It's the battery mechanic that helps to set Assault Android Cactus apart. The battery can be thought of as the main health bar, automatically depleting as time wears on. When it's all out of juice, it's game over and you have to restart the level. Thankfully, you can replenish it by picking up the limited number of battery packs dropped by enemies across each level.
It's cleverer than that, though. Taking damage also depletes the battery, so you can't go wild and hope for the best. At the same time, you've only got so long to be cautious. Also, the battery packs are designed to drop at specific points across the level's timeline - it seemed to me by specific enemies - so you're often pushing the battery bar to the absolute limits as you wait for the next pack to drop, hoping you can somehow a) stay clear of enemy fire and b) find the damn thing.
It gives each level a tiered feeling, weird as it sounds - a Bit.Trip Beat-like sense of scraping through one stanza of frenziness before dealing with the next. It also has that same Bit.Trip Beat sense of feeling you can do a bit better, get a bit further each time. Assault Android Cactus' levels are not as stretched out, mind, but they look to be similarly sadistic.
The game itself has shoot-em-up staples: Its Bubblegum Crisis-esque heroines sport loadouts featuring primary and temporary-burst secondaries weapons, and there are temporary power-ups like satellite orbs and speed boosts to collect. Of course, there are plenty of bastard bosses too, including one I've failed to overcome in ten or so attempts.
As for multiplayer, it's a local-only, up-to-four-way affair, and it's frantic. Mishra described it as more like a "party game" compared to the tighter, harder single-player - the difficulty definitely felt reduced to me. The party game atmosphere comes from neglecting to go with sturdier enemies, the multiplayer instead upping their number to OMG-where-has-the-screen-gone levels. It's certainly chaotic, perhaps a little too chaotic, but that might be the nature of the beast.
A more unique and particularly cool aspect was the dynamism of certain levels. There was strong enough variability across the Early Access build's enclosed, arena-like levels, but the coolest ones were those that actually transmogrified throughout the play. Walls, pillars, gaps, and jets of fire switched in and out, ensuring I stayed on the tippiest of my toes. As the name suggests, there's a quirkiness about Assault Android Cactus
, maybe a sense that it knows it can and should stand out.
One thing not suggested by the name is the game's range of platforms.
"I had a live interview yesterday," Mishra said, "And someone asked me, on-camera, 'Is it going to be coming to any platforms other than Android?' - after they'd played on a high-end PC with Xbox controllers for an hour."
For the record, that someone wasn't
me. Also for the record, Mishra told me an Xbox 360 version is a possibility after Microsoft's recent self-publishing announcements. As it stands, Assault Android Cactus
is gunning its way onto Steam for Windows PC around late November, early December, priced at $15. Other versions, including PS4, Vita, Wii U (featuring off-TV play as well as Wiimote and nunchuk support), Mac, and Linux, are scheduled for early 2014. An Android version is not happening.Update:
The game Mishra and co were working on at Sega Studios Australia was London 2012: The Official Video Game
rather than Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympics.
We've amended the post accordingly.