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The best twin-stick shooters boast tight controls, creative environments, clever boss battles and just enough enemies to make the path ahead seem utterly impossible, right up until that point where you manage to skate past by the skin of your teeth. Assault Android Cactus offers all of that and then some.
I missed out on Assault Android Cactus on the PC last year, so I was pretty excited to see that the game was finally launching for the PlayStation 4 this week. My first thought upon booting it up was, “This was really made by an indie studio?” Never to downplay what a group of dedicated individuals can put together, but Assault Android Cactus is an extremely well put-together game.
While I’m still not a fan of the porcelain doll faces, everything else about the game’s visuals is top-notch. The environments look great, the enemies are full of moving bits and the effects are bright, colorful and sharp. Add in a thumping soundtrack and you’ve got the skeleton of a solid bullet hell shooter.
But what really matters in these types of games is how the characters control, and Assault Android Cactus is pinpoint accurate. Once you get a feel for each character, both they and their weapons work exactly how you expect them to, making dodging all of those enemy robots and slow-moving blue bullets a test of skill rather than patience.
What sets AAC apart from many twin-stick shooters is that it actually has a story to play through. Games like Geometry Wars, Stardust and Resogun are great and all, but I really appreciate having a narrative reason to blast my way through all of those baddies. It may not be on the level of Dead Nation’s tale, but plowing my space police into a besieged ship and helping the androids onboard fight their way through crazed robotic enemies is enough to pull me along.
Similar to Mega Man, Assault Android Cactus features a series of levels made up of shorter stages, with each main wing capped off by a boss fight against a robot master. Each level has clearly been crafted with care, most boasting clever contraptions, devious traps or unique mechanics that help set them apart. Enemies will crawl and fly at you from pretty much every direction, which means you’ll need to stay on the move if you plan to survive.
You start the game with four androids to choose from, each with their own primary and secondary weapon combinations. You’ll unlock more androids as the game progresses, too, so there’s always something new to try out along the way.
The bosses are the game’s crowning achievement, with each of these big baddies offering a diverse set of abilities and movement patterns that can be pretty tricky to crack.
As for your health, it’s based on a battery that’s constantly draining. Get hit too many times and you’ll be knocked on your butt, which translates to precious seconds ticking by as your battery drops. If you kill enough enemies in a row, a battery recharge will drop. You’ll also pick up loads of boosts, which give you stronger firepower, more guns, faster movement or the ability to freeze all of your enemies in place.
I had little trouble keeping up with the action in single player despite the fact that a lot is happening on-screen at once. While playing with friends was a blast, it was a bit more difficult to keep track of my android amongst all the added chaos.
My only real gripe with Assault Android Cactus is that I wanted more of it. The game’s campaign can be completed in just a few hours, tops. There’s an endurance and daily challenge mode to take on, too, but the final credits rolled quite a bit sooner than expected.
As far as twin-stick shooters go, Assault Android Cactus is near the front of the class. It’s got some clever writing and lovely little touches peppered throughout, as well as some intense moments for fans who still reminisce about the bullet hell glory days. The journey may have ended sooner than I would have liked, but at least what is here is quality and a hell of a lot of fun to boot.
This review based on a PlayStation 4 download provided by the publisher
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Wii U, PC
Developer: Witch Beam
Publisher: Witch Beam