Running around an arena with more flashing lights than a rock concert while hundreds of robot spiders try to put an end to your twin-stick fun pretty much sums up Assault Android Cactus’ (AAC) moment to moment gameplay. It’s a top-down twin-stick shooter with an emphasis on fun and bags of humour. Of course like almost every game ever it does have its flaws, but an ever increasing difficulty with a sprinkle of depth, a variety of modes and nine genuinely different character keep the game engaging for hours on end. Let’s dig into a spoiler free review (not that there’s a whole lot of story to spoil) and check out why AAC is worth your time and money.
The story is simple, but does the job well enough. The opening cut scene introduces the main character Cactus who is, as the title implies, an Assault Android. Basically, Cactus crash lands onto a ship only to find out its main core has been corrupted and all of the robots on it have turned bad. She, and a handful of other androids, must travel through each of the game’s five zones defeating umpteen enemies and five bosses along the way. The main androids are voiced in the opening cut scenes, but oddly enough before each boss fight the dialogue is spoken via text boxes. The mix of voice and text seems like an odd choice, but it doesn’t really detract from the game in any negative way.
Each level sees you facing off against large waves of enemies in arenas. However, the arenas themselves vary wildly so the game never gets repetitive, for example one arena had a spinning pillar shooting out lethal fire while another had me running around in the dark with a torch that only lit up the area I was looking towards. The gameplay itself is simple to grasp, R2 shoots, L2 takes out your secondary weapon, right analog to aim and the left to move. However, the developers, Witch Beam, have managed to throw in plenty of variants to mix it up and keep things interesting. Defeated enemies can drop a handful of power-ups, such as firepower which adds two little robots to you flanks for a short while that fire machine guns every time you shoot. Every enemy you defeat drops little white power-ups that level up your primary weapon until it maxes out, however if you get knocked down your gun will drop a level.
The game increases in difficulty as you progress through the zones, but it never gets unfair. Twin-stick shooters are often accompanied by a gruelling difficulty that only gets worse as the number of things on screen increases. Witch Beam, however, have opted to make sure their game remains fun no matter how difficult things get. They’ve achieved this through their battery system. Each android’s battery is constantly depleting as the game progresses, the only way to recharge the battery is to defeat enemies in the hopes that they drop a recharge. This achieves two things: firstly it keeps the action moving because you have to keep fighting to keep your battery up and secondly it makes the game a little more forgiving as no matter how much you’re getting pummelled by evil robots there’s always a chance to increase your life-bar. Then, as mentioned, you can get knocked down by enemies a few times before you die, this will deplete your battery but it gives you a couple of seconds to recover as enemies are knocked back by a wave when you get up.
There’s also a wide range of enemy types from basic spider robots and turrets to giants that shoot out mines and reapers that send lethal laser beams across the map. Let’s not forget the bosses here, there are five of them in total and they really change the pace drastically as you have to figure out how to beat them. They are seriously challenging, in fact so much so that you’ll be praying for every battery they drop as you struggle to maintain a life-bar, but I won’t go into detail on them here because I don’t want to spoil them on you. After all figuring out how to tackle them is half the fun. I often found that the answer to overcoming a difficult level or boss lay in switching between one of the nine playable androids. You start off with four, but you unlock a new one every time you beat a boss. They each have a unique personality and weapons loadout. Cactus comes equipped with a basic assault rifle and a flamethrower, while Holly has homing bullets and a cannon ball. Again I won’t spoil all of the characters here, but they do add to the game’s depth and replay value due to their unique differences. The flamethrower and cannon ball are actually secondary weapons, which means that after you use them they’ll take a couple of seconds to recharge, this encourages players to spare them for the bigger enemies.
For those of you that were not aware, AAC was originally a PC game but one thing I appreciated about the PS4 port was the fact that Witch Beam put a little effort into using some of the console’s unique features. One example of this is the use of DualShock 4’s built in speaker, which shouts out about power-ups and batteries. This is very useful in the heat of battle because you might not notice batteries dropping when you’re busy dealing with the hundreds of angry robots charging your way, so it’s certainly useful to hear ‘battery dropped’ coming through the controller. However, it’s one of the PS4’s other features that helps the game avoid a mini disaster and that’s SharePlay. AAC does support co-op on one console, which is great, but a lack of online multiplayer means that the majority of players might not be able to take advantage of the co-op. Thankfully, SharePlay can step in and allow players to game online with their friends. As for the co-op it is well thought out and scales the difficulty as more androids join the battle, so you don’t need to worry about sacrificing difficulty to play with friends.
Along with the campaign there’s a handful of other modes to keep you entertained, as well as a platinum trophy to chase if that’s your thing. The other modes include Boss Rush, which has you face off with the game’s bosses one after the other, and Infinity Drive, which pits you against never ending waves of enemies. Then there’s a few bonuses that can be purchased with in-game credits, such as a first-person point of view or A.I. controlled companions. Then there’s also the challenge of achieving the best score possibly, which is S+ and can only be achieved if you beat a level without been knocked down or breaking your combo. This reviewer was not good enough to achieve S+, but will keep pursuing that goal.
I think it’s fair to say that AAC sounds pretty good so far, but the game does have a few problems. First and foremost is the lack of online play, yes I know I said SharePlay does help to redeem this but it’s not perfect. For example, my connection was good enough to stream the game to a friend for SharePlay but not good enough to support voice chat while doing it, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the game just supported online play. The other problem stems from the graphics department. The graphics aren’t horrible by any stretch, but there’s certainly room for improvement and a layer or two of polish. Luckily the graphics do not detract from the fun gameplay and the game moves so fast, while throwing lots of colours at you, that you won’t have much time to focus on the graphics anyway.