Twin-Stick shooters have been a ripe genre for downloadable games ever since we got our first taste of games like Geometry Wars, Binding of Isaac, Hotline Miami, and countless others. This genre’s strengths are in its ability to flood the screen with enemies as you strafe and shoot while avoiding attacks and tight, satisfying shooting. Assault Android Cactus from Witchbeam delivers these in spades with equally fantastic level design and a varied cast of player characters who cater to different playstyles. The game was originally released for PC in 2015, but it has just arrived for Xbox One and there has never been a better time to dive in.
“Do Androids Dream of Electric Cacti?”
The objective of each level in Assault Android Cactus is pretty unchanging: Shoot everywhere until everything is dead. Despite its simple premise, the architecture of each level determines how you will go about accomplishing that. Treadmills going opposite directions encircle some levels, the floor and walls get built under your feet in others. The geometry of each level feels finely tuned to keep the game fresh, and hides a few tricks to keep you from getting too comfortable. Strategizing for each mission mainly comes down to which of the 9 chibi androids you select.
Weapon loadouts vary wildly between characters. Coral, a tough security officer, carries a Shotgun and Plasma Pulse that have a huge damage output in close-range; while another character like Starch has a screen length Laser Beam and heat-seeking Micro Missiles that make her deadly at long and medium range. The choice between range of weapons isn’t the only differential trait between character loadouts however; there are some crazier weapons like Aubergine’s dual-rotor drone controlled by pumping the right trigger, and Peanut’s lava gun that only shoots at an arc. These kinds of weapons really mix-up the moment-to-moment gameplay and can seem a bit awkward at first, but it’s interesting to see these kinds of weapon behaviors in a genre where most weapon handling is straightforward. As you mow down hordes of robots you, powerups in the form of speed boosts and extra firepower will drop frequently and can change into different temporary boosts depending on how long it takes you to pick them up. The loadouts between each character are astoundingly diverse and are especially fun to see when playing 4 player co-op. I was able to have 3 other friends try the game with me; particle effects filled the screen, robots seemed to pour out of every corner of the level, and most impressively the framerate kept pace with the kinetic action on screen.
The presentation of AAC is also quite noteworthy for a $15 downloadable game. The Game Over menu theme sounds like a fusion of Porter Robinson and subdued trip-hop, seriously YouTube this song if you are on the fence about buying the game. It is so SO good. Writing and dialogue are different for each character’s boss encounter and each has a distinct personality. But I do wish Witchbeam decided to add a few more cutscenes, like the one found in the intro, to let these personalities play off each other.
“A Robot Murdering Simulator the Whole Family Can Enjoy”
I completed the game in around 8 hours, but I spent a lot more time replaying levels to increase my leaderboard rank. There are different leaderboards for single, two, three, and four player runs. After completing a level the game shows you your score rank on the leaderboard for that level, luring you into trying to climb the ladder through multiple attempts. Different characters unlocked through later boss battles make the earlier missions a breeze and help advance your ranking expeditiously. Protip: Starch is God-like in early missions.
The health system in this game is an interesting departure for most games of the genre. Your character is constantly losing battery power over time and you must pick up regeneration pickups when they drop. Sometimes it feels unclear as to how exactly you can acquire a health pickup unless you are seconds away from dying, though. All enemies drop white orbs and the more of these you collect the closer you are to getting a health drop, but on occasion, there aren’t enough enemies within your reach acquire the necessary amount. This leaves you scrambling to kill many enemies in a short time, and since many travel in swarms, you are forced to dive into the fray just to get the health pickups. Luckily your android can take a few hits before being knocked down. The game prompts you to get back up by rapidly tapping the right trigger, which can feel very imprecise at times. This mechanic would feel much better suited to a face button or bumper with less throw than a trigger.
Despite minor grievances, Assault Android Cactus is one hell of a game. Juking lasers, unloading streams of projectiles into hordes of robots, and picking up powerups remains a satisfying gameplay loop throughout. The leaderboards remain enticing and I always felt as if I was on the cusp of advancing a few more ranks after re-playing a level just one more time, and the co-op can be serious fun and accessible for players of all skill levels. You really can’t go wrong spending $15 on this stellar shoot em’ up.
Here is the Assault Android Cactus Trailer:
You can also purchase Assault Android Cactus on Steam.