Assault Android Cactus+ (Switch) Review
A twin-stick shooter that has gotten non-stop rave reviews every time it has been released on a new platform seems like a no-brainer for just about anyone to buy straight away. My Twitter feed seemingly has someone talking about Assault Android Cactus+ every time I open my app. Despite this, I’ve avoided the game like the plague, I absolutely hate twin-stick shooters and bullet-hell games, so this really didn’t appeal to my senses whatsoever.
Somehow, someway, the developers at Witch Beam have created a game that goes against everything I thought I’d known about myself and what I enjoy in games. Despite my increasing age and my ever-slowing hand-eye coordination, I found immense enjoyment in every aspect of AAC+.
From the moment I booted up the game I knew I was onto something different to most twin-sticks. Instantly, I feel in love with a number of characters that honestly would not look out of place in the box art of a late 1990’s Rare Ltd game. Each character has a unique, likeable personality to them that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think ensuring that there is a cast of characters worth caring about is an area that is lacking in a lot of twin-stick shooters that AAC+ simply excels at.
The difficulty curve is another element that the people at Witch Beam have nailed. The game starts off simple enough, and as you progress through the levels, things get tougher. It seems simple on paper, but so many games such as this contain random difficulty spikes. There has clearly been a lot of care taken regarding getting the difficulty right, and as this is a refined version of what we’ve already seen on other systems, it’s clear that this is a labour of love.
Despite the later levels involving a myriad of enemies rushing me from every angle ready to tear me to shreds, I never felt like the game was playing unfair. If I failed, it was mainly due to a lack of strategy on my behalf. Knowing which character has the best loadout for a particular level, as well as finding the right time to switch weapons is key to beating some of the more difficult levels in the game. There are a lot of options to consider, but somehow never overwhelms you with choice.
There are a lot of power-ups to gather in AAC+ as well. After taking out a certain number of enemies, a random power-up appears in the arena. These offer anything from an energy recharge, to weapon upgrades, speed boosts and even a couple of drones to help blast away the opposition, the character is constantly changing and upgrading. The upgrades don’t last forever, but the next power-up never feels too far away.
With everything going on in every level, it’s easy to get caught up in the action and simply get to the final level. However, at the end of each stage, the game gives you a ranking based on how well you’ve done. So far, the best I’ve managed in a level is an S rank, but the fact that the game has indicated that I could do better has encouraged me to go back to those levels and try to perfect them.
The Switch version also comes with an aim-assist function. This has the player basically auto-aim towards the closest enemy. This has been done with the single Joy-Con in mind and allows at the very least two-player coop without buying extra controllers. I did try this out a lot and found it to be quite intuitive, and it also helped me maintain higher combos by constantly ensuring I was facing something I could shoot. There are times where it doesn’t work however, and that’s when you are closest to one of the larger enemies while the little guys are still coming towards you. The game will automatically fire at the large enemy if it’s close, leaving you open to attack from the other enemies in the level. It’s not perfect, but it is still fabulously effective.
As touched upon earlier, each character has their own unique loadout, which encourages a lot of experimentation. The main character, Cactus, has a machine gun and flamethrower in her arsenal. Others have access to homing rockets, lasers and other such weapons. It’s worth familiarising yourself with each character, as finding the right one is the key to getting the higher ranks in a certain level.
All of this happens in an absolutely stunning 60fps. I mostly don’t care for framerates in most games I play, but in a game that has so much to watch out for, it’s just about paramount that the frame rate remains high and stable. Throughout my many, many hours of playtime, I never encountered any slowdown, either docked or undocked. Those wizards at Witch Beam have done well to push the Switch as much as they have.
Aside from the regular campaign, there is a lot to do in AAC+. Up to four players can play the game together, and while I couldn’t get four people together to review, a mere two-player game can get super hairy, so I can only imagine how intense and fun a four-player game can be. There are also daily challenges and an Infinity Drive mode that channels the game’s inner Zapp Brannigan by sending wave upon wave of enemies at you until you can’t take any more.
If someone told me that I would someday enjoy the frantic experiences of a twin-stick shooter, I’d have told them they were bonkers… yet here we are! It’s got well-designed characters with unique personalities and skill sets, as well as a tough yet fair difficulty curve. Being able to play with a single-stick is a fantastic edition for the Switch version, and while it’s a pain when big enemies are around, it really does work.
If only the game came out a couple of months ago, I would have voted for it in our recent top 19 Switch games list.
- Great character designs
- A tough, yet fair difficulty approach
- The ultimate version on Switch
- Single stick gameplay is a fraction of an annoyance