Demo Driver 8: Assault Android Cactus (#202)
I am not, as a rule, one of the people for whom Greenlight is intended. This is because I enjoy cooking.
Cooking is delicate. Cooking takes time. Cooking is not particularly helped by having people clustered around eager to taste what you haven’t finished cooking yet. It’s not that I think the companies on Greenlight are wrong in some fashion, just that launching there means you’re buying a chance to taste something that the designers freely state isn’t yet cooked through. I’ll wait until you’ve finished with the cooking portion, thank you.
Assault Android Cactus is a Greenlight game, however, and one with a demo available. And it’s what I rolled, so it’s where I’m going. That having been said, what is present in the demo is quite polished and fun, although I harbor vague doubts about how much more you get at the moment for being an Early Access purchaser. But time enough for that elsewhere, let’s take a look at what the game actually is.
You start the game off by playing the eponymous Cactus, an android tasked with investigating a stranded space freighter, and… skipping ahead a bit… ah, here we go, ship overrun by hostiles, go into a series of rooms and shoot all of them. It’s robots this time rather than xenomorphs, so that’s nice. Right, then, you’ve guessed half of the gameplay by what I said there, probably, but to put any doubts to rest this is a shooter very much in the vein of old arcade titles. Move with the keyboard, shoot with the mouse, skitter about avoiding fire and blowing the crap out of everything around you until you’re officially done with the stage. It’s all very simple.
It’s also all very charming.
AAC avoids the cardinal sins of this sort of game deftly. Enemies each have distinct silhouettes and attack patterns, so you can tell at a glance what you’re fighting – and most of those manage to pack in a fair amount of personality. (My personal favorites are the small artillery units that look to me like toasters crossed with small dogs.) Each of the androids you can play as has a unique color scheme and look, and they all animate well and responsively. Projectiles, powerups, and the like are all distinguishable quickly on the field. None of that, however, is the delicious mechanical pudding that either makes or breaks this particular sort of game.
Stages are short, each taking place on a single map that changes throughout your playtime. Enemies spawn continuously, spitting projectiles at you and swiping at you. You, meanwhile, start off armed with a rather weak gun that still can dispatch enemies effectively. You also have a secondary weapon that can be activated with the space bar, but these weapons overheat quickly. Consider them the equivalent of cooldown abilities. You also have a shield that absorbs a bit of damage and regenerates after a few moments of not being hit, but when it’s gone and you’re hit, down to the floor you go.
Briefly, anyhow. See, it’s not your health you have to worry about, it’s your battery power. As long as you’re fighting, your battery power is slowly but steadily depleting. Enemies will drop battery power every so often, but you have to blow up a lot of them to do so. Getting your shield dropped and being knocked down will only wind you for a few seconds, but losing your battery power means it’s all over. A knockout will also drop your weapon power and end any currently active powerups – there are various generic powerups that you can pick up, see, and as you defeat enemies your gun gets more powerful. Getting dropped can mean death if you don’t have enough remaining battery power to get back on your feet, in other words.
Your biggest advantage is the fact that you can switch between members in your roster of androids, each of whom sports a different primary and secondary weapon. Cactus sports a standard rapid-fire cannon along with a flamethrower, while companion Holly sports a shorter-ranged seeking shot ad a slow-moving cannon projectile. Lemon has a spreading shot and a rocket launcher. Coral uses a shotgun and a damage field. You get the idea. All the androids are identical except for their weapon loadouts, it seems, thereby avoiding the specter of “this character is awful in every way except for her hit point total.”
All good fun, really. You go in, and you start shooting, and the stage layouts change as you play and more things explode. Clearing every part of the demo unlocks another android to play around with, and the feel is very much in keeping with the game’s arcade roots. It even has multiplayer support so you can group up in truly grand traditional fashion, thereby offering space for more support-oriented characters to be more useful. All good, all grand.
The demo contains three “main” levels and a boss fight. The boss fight is where the game starts verging into more dodge-oriented territory; while you can dispatch most enemies quickly enough that projectile dodging is never a major problem, the boss will last through your field of fire and moves through several attack patterns. It’s entertaining and challenging without being miserable, which is the sweet spot for fights. Breaking through major sections of his health awards battery powerups, which adds a nice bit of tension insofar as it’s not just about damaging him but about doing so fast enough.
Of course, that raises the question of value on the dollar. The game is promising eight playable characters when all is said and done, plenty of endless modes and repeat play options, and if you like sharpening yourself to a fine edge on something, well, this should be something when it’s finished. However, that $15 price tag on the game might turn people off. It provides what it’s aiming for quite well, but without more depth it’s a question of whether or not you want to drop that much money on what is very much an arcade title at heart.
It’s a game built around speed, around rolling in and busting things down. And it’s good stuff, fun and satisfying, but at the same time not the meatiest game I’ve ever played. Not to mention, as I mentioned, that the dish doesn’t appear to be quite finished at the moment.
Despite that, it’s well worth grabbing the demo and seeing what you think. I hadn’t expected much and wound up pleasantly surprised, and if you love blowing the hell out of waves of cute-ish enemy robots, this game certainly appears to have you covered.