Living life as a battle-ready humanoid robot can’t be an easy road to walk, but when you look this good, when you’re being rendered in this high of a resolution, the hardship has to be worth all the itchy wires and humming circuitry, right?
Having first released on Steam in 2015 and PS4 in 2016, Assault Android Cactus finally hit the Xbox One on November 7, coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) launching alongside the Xbox One X. The pairing is a match made in heaven, because the game takes good advantage of the powerful new hardware by running in a native 4K and at a brisk, unwavering 60 frames per second. Yes, the graphics are bright, cute and cheerful, but when you witness just how much is going on at a given moment, it’s easy to appreciate the technological wizardry at play. My fellow shmup enthusiasts can testify, I’m sure.
So what is Assault Android Cactus, exactly? Imagine a modern cross between a top-down Contra game (I’m thinking the PS1 Legacy of War, minus the mediocrity), the arcade Dreamcast classic Cannon Spike, the criminally underappreciated Xbox 360 Mutant Storm titles on XBL and Robotron: 2084. At its core, the game is a beautifully traditional twin-stick shooter, which means you’re controlling your character’s movement with the left analog stick while aiming their weapon with the right. The shoulder buttons are used for firing duties, and having played for hours at this point, the setup works incredibly well.
Needless to say, the controls in AAC are second-to-none. Tight, responsive and mostly intuitive, with the exception of the ‘revive’ function that’s mapped to the right trigger and should have been placed on the ‘A’ button. It’s one of those games that just feels good to play, where movement and shooting is so fluid and second nature that I often find myself gallivanting around the maps, running around in circles just for the sheer joy of it. The connection between controller input and on-screen reaction is really that responsive, and I can only think of a handful of modern games that I’d describe in a similar way.
And that’s great, because the action in Assault Android Cactus is hectic and relentless. Droves upon droves of robots pour into tightly constructed, well-designed maps and it’s your job to take them all out. There’s mechanical spiders that serve as grunts and robot wasps that can be killed in one hit but make up for it by swarming in the dozens. Enemies just get bigger from there, moving all the way up to a series of genuinely interesting bosses. These end-zone villains are varied in both their appearances and attack patterns, each one demanding that you learn their unique strategies before taking them down. Also, you’re given a grade at the end of each area, which helps a lot with replayability.
Speaking of combat, you can grab various power-ups during the fight that help you mow down enemies. These include things like a shut-down command that incapacitates all nearby robots for a short time, allowing you to really lay into them while their circuits are rebooting. There’s also a firepower pick-up that outfits your android with a pair of anthropomorphic blaster cannons, essentially doubling or tripling your ability to wreak havoc. Additionally, there’s an acceleration powerup shaped like wings that awards your character with extra speed for a limited time, useful for zipping around baddies like a trigger-happy maniac.
By the way, since you are an android, you can’t actually die in AAC, but you can lose your juice. You have a life meter of sorts, but once it depletes, you essentially get knocked down and then have to mash the right trigger until your android reawakens. However, there’s a battery at the top of the screen that’s constantly draining, and if that gets low enough and becomes empty, it’ll be game over. So a lot of the strategy in the game revolves around keeping your charge full by way of battery power-ups that are dropped by downed enemies. It adds a fun sense of urgency to the stages and keeps the action from being only about exploding robots. Difficulty-wise, it’s just hard enough. Not a walk in the park by any means, but not so impossible that you want to rip your hair out.
Then there’s the androids themselves, 9 in total after you unlock them all by completing the campaign. What’s cool is that each android plays very differently, in that they each possess unique weapons and abilities. For example, there’s Lemon, who has a Contra-style spreadshot for her primary weapon and a rocket barrage for her secondary. Holly has a gun that shoots seeker bullets that home in on enemies, then compliments that asset with a barreling cannonball that she can hurl into the fight. Cactus, who the game takes its name from, is one of my least favorite choices, since she has a pretty standard main blaster and a rather underwhelming flamethrower.
It’s all about finding the android that both compliments your playstyle and your teammates’, because guess what? Assault Android Cactus has a brilliant couch co-op mode! Oh yes. It’s up to four players, runs swimmingly and is a ton of frenetic fun. Plus, you all share the same battery, so it’s a real test of friendship. Add to that a seriously rocking soundtrack comprised of cleanly produced techno (which reminds me a lot of Aaero’s music, actually), plenty of unlockables, an Infinity Drive endurance mode and you’ve got one hell of a $15 downloadable title.
So if you want an arcade experience that shows off the Xbox One X’s 4K capabilities, I don’t think you can go wrong here, especially since there’s a sad ballad for battery-drained androids that plays during the game over screen (“I’m just a little android and my battery’s running low. I’m just a little android, and I’m moving oh so slow.”). Apparently the PC version also can run at 4K, but as far as I know, the PS4 Pro version doesn’t. I could be wrong, so if I learn something different, I’ll update this article.
Really, the worst thing about Assault Android Cactus is the dreadfully generic name. Might I suggest Boom! Pow! Robot Fun! or Bits and Pieces?
Disclaimer: Developer Witch Beam provided a free review code for the purposes of this article.
Powered by WPeMatico