I have EXTREMELY mixed feelings about Assault Android Cactus in that I want to like it based on most levels and its graphical and aural charms. My problem is mainly due to the control scheme, although I do have several other complaints as well. Assault Android Cactus is categorized as a twin stick shooter, and it’s about androids (surprise!) on a freight ship whose AI has gone nuts and started killing everyone. I’d worry about spoiling the plot, except the plot is unbearably stupid and goes like this: an evil emo android showed up and told the AI that the universe is a lie and everything sucks, and the AI agreed and set about killing everyone to “save everything.” Stupid? Oh absolutely. But for video game writing, one can almost pretend this is some deeply philosophical shit.
The game’s title is also the “main character,” but right from the start, the player can choose from several other androids, each with their own unique payload of weapons. Further, by beating bosses at the end of sections, the player can unlock even more androids, including making the evil emo Licorice playable. All of these choices give players a lot of options depending on what kind of rate of fire on their primary weapons they want, and on what kind of secondary weapon they can deploy. Those include options like a flamethrower, land mines, missiles, a force field, and a singularity. (Because an indoor black hole is always a good idea, amiright?)
For the most part, the non-boss levels are fun if a bit frantic due to these androids having extremely poor battery life. This is for me another problem, as I’ve got no love for games that put me on a timer and demand perfect speed. It’s particularly frustrating to pop the icon for a battery, only to die while trying to reach it. (Or worse, while circling around it because the damn thing has decided to go in an orbit around your character without connecting.) And there’s one level called Repeater that I honestly was ready to murder someone over because it rearranges the floor underneath my character whenever I moved. I could turn a perfect circle and rather than return to my starting point I’d end up in a confusingly dense range of hallways, which conveniently only melted for enemies to take pot shots at me before rematerializing again to block my shots. Confusing doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The boss levels try to crank up the bullet-hell difficulty, which becomes a visual vomit that makes it damned hard to see anything, much less to keep track of the meters floating around my character (indicating the heat level of secondary weapons) and around the power-up icons. (indicating the time left before the power-up changes types.) It also doesn’t help that these massive bosses only give out batteries if you can pummel them enough to reach the next cycle in their multi-phased lives. The final boss is worst of all because you’re expected to fight the ship AI in multiple phases as well as fighting every previous boss set to batshit mode. (And when you pop the AI to start a new batshit boss cycle, the battery you desperately need is usually directly under the bullet hell, bullet sponge boss.) Even after you manage to whittle away the last of this bitch’s health, the AI pulls your character into an “ether realm” to fight one more time.
And I can’t say I’m really all that fond of the boss dialogue, either. Going into a fight, it’s all “I must kill you, blah blah blah. I have seen the truth and you are inferior blah blah blah” When you defeat them, they’re all going, “It wasn’t me, the others were too strong for me.” And plot twist: it wasn’t any of them. It was evil emo android. Damn those motherfucking battery stealing evil emo androids.
Finally we get to my biggest complaint of the game, and that’s the controls. To fire the main weapon requires holding down the right trigger, while switching weapons requires a tap of the left trigger. This wouldn’t seem like a terrible thing to some of you, but just a few minutes into any one play session resulted in massively painful hand cramps. The thing is, its a twin stick shooter. You should just be able to fire by moving the stick in the direction you want to shoot. The game has an “accessibility” feature that swaps which hand will cramp up faster rather than allow the player to just use the stick to fire.
Upon completing a few levels, the game also unlocks Infinity Drive and Daily Drive, which is just Infinity Drive with an added dick waving contest. This might seem like Endless mode on Super Stardust Delta and earn some praise from me, except it’s the same rush over and over, with no random variety to keep it from getting stale. It does serve as good practice so that you can get a feel for each android’s arsenal, but even that begins to get dull pretty quickly because of the lack of variety.
I have to give Assault Android Cactus 3 stars, and I feel like I should explain why the score is so high if I had such a hard time with it. It’s not broken or even bad, but the game’s design takes several missteps that for me make it both aggravating and physically painful. This is yet another indie game where I want to ask why a skill level option isn’t available. It doesn’t even need to be less intense in the bullet-hell delivery. All they had to do to ease up the strain was slow the rate of the battery draining. That one tiny concession and changing the controls to allow me to fire using only the right stick would go a long way in making the game less painful. Alas, this is never going to happen, so I’m afraid this game has quickly hit a dead end for me.