guys. It may have taken a while to get to the PS4, but I can now see why. Slick menu design, challenging gameplay and genuinely funny characters all add up to a create one of the best games I’ve played in a while. Whether it’s for a full on playing session, or just to kill time for 20 minutes, Assault Android Cactus has you covered. Oh, and did I mention, it has its very own theme song?
Review copy of game provided by publisher.