I got a chance to play the Early Access build, and I have to say, as a hardcore shoot-'em-up fan -- I can't wait for the final version.
Assault Android Cactus (Mac, PC [tested], PS4, Vita, Wii U)
Developer: Witch Beam
Publisher: Witch Beam
Release Date: TBA (in early access on PC)
There's a lot of confusion as to what the title actually means, so here goes -- you can choose from a group of androids, one of them is named Cactus, and you can assault things. Pretty simple, right?! You'll basically move from map to map blowing stuff up in wave-based fashion, with a very easy to use twin-stick shooter scheme.
The left and right analog sticks control movement and aiming respectively, there's a button to fire your weapon, and another to switch -- that's basically it. Each playable character has a different set of weapons, such as an interchangeable machine gun and flamethrower combo, or a shotgun and AOE bomb attack. The latter is basically a sparingly used sub-weapon that overheats rather quickly, so the game encourages some form of strategic play rather than just wild firing.
But once you get past the surface, Cactus gets a little more interesting. The sub weapon mechanic is very well designed, as it instantly switches back to your primary once you've exhausted your temporary ammo. It seems like a simple design choice, but it encourages constant action without frustration. Then you have the battery system.
In order to truly lose a level, you need to run out of your battery meter, located at the top of the screen. As long as you have battery, you can respawn in combat -- but death ticks it faster, and the meter is constantly ticking regardless. Blowing up as many enemies as possible increases your chances of a battery power-up dropping, which recharges your meter. Simply put, it's a fantastic idea, as it functions as both a constant checkpoint system and a way to force the player into always seeking out confrontation.
When combined with the fast-paced feel of the weapons, I was constantly having fun, and wasn't taken out of the action by a cheap death, as I had the ability to respawn after a mistake. The levels I could access had a decent amount of variety to them, and boss fights were the main highlight of the package, as their bullet patterns were like a "greatest hits" of the bullet hell genre. There's also unlockable content planned, including extra characters -- a few of which are already in the Early Access build.
The only hold-up I had with the main mechanics is that there's no dodge button. I feel like on an enhanced difficulty Cactus has the opportunity to become really hectic, so having the chance to dodge could open up a whole new tier of skills to master. Online co-op is not currently planned for any build, but four-person multiplayer is as easy as a plug-and-play affair, and direct support for multiple controllers is planned. While the lack of online play might hurt the game's longevity, I can say with confidence that this will be an amazing couch co-op game, especially on consoles.
Witch Beam is being incredibly open about the game's development, which is a refreshing change of pace from many guarded indie developers. If you're interested in the Early Access program or what the overall timeline is for the game (including all the content that's currently planned), check out the Assault Android Cactus roadmap. At this point, I'm ready to taste the real thing.
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