“Better late than never” is a commonly used phrase by most people today, but in the case of Australian developer Witch Beam’s first foray into the Xbox family, this is most certainly the case. Originally planned for release in early 2014, Assault Android Cactus is finally here; A high octane twin-stick shooter releasing alongside the Xbox One X at a native 4K resolution running at 60 frames per second.
You begin the campaign by instantly meeting Cactus, an android who is tasked with the suppression of rogue robots aboard a freighter spacecraft called The Genki Star. After crash-landing on the ship, you meet three other androids who explain that the ships robotic workforce has turned against them and that you must reach the central Nexus core to find out why this is happening. You then play through the tutorial which teaches you the basic controls and other bits of useful information and to tackle a few robots that give you a small taste of what is to come.
To advance and power up you must collect the power cores dropped by fallen bots, doing this powers up your primary weapon to increase its damage output. but if you take too much damage you will short out and have to hit the fire button quickly to reboot your character. Enemies also have the chance to drop power-up orbs upon destruction which will change its benefits over time. Yellow orbs increase your speed and pull enemy power cores to you, red spawns in two drones to give you more firepower and finally, the blue orbs create an EMP effect which shuts down all enemy bots for a short time to help you clear out the area.
Within the first couple of levels, you are made to pick up the pace as a seemingly endless onslaught of spider bots and flyer drones start chasing you down at speed in the small and compact arena playspace. You must gun down all on-comers as quickly as you can whilst collecting batteries to keep your android character powered. Batteries drop on the floor randomly from downed enemies and are the best looked at as the games main health mechanic. You battery meter trickles down at a constant rate, and if you let it completely drain, then you are out of the game. Getting kills quick enough will make sure there is always a good supply of power, but don’t get complacent as taking your time will severely reduce the drop rate and ultimately make you end in failure.
You progress through the ever-changing and evolving arenas that are set throughout the belly of the Genki Star unlocking new playable characters and game modes as you go. Each level takes you through different themed areas of the ship and adds a mix of newer robots and numbers that increase with each passing stage. After completing each zone of four levels, you are met next with a boss fight who is one of the Ships four section leader supervisor bots. The fights will have you putting your skills to the test in a beautifully presented barrage of bullets and attacks that you keep you on the edge of your seat as you duck and weave everything on the screen. You will most likely fail here several times, but it won’t take you to long on subsequent tries to learn your enemies tactics which will help you progress through their multiple damage phases with ease.
For the more experienced of twin-stick players, the campaign itself won’t take much more than four to five hours, but the real challenge is going back and perfecting your strategy to attack the games competitive leaderboards. Setting high scores is in Assault Android Cactus’ DNA from the get-go, with the leaderboards section featured directly below the games main gameplay selection with the classic ranking system where only the best or most dedicated will earn the coveted S+ ranks. Although online multiplayer is not an option here, you can play locally with up to three other friends for some top of the line, crazy couch co-op fun all with scores integrated so you can bring along your friends and family and try to become the best in the world.
After the campaign there is also a few extra modes of play, for example Infinity Drive is an endless survival mode in a set arena which takes in all bosses and enemies met throughout the campaign, and then you have Daily Drive mode which changes to a separate campaign arena every day to test your metal in a setup similar to the Infinity mode and more to unlock as you progress.
Back on the main menu, you have a collections section and the standard options you expect to see all games released today, The difference here is that Witch Beam has got you covered in pretty much all areas, something that most of today’s biggest AAA developers could learn from. Within the Collections menu, you have a Codex that unlocks info and a picture of all playable characters and enemies, as well as other information from within the Assault Android universe.
You can also unlock concept art and renders from spending your hard-earned points that you earn purely through gameplay. My favourite addition here included is a good selection of mutators that can have dramatic changes to the game, from wacky colour filters, adding AI androids to help you in your single player, to the absolutely crazy First Person mode which effectively creates a whole new game within the game. If that is not a great example of how to make your title fully feature complete from release, the full soundtrack is available to you which is an eclectic mix of modern techno and 1980s arcade, as well as Assault Androids full soundboard of noises found throughout the game. Colour blind modes are also available for those in need and a unique developer mode commentary which you can listen to as you play.
Despite all of the previously mentioned features and unlocks, where Assault Android Cactus really shines is the way its presented to you, everything just works perfectly straight out the box. Even when the screen is being filled with hundreds of explosions, enemies and effects all at once, I didn’t have a single moment where I felt my original Xbox One was struggling to cope, with no frame drops, sound or slowdown in the slightest.