Assault Android Cactus on PC
I feel obligated to start this review with a disclaimer: bullet hell games do not like me. They don’t like my slow reaction time, they don’t like my lack of coordination, and they don’t like my inability to keep up with their fast pace. Because of their dislike for me (I swear I don’t mind them at all – they’re just happier if I avoid them), I generally tend to steer clear of them. It was curious then, that Assault Android Cactus caught my attention so quickly and thoroughly.
The game is actually more of a twin-stick shooter, with the crazier bullet hell portions saved mostly for boss stages and the more difficult levels later in the game. Still, it’s got a mighty fast pace to it that I generally just can’t follow in other titles. I lose track of my character, get caught in a storm of bullets, or just make an awkward and unfortunate misstep that abruptly ends my life. The funny thing is that all of these things happened to me while playing Assault Android Cactus, but it still remained insanely fun to play.
There’s not much story to be had here. You start the game with five colorful robot girls to choose from (unlocking several more as the game moves forward), taking down wave after wave of energy blasting robo-baddies as you fight your way to the one controlling them all at the end. The bosses engage in general banter (unique to each character – a nice touch), typically urging you to join their side or be destroyed, but unfortunately that’s about the extent of it. This genre isn’t particularly known for fleshed out stories, but it felt like Witch Beam had a plot in mind, but they didn’t quite get there.
Each girl has two distinct weapons: a standard and a special. For example, the titular android Cactus sports a standard energy blaster that fires straight ahead at a moderate rate, with a flamethrower that deals massive damage to close-up foes for just a second or two as her special. Then there’s Coral, who’s got a short-range but widespread shotgun as her standard, and a domed energy shield that temporarily prevents enemy access and deflects incoming fire for her special. The standard weapons have unlimited ammunition, while the special weapons must charge for a few seconds in between uses.
Each android’s weapons are unique to them, offering eight entertaining and completely different play styles. When playing Assault Android Cactus you’ll undoubtedly find your one or two favorites to main, but there are always going to be a few challenges that even your best android won’t be able to overcome easily. Just because you blasted through the last five stages with Starch and her trusty laser beam doesn’t mean that she’ll stand a chance against the boss you’re about to fight. Finding the character best suited to any given stage is part of the fun.
Another mark in the game’s favor is the length of each stage, an average of under three minutes. Sometimes you’ll find yourself with an entirely free weekend where you want to dive into some massive, open game like Metal Gear Solid V or The Witcher III, but most busy adults find such vast amounts of free time to be increasingly rare. Assault Android Cactus takes advantage of those times when you come home from work and want to unwind for 20 minutes before dinner, or when you just want to play a little bit before bed. Being able to blast through five to ten stages in such short order makes you feel like you’ve really spent a good chunk of time with it, even when you haven’t.
Of course it won’t always leave you feeling as relaxed as one might hope. The stages may not be long, but you’d be surprised how many times you can die in two or three minutes. During particularly claustrophobic levels I actually caught myself holding my breath as I worked my way carefully but quickly through the onslaught of bullets in front of me. When that final enemy goes down and I let fresh air back in my lungs – there are few feelings greater, especially if it’s a stage I had just failed to pass a half dozen times prior.
Simply put, Assault Android Cactus is one of those games that just makes you feel really good once you’ve passed a level. The stages are so packed to the brim with enemies that you’re always a little worried about going down, which makes each victory taste so sweet.
During standard gameplay you’ll gain credits that can be used to unlock additional content, which comes in a variety of flavors. You’ve got your concept art, your additional lore, and most exciting of all, your bonus game modes. I won’t spoil them all, but one unlockable mode I absolutely have to mention is the first-person mode. Every bullet hell game I’ve ever played is presented in a top-down view. That’s just how these games work. Imagine, however, attempting to dodge all that firepower and destroy all those attackers, coming at you from 360 degrees, from the first-person view of your character.
Yeah, this mode turns Assault Android Cactus into a completely different beast. It changes everything you know about the genre, and adds a perspective I never thought I’d see in such a frenetic shoot ’em up. Even better is that first-person mode (as well as all other modes) is playable in co-op, with up to four players total. Trust me, this will add so much excitement and hilarity to your next games night.
Assault Android Cactus is the first game from indie developers Witch Beam, and one they’ve been working hard to polish and perfect for several years now. While the story definitely missed on some untapped potential, this is a perfect benchmark that leaves the studio’s future one to definitely look forward to.