It's a little wild and a little strange, when you make your home out on the range... In other words, you shouldn't pick up a shiny desert gem when the statue holding it warns of a curse. Sadly, Cactus McCoy, the titular protagonist of the new beat-em-up platformer adventure from Flipline Studios, has done just that, and the result is that he's been transformed into a walking, talking, punching Saguaro. So now, if he ever wants to make balloon animals again, he must return the crystal to its proper old west location... all the way pursued by the mercenary gang that hired him to swipe the gem in the first place.
Cactus McCoy is played entirely with the keyboard and the controls are pretty standard. The [arrow keys] move you left and right. [A] makes you jump and [S] makes you attack, either with your fists or any of the dozens of weapons you'll come across. [Down] + [A] drops you down a platform. To pick up a weapon, you crouch over it with the [down] key, and can aim it around by holding the [up] key along with [left] and [right] for a diagonal shot. There are various types of weapons: punching ones, throwing ones, whipping ones, and shooting ones. Using the coins you punch out of each "enemigo" (who are weak on their own, but get quite cagey in numbers), you can purchase upgrades between each level. Each level has treasures to find and extra challenges to complete. Yippie-Kai-Yay!
Analysis: When it comes to games, westerns are notably under-represented as a genre. Oh sure, you'll have your occasional Freddy Pharkus or Mad Dog McCree, but they're hard to find amongst the waves of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and war. Even Red Dead Redemption couldn't help but throw zombies into the mix after a while. As such, Cactus McCoy feels a bit of an anomaly. Really, though, it shouldn't: Who doesn't love the thrill of shooting the gun out of the local black-hat's hand (and swiping the coins from his pockets)? Who doesn't like taking on a gang of outlaws with nothing but wits, fisticuffs and a good Smith and Wesson? Who doesn't love the inevitable level that takes place on a moving train? I don't know if Cactus McCoy will herald a casual gaming resurgence of the setting, but, in any case, it's proud to be a western game and as a western game it is near perfect.
I was stunned at the level of depth in Cactus McCoy: it has the amount of pure content usually found only in paid-for titles. The amount of secrets and achievements to discover in each of its twelve levels is truly impressive. That the content is so well done, and the levels are so well-designed only adds to the awe. So many games promise to reward exploration, but Cactus McCoy does it: every nook and cranny yields a treasure or a weapon worth finding, and, in doing so, it becomes as much of a lateral thinking puzzle platformer as a beat-em-up. What's more, I was impressed with the level of humor to be found in what is essentially a dialogue-free game: While Cactus is animated beautifully (especially his cape), his attacks are intentionally jerky, which only adds to the comedy of the creative weapons he uses. Playing cards? Banjos? Buckets of Scorpions? Why not? The animators clearly understand physical humor quite well, and the result is a joy to play through... even if McCoy does look a little picklish at times.
There are a few minor drawbacks: considering how creative the levels are, I was kind of disappointed at the relative lack of boss fights. Taking on waves of henchmen, however well-armed they may be, just doesn't have the same appeal. It brings needless repetition into a game that had otherwise avoided it. Also, a few of jumping puzzles required just a tad too much precision to not be annoying, especially considering the omnipresent bottomless pits. Finally, on a point of personal preference, I kind of disliked the default controls, though the option to change them was well-appreciated (and the fact that the tutorial levels update to reflect any changes).
Even having played all the levels, I feel that I've barely scratched the surface of Cactus McCoy, and I only want to play more. The developer claims that there's ten hours of content in reaching 100%, and I believe them. Don't let that completionist figure turn you away though: Cactus McCoy has the golden combination of being easy to start and challenging to master. Cactus McCoy is just the sting to use against thorny hours of boredom. Needle I say more?