The name Assault Android Cactus might not give you a clear picture of what this game is, but it is not about a lethal desert plant robot. It is, however, not to be shied away from due to the possible confusion. It’s a well polished twin-stick shooter with plenty of charm, fun, and challenge to last you many, many hours of gaming.
Witch Beam set out to create a polished arcade style twin-stick shooter that requires skill and focus, but still has a lot of creative aspects that make the game unique and fun. You’ll need to have quick reaction times to defeat hordes of bots, but if you find yourself lacking in the “serious gaming skills” department, you can still definitely have fun playing campaign and earning credits to turn on extra options like forcing the characters to have normal human proportions, or trying out first person mode.
Sometimes twin-stick shooters, or any other hoard mode type game for that matter, can become very visually busy and that poses a huge problem when trying to be the most efficient at slaughtering the quickly approaching enemies. This game almost miraculously does not have that problem. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why or how I was not too overloaded with visual chaos, but I think it could be the fact that players and their attacks are all warm tones like yellow through red, and enemies, their attacks, and the environment are all blue tones like dull green or grey. There are also a handful of helpful accessibility options which can even further help you discern what is going on on your screen.
The other thing that might help the brain discern what is happening better than other similar games is the amount of different types of enemies is sort of low. It helps you learn all possible enemy forms, their attack patterns, and how to defeat them pretty quickly and handle them better. Whatever they did, they did it right.
One of my favorite parts of the game is the part I was most wary or perplexed by — the adorable characters (all human-like androids) with big heads and little bodies. They just give that extra charm to the game, coupled with the handful of cutscenes that play out periodically. Each character is very unique in personality and abilities, but I’ll get to the latter in a bit.
There’s also a little humor that teetered on the edge of cheesy and very welcomed. I especially enjoyed the character you eventually unlock named Starch. She is a sort of “damaged” android who had to be confined or stored because she caused too much havoc, and she likes to speak in nursery-rhyme type chatter that is silly and contrasting to the other more serious characters. I also got a kick out of every time I selected her at the start, which makes her exclaim “Pineapple!” as if being startled awake from some silly android dream.
Strategizing in this game lies heavily in choosing a character that best fits your play style and the level or mode you are up against next. The characters each have a primary and secondary weapon, the secondary having more damage but also a cooldown period (denoted by the smart circle around your character’s feet). So, Starch has a constant laser primary weapon, but homing missiles as her secondary. My co-op buddy, Chandler, got really comfortable using Peanut after going through a few other characters and trying their weapons. Peanut has magma (she’s a bad-ass) for her primary, and the Giga-Drill as her secondary (think Robotnik + charging bull). There are many unlockable characters to choose from other than the starting four, and choosing becomes fun in and of itself.
These Levels, They Are a Changin’
Dynamic levels make defeating almost the same hoard of enemy bots over and over nothing to bat an eye at, since each environment is different from the last. Even at the very end, when other games may have exhausted their creative options and each level seems normal and old, new dynamic things happen in each. My absolute favorite level is the shape of a large rounded triangle with a huge hole in the middle, but at each point there is one helpful automatic turret, each doing a different thing when you stand in their circle — hold enemies at bay, shoot homing missiles, or shoot energy bullets. But, each has to cool down, requiring you to step out of the small circle. So your strategy changes with each level in a fun, new way.
Assault Android Cactus Review - Not a Spiny Desert Plant (PS4)
The story is interesting, but what is even more interesting is different dialogue for each character you choose. So, if you want to know more of the story, you’ll have to replay each story level with a different character. I have a feeling some secret story nuggets would appear from doing that, just from playing with a couple different characters on one story level. Each character voices certain notifiers during battle that help you keep track of what’s happening, each in their own character voice. So, Starch says, “Pretty wings!” while Peanut says, “Accelerate.” And thankfully — amazingly — Witch Beam uses the DualShock 4’s speaker! It is so incredibly helpful.
Can’t Be Bothered to Look at a Health Bar
One audio cue that really fails, however, is the health (or shield) meter. Aside from a small health bar far off in the corner of the screen, that is the only indicator of when you are about to die. I can’t look up to the corner without dying, unfortunately. That’s the nature of twin-stick shooters. With more than one player, it is especially useless, because you really have no chance of hearing the health audio cues over all the other things that are happening. I wish they would have used controller vibrations strictly for health, or perhaps a visual cue instead of an audio one. I really could never tell when I had been hit.
The last and final failing is the complete waste of opportunity to use the PS4’s multiple login and shared trophies capabilities when playing with two to four people. My co-op buddy is a trophy hunter, and I could see the hurt and sadness on his face every time we heard the trophy ding, especially when it was for something he did and not me (like kill multiple enemies with one Giga-Drill).
Adding up all the features in this arcadey game gives it a pretty high value. There’s replayability in the different modes like Daily Drive, Infinity Drive, and Boss Rush for those that like to buckle down and test their skills to get top scores on leaderboards. There’s the campaign, which has an interesting story with different dialogue per character. There’s extra stuff to buy with credits (earned by your scores per level) like game altering fun features, or concept art and codex entries to further learn about the characters and enemies. The soundtrack is very appropriate to the game, and you can go back and listen to any songs you want. I will even say I would love to see an Assault Android Cactus 2 in the future, because I was so impressed with this one. And hey, if you don’t like their silly huge heads, just turn them off with the extra feature!
Assault Android Cactus review copy provided by publisher. For more information on scoring, read our Review Policy here.