It's been available for just over two years now on PC, and a little less than that on PlayStation 4, but if you're an Xbox gamer you might not have ever heard of Assault Android Cactus.
A twin-stick shooter in which you take control of one of many assault androids to blast everything on-screen that moves, it's generated itself quite a cult following due to it being rather good. And now, coinciding with the release of the new Xbox One X, it's finally been released on Microsoft's console platform.
But why should you care? There's been countless great AAA games released in the last month or so, right? What makes Assault Android Cactus so special? The answer is that it's simply a great deal of pick up and play fun. And if you've just picked up an Xbox One X, it features native 4K rendering and 60fps gameplay too. For £11.99 it's a bit of a steal.
Assault Android Cactus' main campaign has you battling across 25 stages, either by yourself or with three other players in local co-op. Stages are best described as arenas rather than levels which you progress through, but the way in which they morph as you play means that every one keeps you on your toes while offering a welcome change of scenery. Enemies emerge in waves, and as you gracefully dispatch them they release white pickups that bolster the power of your main gun. Get hit by a few enemy projectiles, however, and your chosen android will power down, prompting you to hammer the fire button to get them going again but with your hard-earned power-ups lost.
Throwing the concept of lives out of the window, your success in Assault Android Cactus instead relies on maintaining a battery charge - which is shared by all players - until every enemy in a particular stage has been eradicated. The battery loses charge steadily over time, though every once in a while a defeated enemy will drop a valuable recharge pick up. With the sheer number of enemies and bullets that are often on screen it's not always easy to collect them, but perform adequately enough and you'll see most stages to their end without any major problems.
Initially, Assault Android Cactus can seem tough. Really tough, in fact. The number of enemies thrown at you in stages escalates fast, and bosses have devious attack patterns that can easily catch you out. As you pick up the game's quirks, experiment with other androids (some of which are unlocked as you play) and generally become more experienced, however, everything becomes much more manageable.
Assault Android Cactus manages the balancing act of being challenging while throwing you valuable liflelines, allowing you to progress through its campaign at a decent pace while developing your skills. It helps that each android has their own powerful sub-weapon to switch to momentarily when the going gets tough, and that there are numerous power-ups to collect to increase your speed or shut down your robotic foes for a short while. There's strategy to be found in manoeuvring yourself to such pick ups at opportune moments and switching weapons effectively.
Of course, being a twin-stick shooter, aiming for high scores plays a large part in Assault Android Cactus' appeal. Campaign stages can be replayed as many times as you like to improve your score, while outside of the campaign the Daily Drive enables you to take on the community. Those who are down for a challenge can also tackle the Infinity Drive, a never-ending challenge that is sure to test your abilities. On the surface, Assault Android Cactus seems quite shallow, but it doesn't take you long to realise that your hot-take couldn't be more wrong. This is the type of game you can really get stuck into and keep revisiting time and time again.
Thankfully, throughout your assault android endeavours you unlock a wealth of encyclopaedia-like extras as well as credits, which can be used to unlock artwork and special EX gameplay modifiers. In some cases these modifiers just provide cosmetic changes, like shrinking the size of your characters' heads to their normal size, while others will make the game somewhat easier, such as enabling computer controlled co-op partners. You can even unlock a first-person mode, which makes it feel like a whole new game. The only downside to EX modifiers is that when enabled, your scores aren't uploaded to online leaderboards. It's a small price to pay for so much additional fun though.
If you're after a game to fill those moments of downtime between the AAA releases that you'll no doubt be playing over the coming months, you really can't go wrong with Assault Android Cactus. It may not have the prettiest visuals, even running at 4K, but it has a hell of a lot of charm and plays like an absolute dream. Plus, it only gets better if you get some friends around to join in the fun. Challenging, fast-paced and deeper than you'd expect, there's a reason why Assault Android Cactus has such a strong following, and that's because it's a no-nonsense example of the wonders of unadulterated arcade gaming.