One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
HIGH The cute androids. The catchy music. The frenzied, strategic battles.
LOW Wow, this game got harder since the preview version.
WTF No, really—why is it so difficult?
I don't know what to say about Assault Android Cactus. On the one hand, a lot of what I liked about the alpha version still holds true for the commercial release. On the other, the commercial release seems to have gotten much harder.
Assault Android Cactus is a twin-stick shooter from Witch Beam. A bunch of robots on Cactus's spaceship have gone bad, and it's up to the title character and her android friends to subdue them.
Each android has a main weapon and a powerful sub-weapon, with lots of creative options to fit different playstyles. Between Holly's homing missiles (ideal for beginners), Aubergine's ability to create miniature black holes that suck enemies towards them, and Peanut's magma gun, the game's nine playable heroines have something for everyone.
I love the frenetic shooting, the cute and likable androids, and the level of strategy involved. For example, instead of losing lives in the traditional way, the androids run on batteries: the battery drains over time, and gets recharged by finding new ones on the battlefield. There's no shortage of tension between wanting to snag a battery as fast as possible but not wanting to get knocked over by some enemy, thereby wasting more time. All of these things are as enjoyable as I remember them from the alpha.
There's also a sort-of "cheat" system. Players save up credits they earn while playing to unlock everything from uber-powered mega-weapons to the ability to take AI partners into battle. I liked playing with the AI-controlled robots: if there was a battery in play I could count on somebody to find it. The extra players also make things more frenetic and challenging, since the number of enemies scales in accordance with how many players are on the field.
Speaking of challenge…oh boy, did this game take a jump in difficulty when it left early access.
Honestly, I don't know what happened. In my view, the earlier version hit the sweet spot of requiring players to clear a level as quickly as possible while being thoughtful enough not to die. Sure, the game was challenging, but I was always motivated to keep playing and chase after the elusive S+ ranks.
This release undoes that careful balance, leaving me frustrated and wondering why the bosses are so much more difficult. It's hard to chase S+ ranks when I can't even finish the levels.
At first I thought the problem was the smaller laptop screen I was playing on, but going back to my larger desktop didn't help. Has the combat been rebalanced? Am I just that out of practice? At any rate, I was unable to complete the campaign even after spending another 28 hours with it.
Despite my difficulty with the campaign, I still enjoyed the Infinity Drive mode where the player's only goal is to clear as many floors as possible. This mode was a standout in the preview copy and is even more of a blast now that I can take up to three other AI players with me.
Although I was unable to finish Assault Android Cactus's campaign (and, consequently, never got to see some of the other modes) I still like the things that carried over from the preview version. I also like a lot of the new tweaks like the mega-weapons and the AI squad. That said, the inexplicable jump in difficulty mars the experience for me. Assault Android Cactus is good, but it used to be great.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a 2.9 GHz Intel Core i5 iMac running Yosemite. Approximately 28 hours were spent in single-player modes, and the game was not completed. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game hasn't been rated by the ESRB, but I'd give it an E or E10+. All the violence is shooting robots who come apart in a cartoony fashion, and there's no bad language, suggestive themes, or even impractical armor for the many female protagonists.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing: The androids do like to shout the names of power-ups they get and, more importantly, when there's a battery in the area. However, there are still visual cues for these things: even if a battery is offscreen, there's a visual marker. I spent some time with the sound off expecting to have problems, but had none whatsoever.
But then a friend introduced her to the seedy underworld of the Mario brothers and she spent her saved-up birthday and Christmas money to buy a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Her mom didn't like the Nintendo at first, but The Legend of Zelda changed her mind. (When Tera got Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one Christmas, she suspected it was as much for her mother as for her).
Though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2002 and recently learned how to find the movie theater restroom by herself, Tera still loves video games. Far from being a brain-rotting waste of time, they've helped her practice spatial skills and discover new passions. Her love of games like Kid Icarus and The Battle of Olympus led to a degree in Classical Languages and Literatures. She thinks games have a place in discussions on disability and other cultural issues, and is excited to work with the like-minded staff at GameCritics.com.