Assault Android Cactus Review & Time Doctor Live

Android Assault Cactus Main Menu

Assault Android Cactus is one of those few indie games for Windows, Mac, and Linux, with an unforgettable name that makes you curious about what it is every time you hear it. Eventually you might break it down into pieces to try to figure it out.

Assault, so, action game?

Androids are a kind of lifelike robot, yeah?

Cactus. One of these is not like the others.

So, we have androids in an action game and it turns out they’re in the desert with cacti?

Two out of three correct guesses aren’t bad. I didn’t understand the name either until I played Assault Android Cactus and found out that the first android you play as is named Cactus. She is a Junior Constable assault android in the Interplanetary Police who is investigating a civilian freighter called the Genki Star that went silent due to a mutiny lead by the four Section Lord bosses in command of the robot crew.

Cactus shows up just in time to help the rest of the cute cartoony androids out of their predicament, mainly because Cactus hates filing the paperwork for a failed mission. Together, the androids have to fight their way through waves of adorable killer robots in a combat style not too dissimilar from older twin stick shooters and defeat each area’s Section Lord boss.

Hold on there, space cop

Each android has a different set of weapons. Cactus has an assault rifle and flamethrower. Holly (the accountant!) has homing bullets and a cannonball that blitzes through her foes. Aubergine excels at crowd control with her spinning helicopter attack and singularity black hole that sucks enemies in to a part of the screen hopefully far away from where she is.

AAC has some flexibility in where those weapon sets can be applied, but when I was dying on a Section Lord boss fight with one, I found that trying another android with might work better. One boss might be more appropriate for ranged attacks, get too close and you’re fried. Other bosses might be more applicable for short-range guns from Coral’s shotgun. There are many more androids to choose from, each with their own gameplay style lending from their weapon selection and you can get up to four together on-screen at once for local co-operative play.

Any way you play it, Assault Android Cactus is extremely punishing if you can’t keep up with the hectic pace. The game fluctuates between traditional twin stick shooter gameplay to full-on bullet hell style shooting where your goal is to dodge and hope to keep the enemies in your peripheral vision so that you can target them. Very quickly you learn that there is a lot going on while you’re fighting through the game’s zones and stages that require you to learn to prioritize your focus. In addition to avoiding enemy bullets you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for tiny bits of energy that power up your weapons, increasing the damage they do, and other power ups that might stop enemy attacks for a time, speed up your android, or add a set of tiny robots (options) that shoot alongside your android.

There is one other power-up, the most important one. The androids all have batteries just like mobile phones. Also just like your mobile, the battery on these androids is constantly being drained and you must top off with battery power-ups to keep the fight going. Taking damage any other way just causes your android to fall down, they can always get back up unless their battery is fully depleted. Fortunately the game recognizes that this is the most important aspect of the pickup system and your android will call out the recharge when they see it.

I found it incredibly difficult to keep track of which items on the very colorful screen were helpful versus those bullets, rockets, and missiles that were intended only to hurt Cactus and the rest of her android buddies. There is a little bit of magnetic pull on some bonuses that cause them to move towards your android, but I’m not sure what causes that to happen and the range is poor. Oftentimes I’d find that these helpful items would have expired before I reach them or I’d find myself dying just as I would have gotten a life-saving battery fill up. It’s a strategic issue that others might not have a problem with, but it was often what stopped any forward momentum I had during particularly tense moments of bullet hellaciousness.

Adding to the visual overload are stages that constantly change while you play. Walls go up, come down, and background pieces move to overhaul the level, one changes from a small elevator in-motion into a larger arena with different hallways when it reaches its destination. Another feels a bit like Bastion as pieces pick up and move as you get closer and drop off into space as they get further away. These changes aren’t just for looks. You’re going to have to adapt to meet new challenges when the level shrinks or expands or just starts throwing different enemies at you.

There is a problem in that sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is a strategy in Assault Android Cactus that will get you through a level, sometimes it just feels like more persistence is the only way through.

Despite all of the challenge, it is very rewarding when you defeat a section lord and unlock a new way to play through a new android. When I do get a little frustrated with a stage or a section lord I find myself switching to another android to see if their weapons lend themselves to that fight. Or wondering if I could get a higher score on the leaderboards of levels I’ve already completed with a different android’s weapon load out.

In addition to the campaign, AAC also has four-player local-only co-op through the entire game. Co-op can also be played with AI companions after unlocking one of the special EX options that you buy with points earned through playing the game. Those points also unlock concept art and other interesting features like a first-person camera option. There are a few extras like Infinity Drive, it’s a wave-based mode that drops the levels in favor of a  more classic arcade game experience like Robotron 2084 where you’re only focused on score and surviving as long as you can. A Daily Drive offers a similar mode that changes every day with a separate leaderboard that you only get to compete in once per day. Boss Rush is your typical run through all of the Section Lords.

That’s Assault Android Cactus, deceptively bright, colorful, and personable to draw you in for the punishment. Very few twin stick shooters put even the tiniest effort into a story or any personality into their characters. Assault Android Cactus doesn’t just stand out through difficult and rewarding gameplay, it has endearingly cute androids backing everything up. After around 7 hours to complete the campaign I’m excited to see my leaderboard scores get destroyed by others.

Cleared with a score of a B

4 out of 5 Cactodroids for the delightfully challenging Assault Android CactusCheck out the demo and then get it. It’ll come to Playstation 4, the Vita, and Wii-U early next year and it’s just been released today for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

GameStop Swapping Digital for Physical

Kyle Orland:

While many consoles used to come bundled with physical copies of games, these days console makers are more likely to include a card with a download code for that free pack-in title. That’s no longer the case at over 5,000 GameStop retail stores worldwide, though, where those digital codes are being replaced with physical disc versions of the same game.

The new policy went into effect last month, when GameStop “worked with Sony, Microsoft, and EA” to offer a free Madden disc with console purchases rather than offering the official bundles packed with a download code. GameStop’s bundle was also missing a free 12-month subscription to the EA Access program, which offers a selection of legacy titles as free downloads.

GameStop COO Tony Bartel highlighted the move to physical pack-in games in a recent earnings call and stressed that this isn’t a one-time experiment. “We expect that if a game is provided as a promotional item in a hardware bundle, GameStop will see more of these physical offers than digital pack-ins on upcoming third-party releases.”

There is an argument to be made that physical discs are better for people buying games because they can trade them in or for areas where internet connections are still poor. There’s also the argument that GameStop just wants to continue the cycle of people buying games, trading them in for almost nothing, and then GameStop marking those games up and reselling them. It isn’t the the worst thing GameStop does and it makes a lot of sense with Nintendo games for example. On the 3DS and Wii-U your online Nintendo Network ID does not allow you to redownload games if your system breaks, is stolen or is lost. You’re at the mercy of their support policies to help. Best to buy physical with Nintendo in any situation.

Meanwhile, in my home town of Philadelphia and all over the United States people are paying $1,559.48 for a Playstation 4 that normally costs $400. That’s $1,159.48 above the asking price for the courtesy of renting the PS4 over the course of 52 weeks instead of paying for it outright. The Xbox One has the same price. If GameStop is mildly evil then Rent-A-Center is the decaying maw of satan eating away at anyone who can’t afford to buy something today and wants to give their kids a birthday or holiday gift. RAC has been pulling this bullshit for 29 years.

Rent-A-Center PS4

Free Player Data

TouchArcade’s Eli Hodapp has an anonymously sourced article from a free-to-play game developer:

You might not use Facebook, but your connections give you away. If you play with friends, or you have a significant other who plays, we can see the same IP address, and learn who you are playing with. When we don’t know information, we try to gather it in a game. Have you played a game with different country flags? We use those to not only appeal to your nationalistic pride, but to figure out where you are (or where you identify). Your IP address says you are in America, but you buy virtual items featuring the flag of another country, we can start to figure out if you are on vacation, or immigrated. Perhaps English is not your first language. We use all of this to send you personalized Push Notifications, and show you store specials and items we think you will want.

And if you are a whale, we take Facebook stalking to a whole new level. You spend enough money, we will friend you. Not officially, but with a fake account. Maybe it’s a hot girl who shows too much cleavage? That’s us. We learned as much before friending you, but once you let us in, we have the keys to the kingdom. We will use everything to figure out how to sell to you. I remember we had a whale in one game that loved American Football despite living in Saudi Arabia. We built several custom virtual items in both his favorite team colors and their opponents, just to sell to this one guy. You better believe he bought them. And these are just vanity items. We will flat out adjust a game to make it behave just like it did last time the person bought IAP. Was a level too hard? Well now they are all that same difficulty.

I’ve seen plenty of bad things in free-to-play games to anecdotally support the anonymous developer in the article above. For example, players earning premium in-game currency through offers that require their social security number and other extremely personal information that nobody should be asking for. The analytics function to dehumanize people playing the game, remove any chance the game had at being legitimately enjoyable without spending more and more money, and churn through players and their cash until the game is no longer profitable for the developer to operate. At this point it will be shut down as ungracefully as possible in order to move players on to the next game and the cycle repeats.