When hearing the name of the game, an image can be conjured of a desert cactus – perhaps with a lone flower jauntily grown atop its head – fighting its way through the enemies of desert life. Maybe the cactus was part of a tech experiment and scientists were trying to use photosynthesis within androids for future use?
When it comes to producing indie titles, this wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility, but – possibly sadly – this isn’t the case with this release from Witch Beam. Rather than a bonkers botany robotics hybrid, the Australian developer has created a wonderfully solid, humorous, and attractive shooter.
The game opens with Cactus – a plucky and sassy android – landing her ship on a gigantic space freighter that is under attack from its own robotic staff. She comes to the aid of other androids holed up on the lowest floor, and thus begins a campaign mode where you can select Cactus – or any of the cowering androids – to fight back and gain control of the ship.
Moving through each floor of the ship is done in stages that require you to kill everything in the lead up to a boss battle which will open the next floor. It’s a simple concept, one that has been used many times before, but Witch Beam have made the idea of room based combat varied and interesting when it could have been repetitive.
They’ve achieved this through not only the different androids and their myriad of weapons but through power-ups, the way the levels are constructed and enemy patterns. Let’s look at that first one – the various androids. AAC is, in essence, a twin stick shooter. The left stick controls your android, the right stick aims while the shoulder buttons deal with the firing of your weapon and switching to your secondary attack.
Cactus has a standard blaster weapon which fires automatically as your hold down the trigger. Switch to the secondary mode and she fires a shorter range column of plasma that does much more damage but overheats quickly. The key is to juggle when you use each firing mode.
But that’s not all. As enemies die they release white balls of something that power up your weapon, making it more powerful on its default firing setting. The power raises three times before it hits maximum power, but die or run out of battery power for your android and you’re back to square one. Batteries drop from enemies as they die and must be collected in order to keep playing. It seems in the far future the tech is great but batteries still suck.
Along with the batteries, you’ll find three other items that help for a limited time. There’s a yellow orb that allows you to speed up and attract the white balls of something and batteries to you. This is helpful when overwhelmed by enemies if you’re running out of power. You only need to be within range of the battery for it to float over and recharge your android. The yellow orb, if not picked up will – after time – change into a blue orb which acts like an EMP to all but you. This leaves the enemies standing around uselessly as you pick them off. Don’t fancy that? Then leave the orb to turn red and pick it up, then you’ll have two side guns float around next to you upping your damage output.
The yellow orb, if not picked up will – after time – change into a blue orb which acts like an EMP to all but you. This leaves the enemies standing around uselessly as you pick them off. Don’t fancy that? Then leave the orb to turn red and pick it up, then you’ll have two side guns float around next to you upping your damage output.
By using all of these things to your advantage each level stays fresh and playable and over time as you get used to each enemy and their attack patterns you begin to work out tactics in order to score better. After all, what kind of game would AAC be if it wasn’t for a scoring system that ranks you on your performance?
Achieve a grade C, then you know you didn’t do that well, get back in there and die less, kill more then chase those higher grades. The grades have no effect on whether you progress in the story, though, which is worth keeping in mind if you just want to experience the core game. Of course, maybe you just need to use a different android.
With each boss vanquished you’ll unlock a new character to use on top of those you start with. Each android brings something different to the game. Holly fires seeking bullets that roam around looking for enemies, she also fires a cannonball-style shot as her secondary which does a lot of damage but has reduced mobility.
Coral uses a shotgun style weapon which is slow to reload but packs a punch, her secondary attack is a plasma field which repels enemy fire – handy in a pinch. Aubergine controls a spinning halo rather than shoots, she also creates mini black holes. Shiitake Fires a rail gun and drops mines and then there’s Peanut who fires streams of molten metal at enemies leaving a destructive trail behind her. Her secondary attack sees her form into a large drill and spins through the level at speed.
It’s great for taking out larger enemies and pinning them to walls. Everyone will have a favourite android, but the game rewards you for completing the campaign with each individual so it’s worth trying out everyone.
There’s co-op included – up to four players – which makes each level more hectic and fast paced. This can be used in the campaign and the daily challenges, as well as the survival mode. These latter options will see you facing waves of enemies, increasing the difficulty with each level. It’s clear that there’s tonnes of content available and if you enjoy chasing high scores or bettering your performance you won’t run out of things to do. Throw in boss battles that genuinely grind you down and challenge you and here is a game that has legs.
The Good Stuff
- Fun, Twitchy gameplay
- Co-op action
- Great replay value
- Boss battles are epic
- Nice character variety
The Bad Stuff
- Grades don’t affect core story
- Story a bit empty
- Can get a tad repetitive
Colourful visuals and humorous dialogue only add more to this already fantastic game. Each character is bold, their personalities ever present and the game never takes itself too seriously. Android Assault Cactus is a great modern shooter with replayability. It won’t break records for in-depth plot but it’s seriously fun alone or with others.