Keeping the Kill-Chain Alive in Assault Android Cactus

The robots have run rampant again!?  Why do we even keep these things around?  Sure, it’s all “lift that thing” and “automate that process” now, but all it takes is the slightest provocation and they’ll be throwing off their safety protocols and overrunning every space station, spaceship, and military base humanity can build.  This time it’s a space freighter that’s been taken over by its robotic workforce, and only the android (same as a robot but it looks humanoid, so that makes it better by the power of anthropomorphism) Cactus and her friends can stem the tide of metallic doom.

Assault Android Cactus is a twin-stick shooter on Steam Early Access, where every level is its own unique challenge.  Flickering lights may go dark in one level with only a spotlight from your android and the glowing neon detailing of the robots to tell you where to shoot (looks neat, not really a hindrance) while another level will be set on a series of concentric rings that spin at different rates, varying in speed as you shoot through enemy waves.  Walls pop up and get reabsorbed into the floor, or the floor might not exist beyond a certain distance from you, or pressure pads might make the room configuration change completely.  Each of the 20 levels is a different shooting challenge, and while only two of the five unique bosses are complete so far they’re different enough from each other that it’s not hard to assume the other three will be unique and clever as well.

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That design sense extends to the androids, too.  Of the five available so far, no two share a single weapon.  Each android comes equipped with a regular gun, which can be fired constantly, and a special attack that needs a brief cooldown.  Cactus’ machine gun is a nice, basic weapon, but Holly’s seeker bullets or Lemon’s spread gun are hard to resist.  Starch’s laser is nice too, but her special micromissile burst can deal a lot of pain to a lot of enemies very quickly.  Aubergine, on the other hand, has the trickiest main weapon by far, seeing as it’s a spinning robo-bunny whose ears act like a buzz saw, and instead of shooting it gun-style it’s guided independently like a second character.  Mastering the levels, maintaining a kill-streak from the first enemy to the last, requires wildly varying styles between one character and the next, and switching between androids  every few levels goes a long way towards keeping the shooting action fresh.

While it’s a solid start with plenty of content, Assault Android Cactus is still Early Access, and what that means in this case is that there’s still levels and features waiting to be created.  There’s more enemies on the way, more playable characters, the missing bosses, and even a small number of levels left to design.  Most of the levels look pretty nice but the later ones are using placeholder graphics, which doesn’t make them any less playable even if it does feel a bit like they’re being played on graph paper.  Updates are slow but steady, adding a good number of new features with each one while refining and re-balancing what already exists.

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Even with the ongoing balancing, however, Assault Android Cactus feels rock-solid.  Blasting waves of robotic doom is wonderfully chaotic, and while the enemies take a few bullets to go down that just makes them seem tough, rather than the weapons feeling weak.  Powering up the gun a few times turns a decent stream of firepower into a proper monster of destruction, and if the toughest enemies are still resistant then that’s why missiles were created.  The levels have a great action flow to them, alternating between popcorn enemies that are satisfying to dispatch and tougher situations that require careful handling and technique.  There’s plenty more work to be done on Assault Android Cactus, but with its current state being so much fun to blast through, that just means there’s something to look forward to.