This modern twin-stick shooter plays like a classic bullet hell arcade title from Japan, but with a fresh new twist.
By Alex Walker on July 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm
What does one of the world’s most competitive games and a top-down arcade shooter have in common? Absolutely nothing, of course, although it was through the strange coupling of two friends that I came to learn about Assault Android Cactus.
The first is someone games.on.net readers will be familiar with: Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender, Australia’s most internationally recognised professional gamer. The second is Sanatana Mishra, one of Australia’s better WarCraft 3 players and a long-running rival, at least back in the Frozen Throne days, to the Prince of Zerg.
But underneath the superficial battles the two fought on the varied fields manufactured by Blizzard lies a deep friendship. After facing off in several state and national competitions, the two later worked together at SEGA’s Brisbane studio.
Both men joined SEGA’s QA department, and while Pender, as we now know, continued his career in professional gaming, Mishra focused on a different path. “In 2007 I was messaged by SEGA because they were looking for ‘pro’ players to come in and do user testing, an early development test used to find out if your concepts really work,” Mishra told me.
“Luckily I was only in QA for a short time as I was able to prove myself with high quality work and a few internal design exercises, as a final test they sent me halfway around the world to demo a build a GamesCom and when that went well, they moved me into the design team where I spent the next four and a half years.”
The fate of SEGA Australia studio is known now, of course: SEGA announced recently that the doors at Brisbane would be closed forever by the end of the year. But Mishra and fellow SEGA coder Tim Dawson saw the writing on the wall two years ago and began preparing for the future.
“[We] weren’t so sure about SEGA Australia’s future so we began making prototypes in our spare time and bringing them into work as pitches for new projects, we must have worked well together because they ended up keeping the studio open and awarding us the Castle of Illusion HD project!” he exclaimed.
It wasn’t until February that Witch Beam began in earnest and, with the help of former SEGA employee and BAFTA recipient Jeff Van Dyck, Assault Android Cactus started coming to life. “I have a lot of love for classic games and as a team we all grew up during that arcade era so the idea of doing something a bit retro with a modern twist was very appealing,” Mishra explained.
Playing like a modern twin-stick shooter, Assault Android Cactus borrows a lot from the bullet-hell style arcade titles from Japan. “Our enemies and in particular our boss battles really demonstrate how much of an impact they’ve had as you will have to weave through some ridiculous attack patterns,” Mishra added.
“Other inspirations are the more obvious classic twin stick classics like Smash TV and Robotron 2084, but also great modern shooters like Geometry Wars and Super Stardust that I think represent the pinnacle of this genre.”
The preview build I’ve been given is certainly playful enough. Each of the androids are controlled by the WASD keys, with the mouse and a bright crosshair dictating the direction of your aim. Your character survives as long as their battery is charged, although it slowly drains as you fire. Enemies will drop recharge power-ups over the course of each level, along with improvements to your weapons, movement and a special power-up that freezes all enemies.
Most of the difficulty lies in dodging bullets, a task made more difficult by the waves of enemies that constantly respawn. The first few levels are simple enough: continually dodge the hordes of robots, dancing around the level until everything dies.
I was impressed with how smooth the gameplay was; perhaps that’s one of the advantages of going with a stylised, anime-esque look. The levels change throughout too, and occasionally you’ll get rapid shifts in lighting, with the lights going out or tinges of emergency red coming up when your battery is close to empty.
The one boss fight in the preview build is your typical bullet-hell style of boss battle, with multiple phases to navigate and a million bullets to dodge. The vibrant graphics and the contrast between the levels, your character, the boss and incoming bullets make the patterns easy to track though, and players should have a comfortable time identifying the necessary movements.
“First and foremost our goal is to create a game that people will remember as a very unique and high quality twin stick shoot ‘em up. This is quite arrogant but when a journalist and a developer have this interview in 5 or 10 years, I want them to use Assault Android Cactus as an example of their influences and inspirations.”
Assault Android Cactus is being greenlit on Steam; go show your support. You can also preview Assault Android Cactus for yourself at PAX Australia next week at the FragLabs booth.