Having released for free during a Games with Gold promotion on Xbox One, Assault Android Cactus caught my eye last year. I never actually tried it, and I won’t lie when I say the name seemed confusing without context. My younger brother, however, takes a bit more advantage of the Games with Gold program than I do, and I heard nothing but good things from him. This brought it forward on my radar, but alas it was still buried in my backlog. That remained true until I got the opportunity to review it. Now I realized I wasted plenty of time not playing an amazing game. No regrets though, as this type of game is perfectly suited for the Switch.
Assault Android Cactus+ is a twin stick shooter with some bullet hell elements and flashy, sci-fi visuals. When a massive civilian freighter spaceship is overrun by the commanding robotic forces that manage its systems, it’s up to a cast of cute and quirky androids to save the day. That’s where you (and some friends if you so choose) come into play. Across 25 campaign levels, players can choose from nine different androids to attempt to complete them with. Each level completion is ended with an earned rank, as is standard in other games in the genre. There are several sections of the ship and each section is finished by beating the inevitable boss at the end. These bosses, like their android underlings, are varied and have their own personal attributes and roles within the ship.
Most of the story is learned through these bosses, as far as stunning revelations and taunting superiority will allow for the narrative development. What I found interesting though was that the conversations playout differently with each boss, depending on what android you decide to attempt to play it with. This was unexpected, as traditionally scenes like this play out statically, or even with only one side having different text and the other being simple enough to work with a rotating dialogue. This intricate weaving of personality really allowed me to grow fonder of all the characters. They all have these awesome backstories tucked away in the codex, but these little touches help expand on them as characters in a great way. For instance, my favorite boss and android have a great interaction with each other. Lemon, the medic trainee, and Vespula, boss and lord of the garden and labs, are great friends but because of the circumstances must engage in battle. This opens up to some great dialogue that gives a lasting effect in a genre that could easily have ignored it. Though the narrative works well, we would not have a memorable game without great combat backing these boss fights and the levels leading up to them.
This game is an absolute blast. It’s simple and casual enough for that pick up and play mentality, yet also diverse and challenging enough to make you feel highly engaged as well as rewarding when you do perform better. There is a slew of different enemy types, highly varied levels, and all sorts of action to plow through. Gameplay is an “on your toes” type of feel, where you want to keep running and gunning for the duration of a level. Outside of a weird mechanic where switching your weapons is the only way to “dodge”, this game controls really well. There is even an auto aim mechanic for single Joy-Con play exclusive to the “+” version of the game. Things get more varied when you try out all the playable characters.
Each android has their own weapon set, one standard weapon and one recharging, more powerful weapon. This is where the variety of the game shows so strongly, with 9 characters to choose from there is a weapon set for every player. Our titular character Cactus has straight shooting machine gun, with a flamethrower as back up, while head of security Aubergine has a controllable drone as a main weapon, with a black hole gun as the secondary. My personal favorite once again is Lemon, who has a spread shot gun, with rockets packing more power for the secondary. Having 9 unique characters is great, especially when you consider you can play with up to four friends.
The action is intense, and I played mostly in handheld mode with no single sign of any slowdowns, which was impressive. As mentioned, there is some bullet hell-esque moments, where shots and enemies quite literally litter the screen. To help aid you through these often tough moments, enemies will often drop batteries and power-ups. Battery is the lifeblood of our androids, so instead of worrying about extra lives, you just have to keep your battery charged. This means you have to move quickly, because if you let one linger too long, it’ll disappear. If your battery goes empty, you will lose and have to start from the beginning. Powerups like “Shutdown” disable all enemies briefly, while others boost your fire power or speed. All are extremely helpful, and you can avoid picking one up to let it change into another if you so desire.
Aesthetically, the game looks pretty solid. There are some dated edges, but the character design is pretty damn swell, and I think all the androids are adorable. I would totally watch an animated show from this source material. The colors all pop, and the bullet swarms the fly across the screen stand out without you getting easily lost in the mix. The charisma and charm of the characters is really all backed by fantastic design from a face-value level. The music, done by Jeff Van Dyck, who also scored Submerged, is damn fantastic. There are some great tracks in here that really up the mood during some shootouts. It’s great to see a soundtrack feature in the game that allows you to listen to any track you so please.
This game packs a solid amount of content too outside of the base campaign. There is an Infinity Drive mode, which is kind of the endless wave/survival mode for those looking to push their limits. There is also the Daily Drive mode, which has a rotating map out each day. Once you beat the campaign, you can partake in a Boss Rush mode, which fans of games like Furi will appreciate. To up the ante, there is also a new mode that comes with the “+” version of the title, and that is Campaign+, where all 25 levels are remixed and the intensity of each is increased. This doubles the content, and the challenge for that matter. My personal favorite feature is the “EX” options, which allow you to tweak the gameplay. Whether it is something simple like changing visual or audio effects, or something dramatic like allowing you to play the game in FIRST PERSON, this menu allows you to really up the fun and tweak the game to your liking. Outside of that, there are all sorts of texts in the codex, an art gallery, a movie gallery, a jukebox for the previously mentioned soundtrack, and a soundboard.
The game is temporarily $14.99 as a launch special, but even at the list price of $20, it’s totally worth it. While the campaign is short, running at maybe three hours tops, there is a lot under the surface here for those who want to dig in. I am looking forward to getting through the Campaign+ mode, but it’s great that a title like this offers all of this in co-op, as well as additional modes for the die hards. I sincerely hope a sequel arises out of this title, because as a new found fan who missed out on it on other platforms, I can say I really appreciate this game. It’s fun and light, yet challenging and rewarding. Returning fans should find the remixed campaign to be enough reason to come back, but for first timers like me, this complete package is well worth the investment.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final SCore: 9/10
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