Frantic. Quirky. Diverse. Fun. Assault Android Cactus, developed by Witch Beam, is all of these things and more. At its core, it is a twin stick shooter that emphasizes accessibility and entertainment while relying on the draw of high scores and leaderboards to challenge those looking for a more difficult experience. Players can drop in and immediately understand what is going on and complete the game, however as the game progresses, the grade you are awarded based on your performance for any given stage will slowly start to go down as you get further into the game if you don’t adapt your strategies to maximize your killing efficiency.
One of the first things you’ll notice is how quirky the game is. Right as the opening cinematic unfolds, you get to see just how silly this world is and the dialogue between the characters only reinforces this tone. Furthermore, at the end of each stage is a boss level and the dialogue is unique depending on which of the androids you are using, providing you with little tidbits into the larger world.
Further emphasizing the variety in this game is the fact that both the level and enemy design are quite diverse. You can go from a level with conveyor belts that constantly change direction to keep you on your toes to another where boxes are constantly being destroyed by the arrival of enemies which then reduces the amount of cover available as the level progresses. Progressing through the levels and worlds introduces the players to new enemy types all of which are added to the Bestiary for browsing purposes. Enemies can range from large creatures such as Bomber Titans that hurl mines at the player to the irritating wasps that attack the player in swarms that are harder to deal with using precision weapons. Depending on what kind of creatures each level throws at the player, the player must adapt using different androids to chase high scores.
This brings me to yet another point of diversity in the game: the androids. Each android has their own unique primary and secondary weapons and it doesn’t just stop with the traditional weapons you might be thinking of (although those do exist as well). For example, Aubergine has a robot drone as her primary weapon that the player can control as well as a black hole generator for her secondary that pairs quite nicely with the large damage radius of her drone. Peanut on the other hand fires magma out of her primary and produces a drill that she uses to fly across the screen for her secondary.
Several times, you will encounter a stage or a boss that may seem impossible until you try another android and thereby another primary/secondary combination. Starch’s micro missiles have come in handy many times as they have a small amount of tracking that allows you to not have to worry about directing your shots exactly. Additionally, getting used to using your secondary often and effectively is instrumental to racking up a competitive high score. Using the invincibility frames associated with pulling out your secondary weapon as well as using them to quickly demolish the larger foes is necessary in the later stages if you want to get anything more than a D grade.
While each android has a health meter, its depletion doesn’t spell doom for the player. Every time your entire health bar is reduced to zero, your android enters a grounded state where the player must rapidly tap the triggers to awaken them triggering a small enemy push back to give revived androids to operate. The only way to actually fail a level is lose your entire store of battery (which does happen quite regularly in later stages if you don’t manage your battery properly). As a result of this, you are not only trying to avoid enemies and collect power ups, but also trying to get to the battery recharges that randomly drop from defeated enemies. However, for those of you looking to chase the high scores on leaderboards, in order to get an S rank you have to complete the entire level without getting grounded and to get an S+ you have to defeat every single enemy in a single chain (i.e. a kill every two seconds or less). Compounded on your grade is also a score with a corresponding leaderboard meaning that even those who achieve an S+ rank can optimize their runs to get an even higher score than others. Suffice to say there is a lot of nuance to getting high scores.
Apart from the main game, there are a lot of fun extras that Witch Beam has provided to the players. There is co-op with functionality for up to four players, Boss Rush mode which essentially lets you fight all the bosses back to back, Infinity Drive mode which is an infinite wave horde mode, and the Daily Drive challenges which are a fun way of keeping players coming back every day. Moreover, there are extras that can be bought for in game credits such as a first person mode and alternative secondary weapons.
Assault Android Cactus is an incredibly diverse game. From its levels and enemies to its weapons and bonus modes, there is an enormous amount of content to experience for players. It is incredibly accessible and fun for new players and offers a challenging yet rewarding end game for those that like to strategize and rack up high scores to dominate the global leaderboards. Players of all types and skill levels can find an enjoyable experience in this nicely wrapped present that Witch Beam has left for all of us.