When Assault Android Cactus originally came out back in 2015, it totally passed me by. I vaguely remember the lead up to its release, but it just never grabbed my attention. I was a fool for letting that happen, because just a year later I happened upon the game during a sale and decided to pick it up. What I discovered was a gem of a co-op game and my absolute favourite twin-stick shooter of all time. Now, almost 3 years later, one of my favourite indie games is back with an enhanced and upgraded Nintendo Switch port.
In Assault Android Cactus+ you play as Cactus, the titular assault android. She’s an interplanetary space cop who’s responding to a distress signal being sent out by a nearby transport ship. When she arrives, she finds three other androids being attacked by insect-like robots, and discovers that the entire ship has been taken over by rogue robots. Cactus and her new companions need to take down the boss bots and head to the centre of the ship so they can shut down the rogue programming once and for all.
The story is pretty light in Assault Android Cactus+, with the game only featuring four animated cutscenes and some pre-boss dialogue. Still, it does wonders with the little writing that it has, delivering plenty of quirky jokes and fun charm that help make your array of playable androids even more interesting. If you really want an extra dose of lore, you can even hop into the Codex and read detailed entries about characters, enemies, and the world the game takes place in.
The gameplay is really where Assault Android Cactus+ shines brightest. with twenty-five levels and five intense boss fights to overcome, you’ll be twin-stick shooting your way through a variety of ferocious enemies and neon-tinged environments. The controls are slick with your main weapon complimented by powerful sub-weapons you can switch to. Each of the nine characters have a totally different set of weapons, offering plenty of ways to switch up your playstyle and keep the game fresh. It’s all accompanied by a fresh as hell soundtrack that mixes electronic synth with heavy artificial guitars that seamlessly blend in and out of gameplay depending on how the action is going.
There are some extra factors in the equation that make this game stand out from your usual twin-stick shooters, though. For one, there’s a power-up system where enemies drop colored orbs that give you one of three different abilities. A blue orb stops enemies in time briefly, a red orb gives you mini-turret companions to enhance your firepower, and a yellow orb increases your movement speed and draws dropped enemy scrap towards you. When you pick up enemy scrap, your base gun increases in strength, speed, and overall power. Weaving through enemies to grab powerups is always a thrill, especially when combined with this kind of battery system.
You don’t die when you get hit in Assault Android Cactus+. Instead, you get knocked down briefly and lose your powerups. The only thing standing between you and that dreaded game over screen is a constantly draining battery at the top of your HUD. You can only refill it by killing enemies and grabbing the battery refills they sometimes drop. This creates a constant feedback loop where you need to be killing and killing all the time, staying in the midst of the action so that you can get more battery as soon as possible. It encourages an offensive play style that, when combined with the fast-paced encounters and the overwhelmingly colourful visuals, creates a jaw-droppingly intense and addictive gameplay experience.
It gets even wilder when you throw some friends in, though. Assault Android Cactus+ supports up to four player co-op. Even with just a second player, the amount of bullets flying across the screen is a sensory smorgasbord. Still, it’s never too busy that you can’t keep track of things, leading to a tightly designed and always rewarding multiplayer experience. There are even new control options in this version of the game, letting you play with just a single Joy-Con thanks to the new Assist mode. In this control scheme, your aim automatically shifts to the most dangerous nearby targets, meaning all you have to worry about is hitting the fire button and grabbing powerups. It’s a great way to support the Joy-Con and get inexperienced players into the twin-stick action.
There’s a good amount of replayability in the main campaign thanks to score ranks and unlockable costumes. If you want to switch things up even more, there’s a variety of modes and options to keep things interesting. Campaign+ remixes the entire story mode with new and challenging level layouts and enemy waves. There’s also Infinity Drive, a 50-layer wave-based score mode that will test even the most advanced of players. Daily Drive, meanwhile, is a shorter 10-wave bout that changes every single day. All of these modes give you credits that you can spend on EX options, which give you a bevy of funky ways to alter the game. Maybe you want to try out isometric view, or maybe first person mode? Or turn on the Mega weapon sets and enable some weird colour filters?
If I had to nitpick – and I kind of do – the constantly shifting and glowing neons of enemies and environments and bullets is fun and trippy, but it can definitely get a little too overwhelming at times. During some co-op engagements, I found my eyes just glazing over as I struggled to keep up with where I was and who I was shooting at.