Assault Android Cactus

Look, I’m not sure how I managed to make it through to 2020 and have nothing on here about Assault Android Cactus before now but it’s clearly incredibly slack of me because Assault Android Cactus is wonderful.

It’s been pretty wonderful for the near five years it’s been out there now too. I’ve been enjoying it on and off for most of those five years as well.

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been slacking here. Five bloody years! Molyneux save me. It’d be excusable if it wasn’t one of my favourite things.

To be honest, I kind of know why I’ve been putting it off. It’s an easy game to do a mammoth injustice to because when you write it all down it’s easy to go “so, err, what?”. It’s an intimately familiar looking, familiar feeling videogame. It’s born of purest Dreamcast, not the Sega Blue Skies of a thousand UK Resistance dreams but the final gasp of the arcade at home before digital downloads changed so much. It *looks* like a Dreamcast game too, though obviously more as my memory would like to convince me of what the games looked like than what they really did. It’s got a vibe. It’s good. It’s committed. It deserves the right words.

There’s so much game there too. It’s positively abundant. Ridiculously so! Full on call the cops and arrest these people for making the rest of us look like we don’t put enough game in a videogame stuff. I’m not sure I’ve played a twin stick shooter that crams quite so much in and where so little of it feels superfluous.

Some of it is unsurprising – multiple characters with different weaponry, ridiculous cosmetic tweaks (normal head mode! JJ mode for when you need so much lens flare you can’t see the screen! More!) – it’s a lot but it’s kinda an expected lot.

What isn’t quite so expected is the amount of videogame scenes the game runs through. At times it feels like an A-Z of arcade videogame levels. Never pastiche, never a nod and a wink, videogame levels because there’s something the game can do with them. It reminds me of Mutant Storm Empire in that regard though much, much, much more focused.

Early on you find yourself riding a very videogame lift, you know the kind – it’s in a hundred or so FPS, a multitude of top down shooters, it’s in Valve’s Alien Swarm, even Destiny couldn’t resist the lure of riding a lift whilst aliens hem you in from all sides. Then before you know it, it’s a stage where robots are pouring out of the floor, there’s lasers everywhere, flames, bullets, pick ups and there’s a stage where the room is built around you and then and then and then.

It’s like the team responsible wanted to cram every idea they had for games into one game. It’s astounding. More so when you realise how normal this sort of thing used to be, how arcade games at home would let themselves spiral outwards rather than just retain a really narrow focus, done well. I didn’t even realise how much I missed that but I do. I really do. It makes me feel spoilt, ruined, like you can’t possibly be giving me all this? Seriously, you are? Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Oh, there’s local co-op too because of course there is. Why leave any stone unturned?

It’d all be for nothing if it didn’t play so well, obviously. Which it does! It plays wonderfully, always pushing you into the swarms of killer drones rather than running backwards, rather than the circling of Geometry Wars. Wade in, knee deep in roboguts, needing to grab batteries to make it to the end of a stage alive. It takes no time to find the rhythm the game wants you to fall into, alternating between primary and secondary weapons, rushing for power ups, aiming for that ever enticing higher score.

Gosh. I love Assault Android Cactus so much, you know? There’s few games I’d use the term masterpiece for but in this case, Team Witch Beam have worked for it and earned it. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s the right and proper good stuff. It’s an arcade game, a not Dreamcast really but totally Dreamcast videogame that the best part of five years on still excites me.

Which, let’s face it that’s what you want from an arcade game. Okay, okay, it’s what I want anyway. I genuinely couldn’t ask for more. Well, except maybe for some fish but that’s just me. Maybe the next one, eh?

Inferno 2

Please sir, I cannot tell a lie – I absolutely love Radian Games stuff. One of the select few developers that I’m fairly likely to grab pretty much anything and everything they put out, if at all possible.

Whilst their very first XBLIG release (the wonderfully titled “Joy Joy”) slightly missed the mark for me, I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve played of their twin stick and shootybang games since, XBLIG, phone and on. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite (seriously, I like them that much) but if you really made me choose, Inferno in all its incarnations would be pretty much near the top of my list.

It was the easiest sell for me. It’s essentially Berzerk meets Gauntlet with the faintest hint of ARPG to it. Pretty much the kind of game I’ve spent the best part of 40 years losing hours to and I don’t really see any reason to change in that regard. Especially not whilst I’m still enjoying myself so much with that kind of thing.

You no doubt know the drill already. You find yourself in a maze, you have to get to the exit. Between you and the exit lies an enormous amount of enemies and a number of locked doors. Collect keys to pass through the doors, use lasers to get rid of the enemies. Get to the exit, find yourself in a new maze with more enemies, more doors more keys and do it all again.

It’s a videogame in the absolute purest sense. A direct descendant of I don’t know how many arcade and home computer games, a game that does exactly what it needs to do with absolutely no bloat or complication. A game where you get from one end of a maze to another, with colourful lasers.

I love it.

I love that there’s very little in it that couldn’t have existed in the eighties but also, it absolutely could not have existed as the game it is then. The upgrade shop, the absurd amount of particles, the much more relaxed difficulty curve make it more a game of the now. Did I mention the absurd amount of particles? It has an absurd amount of particles. It’s great. I love particles, me.

Anyway, it’s been around a few years on the PC but with it recently (finally!) seeing a console release I’ve been playing through it all over again and yep, still works for me. Still works for me very well indeed.

Tachyon Project

If you ever needed (more) proof that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing at the best of times, I bought Tachyon Project at release in 2015, mentally filed it under “not very good” for some reason long lost to the mists of time and never returned to it.

This was quite clearly a mistake because Tachyon Project is pretty far from not very good and it’s been a game I keep coming back to these past few months and enjoying myself with it immensely.

I mean, I know I have a habit of being wrong sometimes but this seemed awfully self defeatingly wrong given how much enjoyment I’ve clearly been denying myself.

Oh well, it’s done now. No real harm done.

It’s probably obvious from the screenshots but Tachyon Project is a dual stick arena shooter in a similar vein to Geometry Wars. I doubt any genre fans will find anything especially surprising in here – it’s all rather familiar in its own little way but that’s fine, right? Perfectly fine. We don’t have to reinvent everything with every new game. Sometimes “more, a bit like that other thing” is *exactly* what I want from a game.

Not that Tachyon Project doesn’t do enough to stand alone, it certainly does – it plays around with its own selection of glowing enemies, modes and what have you. Just the smaller arena alone is enough to give the game a different enough vibe.

It’s unquestionably its own game, doing its own thing, just in an awfully familiar space.

Probably the biggest gulf between Tachyon Project and Geometry Wars comes courtesy of the difficulty. Whereas Geometry Wars can be remarkably punishing in all its incarnations, Tachyon Project is much, much, much, much more gentle. If I had to describe it in a word, that word would be “softer”. If I had to describe it in a sound, that sound would be “pew”. It’s a softer pew (try sneaking that one past autocorrect).

So yeah, it’s usually a little over a fiver and a really enjoyable blast. Still no idea why I put it down first time round though.

Swordlord

Maybe it’s the hefty weight of 2019 but I can’t say I was expecting pangs of nostalgia for videogames from around ten or so years ago.

Swordlord isn’t, as far as I’m aware, from ten years ago but it really, really, really wouldn’t sit out of place there. You know, before XBLA and Steam slowly opening the doors to more videogames changed the landscape of games to something akin to what we have now.

Swordlord feels like the kind of game I’d have been quite excited to write about then. It’s small, it has the most absurdly silly physics and (this bit is important) is a game about hitting enemies really, really hard with weaponry until they pop, leaving a mound of cash for you to pick up. It’s kind of early Cactus via Hammer fall/Hammerfight but without the intensity of either.

You run around in circles obnoxiously fast, deciding which direction you’re going to swing your weapon in and hit anything that comes close to you. And in the game. It’s not exactly complicated.

At the end of each round, you can do a bit of videogame shopping and providing you’ve managed to hit enough things, grab yourself a bigger weapon and then get back to skidding all over the place, swinging your sword into the face of an enemy until the enemy pops and pretty much keep doing this until you’re either finished or bored, whatever.

The thing is, Swordlord might have missed the boat for getting any attention by around a decade but I’m still excited to write about it because, to no-one’s surprise, I still really enjoy small and scratchy games that make me grin. I don’t forsee that changing anytime soon either.

Honestly, there’s every chance you may not spend more than five or ten minutes mucking round with it (or maybe like me you’ll get a wee bit too much fun out of careering round the arena like Sonic The Hedgehog with a firework up his blue behind).

Thing is, that’s okay. No-one ever said games have to be big or clever and not only that, it’s less than a quid on Steam. You could pay for it by robbing someone else’s shopping trolley at the supermarket and claiming their quid back as your own if need be. Probably don’t do that though because thinking on, that’s not the best idea I’ve ever had.

So yeah. Swordlord. You hit things with a sword and you’re a lord (probably). I liked it. I don’t remember buying it but I’m thankful to past me for acquiring it, however that happened. And, you know, it’s called Swordlord which is a pretty good videogame name too.

Byte Driver

Byte Driver is a neo-vectrex vroom vroom videogame. The vroom vroom is important because Byte Driver is speedy in a very specific early eighties arcade/home computer kind of way.

It’s a game where every turn is a really wide turn, every straight a chance to try and go fast without crashing into a mine, some bullets, or something videogamey.

You go forward, you go fast. You take a turn, you go fast. Vroom Vroom.

Sometimes, you slow down to hack a car and then you have to make a choice really fast. Hacking a car throws up a menu with some goodies to choose from, which is so far so videogame, except you’re still in a car going fast. That’s still going fast whilst you try and choose whether you want to upgrade something or cadge some energy in order to survive, in case you weren’t managing to keep up.

Without energy, you won’t be going fast any longer. You won’t be going anywhere because it’ll be game over.

Here’s a quick video to show how it works:

Yeah, yeah, I died pretty quick there, you can stop laughing now.

Byte Driver is available on Steam and Itch in exchange for some money. Needless to say, I enjoyed it.

Hot Pink

I’ve never really been the world’s greatest fan of Breakout/Arkanoid style games. I think maybe Batty and Shatter (though admittedly, that’s also for the soundtrack) and that’s about my lot. But you know, I can’t resist something that glows quite so wonderfully as Hot Pink does. I absolutely had to give it a go because, well, just look at it…

So yeah, it’s Breakout/Arkanoid/whatever variant you’re used to, you get one life to score as much as you can. As with all the best new arcade videogames, you’re as much wrestling with the noise caused by the effects as you are knocking the blocks off the screen. Which, you know, might not be that trying if it wasn’t for the blocks edging slowly down the screen.

The game gives you a bit of grace when you start but it isn’t long before those blocks edge perilously close to the bottom of the screen. Fail to break them in time and it’s game over.

I’ve been lucky to last a couple of minutes so far (although I love this sort of videogame, I confess that I am tremendously bad at them) but that hasn’t stopped me really, really enjoying it.

It’s available to buy from Steam and Itch, for Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s great.

Inksplosion

Like I wasn’t going to give a game called Inksplosion that looks like this a try.

You know, me liking colours and all that.

Let’s just stop for a second again and do another screenshot (all pics here taken from the Steam page because I couldn’t be bothered with the faff of getting the ones off my PS4, sorry)

Yeah, there was absolutely no way I was going to let this pass me by.

Just look at those colours, they’re fantastic. Go on, let’s do one more picture.

It’s some sort of visual hybrid of (my own) War Twat and the all time greatest Asteroids game of all time, Spheres Of Chaos. That’ll do me.

Sorry. I’ll calm down now. I’m okay. I haven’t been this excited about colours in a game since Ultralight Beam. It’ll pass in a second.

Anyhoo. As twin stick shooters go, there’s probably few surprises here. You’re faced with a jumble of waves and each wave finds you having to use a different weapon to clear the screen. Clear the screen, move on to the next wave. You now have a different weapon. Shoot those baddies! Clear the screen! And so on.

There isn’t really that much to distinguish each weapon from the other and as far as I played, not much to distinguish each enemy from the other either. But that’s okay, yeah? I’m not playing this for mechanical marvels, I’m playing this because I really really like watching colours explode across the screen and Inksplosion does that perfectly.

Inksplosion is, primarily, a game about making things explode to smear colour across the screen. Every thirty seconds or so the mess will be cleared up and you get to do it all over again.

My only real gripe is that the announcer that declares each weapon you find yourself suddenly equipped with comes across more Viv Stanshall On Tubular Bells than befitting of an arcade game but I’ll freely admit that I have very, very specific ideas of what speech in arcade games should sound like. Also, I dearly love a lot of Bonzo stuff but Tubular Bells brings me out in hives. Not sure I can put the blame for that on Inksplosion, really.

Phew. Got a bit lost there, sorry. Anyway. Inksplosion set me back about four quid and I don’t regret a penny of it. I plumped for the PS4 version but other formats are available.

Mastercube

Due to the eldest having an insatiable desire for more videogames (I have no idea where they get that from), I’ve recently taken out a PlayStation Now subscription in the vain hope of getting somewhere close to satisfying their cravings at some sort of vaguely affordable level.

Of course, this has the advantage of giving me the opportunity to wade through a bunch of videogames I may not have taken a chance on otherwise. And of course, I’m still me so obviously the first game I gave a try was a twin stick shooter.

That’ll be Mastercube, then.

Honestly, there’s not a lot to write about Mastercube. I’ve flicked through the internet a bit and it’s mostly complaining elsewhere. It’s too small. It’s not Geometry Wars. Nothing surprising, anyway. And sure enough, it is a pretty basic twin stick shooter and if you’ve played Geometry Wars in its earlier incarnations you’ll be well prepped for what to expect. But here’s the thing, yeah.

I really like small twin stick shooters.

Yeah, yeah, I’m down for something with the beautiful complexity of Bezier, the sheer design wonderment of Nex Machina and whatever else there is but sometimes I just want to sit back, load up a game for five minutes, shoot some things then turn it off. MasterCube fits that bill just fine.

It’s got a nice speedy pace to it, it controls well enough, everything explodes in a perfectly explody fashion and crucially, it’s all played out to a pub rock soundtrack. That was definitely not what I expected in the slightest and it really does make a nice change from the generic electronica that normally bleeps over short form twinstick games.

I’m not sure it’s the sort of game where I’d want to get into a high score chase with, either against friends or trying to beat my own score with any sort of urgency and you know, I don’t really care either. I just kinda liked it, yeah? I enjoyed putting my feet up, spinning around a bit and dealing some laser death whilst a Deep Purple tribute band did their thing in the background. That’s enough for me.

And maybe that’s not enough for you, fair’s fair and that. I’m definitely glad I gave Mastercube a shot though. Like I say, it’s small, it’s simple. And that is a perfectly okay thing to be. I’ll definitely be revisiting it over time.

(gameplay video not my own)