Cactus is a Junior Constable in the Interplanetary Police who ends up stranded on a crippled space freighter under attack by its own robot workers. Conscripting any fellow androids she finds along the way, she fights through unique stages to reach the brain of the ship in this arcade style twin stick shooter.
Every android has their own distinct personality and foibles. You can actually read about their background in the codex, but their personality shines through in the catch phrases broadcast through the speaker of the DualShock 4 controller. My favorite has to be Starch, who says, “Pineapple” when you wake her up at the character select screen, and “Everything’s Dead” after a stage is completed. When different characters square off against the Section Lords (bosses of the 5 levels of the ship), they each have something unique to say, like when timid accountant Holly confronts her supervisor early in the game. If you were playing as Lemon, the conversation with that Section Lord would be completely different.
Each character has their own unique weapon loadout; one primary weapon with unlimited ammo that upgrades as you defeat enemies, and one powerful secondary weapon that takes a while to recharge. Cactus uses a machine gun and flamethrower, and is suited for almost every level, while a character like Aubergine, who drives a spinning robot called Helo and Singularity Generator to create mini black holes, requires more skill to use or the player will quickly be overwhelmed. Although Aubergine would be a tough character to use in single player, she would be great in the multiplayer mode. Assault Android Cactus can be played by up to four people locally, and as players are added, the game piles on the killer robots. A Singularity Generator might come in handy!
The game is broken up into five floors of five stages, with a Section Lord blocking passage to the next level of the ship. Every stage is unique, not just a static arena to shoot enemies in. Pits open up, conveyor belts move enemies and items around the level to sometimes hilarious or frustrating results. Boxes may explode revealing more enemies, or robots may crawl out of pits. On a transport stage, a giant laser beam shears through the stage, destroying unsheltered friend and foe alike. The environments are diverse and engaging, the player must keep an eye on them as well as the enemies attacking. Most stages seem to be around five minutes, if you can survive them. The last few seconds can often be frenetic, as hordes of enemies swarm toward you in the final moments.
Assault Android Cactus’s battery health bar system adds to the game’s sense of urgency. Since the players are all androids, it makes sense that a battery would be the health bar, right? Enemy hits deplete the battery of course, but so does time. This forces the player to throw caution to the wind, and wade in to the hordes of foes before the battery drains to zero charge. Enemies occasionally drop batteries to recharge the player’s green battery bar, but you never know when that drop will happen, and a half second can mean the difference between recharging and finishing the stage or dying just before the end. At least the game has a great GAME OVER song!
Enemies also drop little bits that charge up your main weapon to higher levels, and occasionally drop a big power-up as well. The large power-up cycles between three colors, red, blue and yellow. Yellow gives the player wings that give a huge boost to speed and maneuverability, blue freezes all enemies for a short period of time, and red gives the player two robot drones that follow and give extra firepower. Sometimes it pays off to wait for the power-up to change color to fit the situation!
The campaign can be played either single player or with up to four players, and there are a few other modes and goodies in the game as well. There is an Infinity Drive where wave upon wave of enemies attack, as well as a Daily Drive, which is a challenge that changes periodically. The game also includes a codex about all the characters and enemies, a jukebox where you can listen to the amazing soundtrack by Jeff Van Dyck. Old school gamers rejoice, there’s even a sound test where you can press X and hear all the game’s bleeps and boops!
As you play, you earn credits which can unlock concept art and EX options. There are some crazy EX options available like unlocking the ability to play in first person (hard!), rendering the game in a gritty style, or having the ability to play with 3 AI companions.
So, should you check out Assault Android Cactus on PlayStation 4?
In a word, yes!
Whether you have 10 minutes and just want to unwind by shooting waves of robots, or have three friends over and want to go through a quick campaign together, Assault Android Cactus delivers. From character design to music, Assault Android Cactus succeeds in giving the player a very polished, focused experience. The controls are simple, but the game is not easy. Don’t let the brightly colored art design or plucky heroines fool you, this game has plenty of challenge to offer. You will see your battery drain to empty, especially against the Section Lords.
But you’ll just smile and restart.
A copy of Assault Android Cactus for PlayStation 4 was provided for review. The game is also available on Steam, with planned versions for Xbox One and Wii U as well. But those versions won’t have Assault Androids quipping catchphrases from the speaker in your DualShock 4 controller. When I asked if a Vita version was planned, I wasn’t told no… Hope springs eternal! As always , you can hear about this and other games on the Plug and Play podcast.