I’ve noticed that, so far, a lot of my features on this site begin with me hearkening back to some by-gone era.  Every article begins with me yammering on about the good old days when things were done this way, and this particular game did stuff that way.  Is this a sign that I’m fucking old now, or is it just that a lot of gameplay ideas are being recycled these days?

A little bit of column A,  a little bit of column B.  However, neither of these things are necessarily bad.  Being old isn’t bad because I said so, and recycled gameplay ideas can be a good thing as long as they’re implemented well, and especially if new elements of design inform on the older idea – teaching the proverbial old dog a new trick, if you will.

Assault Android Cactus succeeds in this nostalgic exercise with flying colors.  If the reader is an old bastard like me, one may experience Assault Android Cactus and immediately think of old co-op shooters like Smash TV, or Gunstar Heroes, and the comparison is not that far off.  Assault Android Cactus is so old-school arcade it hurts.  Oh mama, it hurts so good.

One of Assault Android Cactus's unique level designs, fighting in the dark.
One of Assault Android Cactus’s unique level designs, fighting in the dark.

From the start-up screen, to the menu sound effects, to the character selection screen, to the first five minutes of gameplay, my heart rang with joy.  This game is loud, colorful, and hectic.  It begs to be in a brightly painted cabinet, facing right out into the exit to the food court.  This game preyed on my nostalgia like a starving cat on an obese mouse.

As most people know, nostalgia only carries so far.  Fortunately for Assault Android Cactus, it has excellent gameplay to back up its nostalgic tricks.  Up to four players select a character, all “female” androids (as female as an android can be, I suppose), each with their own unique form of primary and secondary attack, and take them into stages against waves of enemies, and I do mean waves.  Players will stare down hundreds of adversaries, firing off tens of thousands of projectiles.  Assault Android Cactus may be a twin-stick shooter, but it is also a solid bullet hell in its own right.

Each android has its own health, but when depleted, they’re simply “knocked down” and can get back up via good ol’ fashioned button mashing.  The true health of the team is the battery level, shared by all, which is constantly draining.  The only way to keep it up is by making progress in the battle.

The balancing of each character is handled excellently.  Each android’s abilities are unique enough to encourage their use and experimentation, but are still very complimentary and well balanced.  As I progressed through the game in solo play sessions, it became very evident that no particular android seemed too overpowered.  I would wreck some stages and bosses, and then be destroyed when a new situation played to my android’s weakness.

The boss battles will try each android's strengths and weaknesses, and test those rusty old bullet hell skills too.
The boss battles will try each android’s strengths and weaknesses, and test those rusty old bullet hell skills too.

Because of the aforementioned ebb and flow of each android character’s specialty, Assault Android Cactus’s co-op gameplay shines as bright as the sun in your rear view mirror while driving home from work in the east-bound lane.  If the reader doesn’t know what the hell I’m talking about because they don’t drive, don’t have a day time work schedule, or because of just plain bad reading comprehension; I’m saying it shines really, really bright.  With nine different playable androids each with unique and complimentary abilities, team composition is a blast to experiment with.

This excitement works at a team level as well as an individual level, because the cooperative aspect of the game is also competitive.  As a team, the players are trying to beat the levels and bosses as quickly as possible in order to maintain their battery level and place favorably on the leaderboard.  As individuals, each player is attempting to kill the most enemies and chain the most combo kills in order to rack up a mountain of points and be declared the individual “winner” of the round.

These mutually exclusive goals lead to some interesting and funny decisions, since players tend to make up their minds on the fly about how much effort they want to put into the team’s survival, while still maintaining their personal score.  It also drives behavior on the character selection screen, as one tries to select the android they feel can do the most individual damage in the coming stage, but also will not leave a gaping hole in a necessary role of the team.

This rock solid foundation for “frenemy” cooperative gameplay leads the charge into a game packed full of imaginatively designed enemies and stages.  Assault Android Cactus never lets the player get bored, and not just because of its fast pace.  The stages start simple, with a tutorial that lasts all of thirty seconds, but soon players are blasting their way through all manner of environments.

There are dynamic stages which change and transform with each wave of enemies, stages fought in darkness as the lighting fails, arena stages and linear stages.  Players will be dodging environmental hazards and figuring out ways to leverage their character’s strengths to deal with each individual enemy type.  As the boss’s emerge, the whole team will have to really figure out what role their character can best play in the battle as each boss has several forms, each seemingly tailor-made to counter a particular android’s specialty.

If I may continue vomiting rainbows, all this gameplay goodness is wrapped up in a beautiful package of personality.  As mentioned earlier in the review, Assault Android Cactus deserves center stage in the quarter pits of yore.  The pulse-pounding music drives the action, and works well in concert with the big meaty sound effects which would sound right at home blasting out of a pair of cabinet speakers.  The characters are funny, and charismatic.  Even the boss characters notice, and will address each android differently and accordingly in their dialogues in the opening cutscenes.  The quick cut scenes between stages made me chuckle, and some moments of the game made me laugh outright; such as the first time my team died and didn’t hit restart right away, and we suddenly realized that the death music gives way to an auto-tuned ballad of a self-pitying android lamenting their impotence.

This stage transforms as the player progresses, enemies crawling in from new directions with each switch.
This stage transforms as the player progresses, enemies crawling in from new directions with each switch.

Assault Android Cactus is not a long game by any means, and if I were forced to find a complaint with it, I suppose that would have to be the one I would leverage.  The ending is a bit of a cliff hanger as well, and while it’s not the most story-focused game, it left me wondering what happens next?  However, maybe’s that’s the point, and the door has been left open for further updates or DLC.

Though the end may come quickly, the leaderboards and extra gameplay modes (such as an infinite-wave survival mode) will keep incentive-driven players coming back for many hours past the first completion point.  It’s also worth noting that a new game mode, Boss Rush, has been implemented in an update two weeks from launch, so perhaps even more features could be expected to be added.  For the types of players, like me, who aren’t necessarily that concerned about top score positioning, there is much mirth to be had simply by playing through over and over again with different team combinations.  The game is just that much damn fun.

Assault Android Cactus, man.  Get it today.

RATING

Pull Both Triggers:  A Must Play

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