Look, I’m really ill today, but a game’s just come out and I need to tell you about it.
As one of the few people who lives near me, Chris Spann is contractually bound to sometimes come to my house and play videogames with me. Somebody has to.
We always have specific games planned when he comes to visit - Towerfall, The Yawhg, Sportsfriends, Affordable Space Adventures, whatever - and they are always brilliant. But it is no small coincidence that every single session we’ve had over the last two years has ended with a quick go on Assault Android Cactus.
We first played it at EGX in 2013 when, in the most incredible display of humility I’ve ever seen, the game called itself a ‘pre-alpha’. While it’s had a tonne of work done on it since, the sheer fucking joy of it was evident even back then, and we’ve been ardent fans since.
It’s a twin-stick shooter, and you’ve definitely played one of those before, but it might have been a while since you played one that’s quite this slick. Assault Android Cactus is slicker than Clark ‘Sparky’ Griswold’s sled, mate. The feel of the game’s characters, and the clear and constant feedback you’re given about everything that’s going on is genuinely Minter-esque. It’s a game that you can learn to ‘read’ on an almost instinctive level, which is no mean feat. Chaos erupts all around you, but thanks to a whole raft of smart design decisions, that chaos is always manageable. I tend to bounce off a lot of shooters because I’m pure piss at them - throw in one proper bullet-hell bit and I just switch off. But Cactus regularly takes you to the limit of your capabilities and just kind of holds you there in a way that few games manage. It’s exhausting at times, but in the best way possible.
The campaign is punctuated with boss battles, but they serve as fun explorations into the game’s possibilities rather than shite roadblocks. Certain levels also have brilliant little gimmicks to them - one is set on a moving transport platform with giant laser beams that you have to take cover from using a load of shipping crates. This is pretty easy, until enemies start bursting out of said crates and the platform starts to move in different directions, limiting your options for cover and dragging you around in directions you’d rather not go.
There’s also Infinity Drive, a mode of endless randomly generated levels and enemy patterns, and Daily Drive, similar to Spelunky’s daily challenge, where everyone is given the same randomly-generated level each day and you only get one attempt to achieve the best score you can. When Cactus hits the Vita (currently due in January 2016), this mode will be fucking dangerous.
Oh yeah, score chasing! You build up a chain by destroying enemies in quick succession, and chaining enemies increases your score multiplier while the chain is active. It’s pretty simple, but the way it works in practice is smart - some enemies take much more shooting to bring down than the regular cannon fodder, and they’re worth more points. But if you just focus on a tough enemy, your chain will disappear before you’re able to kill it. So you quickly learn that in order to hit the higher echelons of the leaderboards, you’ve got to learn to try and pace your kills - do some damage to a large enemy, kill some smaller ones, do a bit more damage, kill some more smaller enemies, and so on, keeping your chain alive until the big guy explodes and you can rake in the points.
You also can’t die, either. Well, you can, but it’s only ever temporary - what you need to worry about is your battery running out. The battery slowly drains over time, and the only way to replenish it is to kill enemies who will occasionally drop you a new battery. Dying causes you to deactivate for a second, giving you a vital second or two to gather yourself and mash the fire button to get back up again, but it costs you valuable time that should be spent hunting for your next battery. It’s a beautiful system as it essentially lets you off with the occasional mistake, but you’ll know when your performance is under-par because you slowly begin to feel the pressure of a constantly near-empty battery. Sometimes this encourages you to focus and pull it back from the brink, while other times you’ll just fuck it completely and fail the level, but in either case it’s a brilliantly frantic experience.
I haven’t talked about all the different characters you can play as but I’m about to fall asleep at the keyboard.
Please play Assault Android Cactus. Cheers. x