Assault Android Cactus

Assault Android Cactus

82 ratings
High Score Guide
By Sylaris
A look into the score system mechanics with tips for both new players and veterans with high scores.
 
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Introduction
Assault Android Cactus (AAC), at it's core, is a skill based, score attack, twin stick shooter. Information on how the score components function is necessary before you can really start tuning your play style, and runs, to get higher scores. This isn't a walkthrough type guide (as play styles and how a person reacts are a large part of this genre), but theory and tips on how to improve your skill and score.

Initially this guide was meant to document the mechanics and go over theory for high score runs. But, how people use the mechanics on lower ranked runs does change depending on the goal. The sections targeted towards runs below a high score level have gradually expanded over some updates to be tips, and information, to try and help lower ranked players improve. Those familiar with the old guide style will find it has been reworked quite a bit.

Lower ranked clears won't need to know a great deal of the mechanics information, however some of it does still apply. Ranking clears mostly need to focus on stabilizing their play and getting used to the game. The Ranking sections will go over a lot of entry stuff and contain most the information people will need up to S rank runs. If you want to understand how the mechanics work (maybe while working up to score runs) feel free to check out the Mechanics sections after you've been through the Ranking information.

The high score tactics sections are some tips, theory, and a collection of implications that can be drawn from the mechanics. This area will heavily reference the mechanics, so a good understanding of them is assumed.

The combat section is for high score information on enemy wave composition / phases, tips, and theory. Mechanics and theory for bosses are both in their combat sections since they have unique abilities. This section is very much a work in progress. I'll fill in some info on these as I do runs.
Ranking
The ranking area is meant to try and help people new to the genre / AAC get up to score runs. It will go over what lower ranks should be trying to do and tips to get there. There is a lot of stuff to get familiar with for someone new to AAC.

Skill is a major component of twin stick shooters. Luckily, skill is something that can be trained and improved. The player has always been a factor that needs to get better to further scores, or see further levels, in this genre. AAC changes a fair bit from the standard ideals, but it creates a situation that is approachable by lower ranks and still has a satisfying high end. So, if you like the genre, you won't be disappointed by putting some time into learning how the changes work.
Ranking: Genre Notes
For those coming from more traditional twin stick shooters you'll find AAC's take on the genre will be different in many areas (all good things as far as I'm concerned). This section quickly goes over some aspects of that for people with a history in the genre.

Twin stick shooters, in general, are about swarming the player with so much stuff that it eventually overwhelms them as they go for higher scores (or just improving their play). The challenge is one of the primary factors of the genre. You'll find AAC has a good amount of enemies it will throw at you, but it needs more attention to what enemies are doing since most have ranged attacks that will kill you. Also, you can't just plow through all the enemies like you can in most other twin stick shooters. The larger enemies in AAC have decent health and unless you're at max weapon level with power ups they can take a bit of punishment.

Pathing is still a major concern and you'll want to plan ahead of your immediate surroundings - like usual for the genre. The chain works a bit differently than how a lot in the genre do it. Rather than just killing stuff and continually increasing a chain counter you'll get the best scores in AAC from planning the order you kill things and how you do it. The score aspect is really designed around thinking about what you're doing rather than just shooting into a clump of enemies.

A big change for the genre is the battery. While time limited levels are common in the genre, the battery gives ranking players about a dozen or so knock downs before no longer able to get ahead of the time lost - resulting in a failed level. Combined with the chain system it makes any run at S rank or higher be a single life run as any knock downs are an instant fail.

If you were chasing high scores in other twin stick shooters the style in AAC shouldn't be anything you can't handle. As The Grand Mugwump has said on the forums:
Originally posted by The Grand Mugwump:
Your priorities are shifted from focusing on survival to focusing on killing things mindfully, or as the devs misleadingly put it, aggressively. It does require aggressive playing styles since falling back to catch your breath can cost big time on score and survival, but you need to stay aware of what's happening in the arena and have a plan besides running straight at something guns blazing (the stereotypical aggressive play style).

The battery mechanic raises the bar quite a bit and alters the gameplay so it doesn't play like other shoot 'em ups. If you're willing to put the time into relearning how to shoot 'em up, then this game and its battery mechanic offer one heck of a non-stop adrenaline ride.
Ranking: Goals and Difficulty
AAC has a variety of ways to get through the game depending on your goals. In a way, this is AAC's difficulty selector. The level ranks (see mechanics) provide a way to see how your clear fared and track progress while getting up to S+. There are 4 categories AAC game play can be broken into.

Ranking
Goal
Just beat the levels.

Scenario
This is what people who are new to the genre, playing to see the story, or possibly just new to AAC (depending on how fast you get accustomed to AAC) should be starting on.

Nothing but actually finishing the level matters at first. Finished with 483 knock downs? Excellent! Goal accomplished. Get more familiar with AAC and start lowering those knock down counts as you progress through the levels. The levels get harder as you work through the zones; so, even if you keep your knock down count the same in later levels you're still improving.


S Rank
Goal
Don't die... oh and beat the level

Scenario
The main concern here is to finish a level without any knock downs. Don't even look at the chain counter. If you have to hide behind pillars to recharge health do it! Once you can do this consistently you can worry about the chain.


S+ Rank
Goal
Protect the chain like your life depends on it... and the other stuff

Scenario
Don't worry about score yet. Make sure to time enemy deaths so that the chain survives all the way through the level. Once you can get these consistently you can start to focus on score runs.


Score runs
Goal
2nd place means you lost!

Scenario
K, maybe not that serious (haaa >.> lol), but this opens up a whole pile of things that make S+ runs look easy. Once you're here, get familiar with the mechanics, and go see the tactics section.
Ranking: Starting Out p1
The first step on the path to high score runs is being able to clear levels. Unfortunately two major components of that are awareness and movement / aiming - both of which I can't really help with (although, I'll try to point out some tips in the Ranking Tips section). So, while I can't point out all the things players should be improving on to move out of lower rank runs and into S+ rank I'll go over some elements of AAC to consider, and improve on, that will be needed.


Androids
First off, pick an android that you like playing (or seem to like... since play styles can change a bit when you start trying to squeeze scores out of them). They all have fairly unique play styles, but some take a bit more work to be proficient with than others. Try a few out and see what fits for you.

A quick overview:
  • Cactus has good range with her primary and crazy damage on her flamethrower. Her assault rifle gets a bit wider as it levels which could help new players with aiming a little bit.
  • Holly has a homing primary and a powerful piercing cannon. She is definitely the most friendly to new players since she takes out a lot of aiming considerations.
  • Lemon's spread shot primary is between Holly and Cactus for aiming requirements, but to maximize it's damage you'll need to be very close to enemies. Her rockets are powerful and do have some nice uses. Fun to play and a decent character, but she's fallen out of favor in score settings lately (as of the writing anyway).
  • Coral is extremely powerful - once you get her play style figured out. Her primary is the first of a more discrete fire style and combined with having short range on both weapons causes her to have a higher learning curve. If you want a challenge, she is a good high score android, but just not very new player friendly. Also, a quick note: if you decide to just put time into her right away don't get in the habit of using her Plasma Field as a shield. It can work that way, but lots of stuff goes through it and it's best not to have it become a crutch (and if you're eventually going for high scores you won't be using it as a shield anyway).
  • Starch is interesting in that she looks simple to use but has some rather detailed fine print to maximizing her power. Fairly new player friendly as she can do long range attacks with both her laser and micro missiles. Her laser damage is based on proximity so her optimal primary range is actually one of the shortest in AAC.
  • Aubergine uses a separate ally called Helo for her primary attack and her secondary provides crowd control. She has a unique play style and having Helo be a separate entity means two things to track - perhaps not the most new player friendly; but, crowd control is a nice benefit for new players.
  • Shiitake is the only other android with a discrete primary and uses a secondary which doesn't clear a path in front of her. Like Coral she is extremely powerful and a good android for high scores, but isn't really new player friendly. Although with being one of the later androids to be unlocked, depending on how familiar you are with AAC when she is available (and if you decided to use Coral) it may not take too long to get used to combat with her.
  • Peanut should be fairly new player friendly while not having a standard point and shoot play style. Her magma can create trails on the ground to damage enemies, and both her primary and secondary have some tricks to them to extend her style.


Kill Range
Don't play the androids as long range sniper type characters. Until you have a decent understanding of how the battery works play as a medium range fighter (about the distance of Cactus's flamethrower or a bit farther). The battery is calculated; this makes it something that can be planned for and controlled. However, killing things across the screen while the battery still isn't understood results in surprise batteries - which may now be very hard to get to without a knock down.

Playing at medium range avoids all these problems and should set you up for some better game play down the road. All the androids have some aspect of their style that makes them most effective at short range, so you really don't want to get used to playing them at long ranges then have to break that habit later.


Mobility and Awareness
Don't stop moving for very long (if ever). Plan your movements around the level, pay attention to enemy positions, and watch for incoming attacks. There are various elements to help with that which I'll cover over the rest of the section.

Audio Cues
There are audio cues for practically everything in AAC. Once you can pick up on the more dangerous attacks, and on the indicators, you can adjust your position (or play) without having to watch absolutely everything. This makes a huge difference in the amount of attacks you need to watch for.

The low health sound (low frequency pulses) can let you know to back off and play safe until the health recharges. The Blaster Titan's attacks, Missile Fido's attacks, Mines dropping, and Spectres are also things I would suggest being able to recognize. It is much easier to dodge the Blaster Titan's attacks when you are moving out of the way as they start rather than as they are almost to you.


Power Ups
The white upgrade energy that drops is temporary, and if you don't collect any for awhile your primary weapon will start to lose power (at a pretty quick pace, too). Once you can do higher rank runs picking up as much energy as possible at the start of a level is a huge benefit as the 4 primary weapon levels kill things at drastically different speeds. However, when you're first starting off don't try to kill yourself over getting every energy drop you can.

The power up orbs change in a cycle from Red > Yellow > Blue, and then repeat. The orbs don't fade out. Since most levels are an arena style you can leave them there to cycle to a color you need for a situation. My default color is the red attack power upgrade since it helps you kill things and has some very handy uses. But, there are areas where the other colors are very useful as well. While still ranking you may want to use the blue shutdown orb as your default as it also provides an invincibility shield. The mechanics section has details on the types.


Invincibility!
Switching weapons provides a short invincibility. It is very useful once you have a feeling for how long it lasts and can be used to avoid a lot of damage. Until S+ rank you can use the secondary swap as an emergency invincibility (at S+ it can potentially mess with the chain - something you'll have to start taking into consideration). Some example uses: pass through lasers, pass through the flames on Discs / Furnace, explode Mines, avoid Blaster Titan attacks, pass through blocks on Convection, etc...
Ranking: Starting Out p2
Enemies
Get used to how enemies work. The "Enemies" sections have more information on each enemy. Some general facts and tips on enemies that can help are:
  • All enemies have a setup time when they first spawn where they aren't lethal. This can be used to kill turrets and large enemies before they are fully deployed and become a problem.
  • Most enemies are more dangerous up close. Kegs full melee attack will drop you; most enemies with plasma weapons will cause a knock down if they get a round off, and larger enemies can be a hazard pretty much any time they're on the level. You can pass through many of the larger enemies with some careful planning to line up with the delay in their attacks, but it takes some practice and is pretty tricky.
  • Most enemies won't attack you if they don't have line of sight. Using line of sight against the larger enemies makes them much easier to deal with, and can allow you to split up enemy forces into smaller sections that are easier to manage.
  • Enemies not firing unless they have line of sight applies to being behind them also. Use this to your advantage with the large Mega Kegs, Blaster Titans, and the Bomber Titans. Don't be afraid to approach them and stay close while circling around them as you kill either them or other enemies. It effectively disables them from being a threat.
  • Don't let too many of the larger enemies pile up. Lots of Turbo Drones, Missile Fidos, or any of the larger enemies become hard to deal with. Keep their numbers lower and don't worry about the Kegs or Drones as much - just kite them around if you have to (this actually helps in other ways also... I'll get to it in one of the tips for more experienced players).


Stages
The more prepared you are for what is about to show up the easier a level will be - especially with things that could kill you instantly (raining mines, laser turrets, etc). Enemy composition is fixed, however their spawn locations are relative to your position. The relative spawns can be used to change how you engage enemies if you're having a hard time in one area.

Have a rough idea of what the levels contain for enemy types and configurations. As you get more used to the levels, start to pay attention to what kills spawn which waves and so forth. At first, you don't need to know the exact enemy count of the level and each wave configuration or anything (I don't even know the configurations that exactly myself).

I started learning level composition by beginning to recognize which waves were how far along the level, then getting to know how many large enemies were in each wave, then the rough amount of the smaller painful enemies (Turbo Drones, Fidos, etc), then their spawn positions relative to my character. I don't generally care about the exact amount of white Drones or the weaker Kegs - as long as I know the rough amount in each wave I'm fine with that for now. As you get more experienced with the enemies, and AAC in general, it won't really matter what is thrown at you - you'll be able to adapt a plan based off of what you're fighting.
Ranking: Tips (D - S)
Up to A Ranks
The goal here is mostly to just get through levels and become familiar with AAC. Wasted time in AAC is the true killer. Two big aspects of wasted time are dealing with knock downs (don't have them >.< lol) and the rate you defeat enemies. Knock downs can be dealt with; as long as there aren't too many you can get ahead on time again.

With knock downs, recovery is affected by things other than what the Tutorial level mentions. There are a few other buttons that aren't mentioned in the game at the moment (I suspect once input rebinding is in they'll show up in the list of binds, and this would be solved). The "Mechanics: Controls" section mentions the inputs. For knock downs, the following all work when I was writing this:
  • xbox: A, B, LB, RB, LT, and RT
  • ps: X, Square, LB, RB, LT, and RT
  • k+m: Control, Enter, Space, and either main mouse button (wheel, side buttons, etc didn't)
Also, it's quicker to use multiple sources rather than repeat the same one. Personally, when I'm using a DS4 I use the left bumper, X, and Square. I kind of tap the bumper while rocking back and forth between X / Square to speed up recovery. If some other combination feels better use those - just be sure to combine more than a single input.

The other major area a lot of lower ranks can improve on is aiming and the rate they defeat enemies. Since the main goal is to beat the level, don't focus so much on trying to avoid attacks, and staying alive, that you forget about what you are attacking. I've seen a lot of lower rank players spend time trying to dodge attacks while firing into a wall - usually only to be knocked down as they get overwhelmed anyway. That is a huge waste of time. In a lot of those cases if they had kept killing things, tried to avoid some stuff that they could manage, and just ate the attacks they couldn't dodge then they would still at least be progressing through the level (and gaining battery progress) even though they were knocked down. You obviously can't have too many knock downs in a row before you can't get ahead of the lost battery time, but it is very forgiving at the lower levels.

Cavalcadence has videos on Justice and Medulla, made to show lower ranks how to beat them, that displays the topic very well. Cavalcadence had 21 knock downs and still managed to beat Justice by focusing on damaging him. That number was achievable due to boss batteries being super batteries, but the principle holds throughout AAC. If you want to wait and see those bosses in game then these are slight spoilers (early access videos before they had story elements, but after they got voices), but if not then definitely check out what you can get away with (and Cavalcadence has a number of videos up using various androids in levels that may help if you get stuck somewhere):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VNp4220TsA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dODd1I3tyg

In many normal levels you can manage around 12 or so knockdowns and still clear a level. Focus mainly on clearing at first. Make sure your primary focus is killing enemies. Start trying to stay alive more to get your rank up. At this point remember that weapon swap invincibility can save you from quite a bit, and you should probably be using blue shutdown orbs as your main power up. The initial few androids (Cactus, Holly, Lemon) have secondaries that are great for clearing spaces as well. If you have to back away from enemies to recharge health (and can do it without wasting too much time) that's fine. But, if you're short on time you need to be killing things faster. Remember not to be killing things across the level from you - it's a great way to lose batteries at lower ranks. Also, all the androids have some aspect of them that makes them play their best at short range.


S Ranks
Here you have to start worrying about knock downs since if you get one you lose S rank. The biggest tip I can suggest here is to still remember about the secondary weapon swap. You won't need to plan for secondaries yet, so use them to keep yourself alive in an emergency. Depending on how much of a challenge you're finding getting an S rank on a given level you may still want to use blue orbs as the primary type. If you aren't being pressured by enemies too much then red power ups will give you a bunch of nice options (and are my preferred power up in normal levels for most characters).

If you're clearing some levels at S rank then you are probably ahead on time a bit. So, if you find yourself getting overwhelmed you should be able to back off and recover health behind obstacles and still be able to clear the level. Usually you should be able to just back off and pick off enemies in a good position for you, too. If you're going to pick enemies off just be sure that you either understand the battery, so you aren't spawning them in impossible to get situations, or only kill front line enemies that will allow you to get to one if it does drop.

With twin stick shooters, in general, you don't really want to be focusing on what you have to deal with immediately around you. Awareness of the level, and creating paths through enemies / levels, is a big part of how to do score runs in this genre. If you find yourself getting caught by enemies you didn't register, or their attacks, perhaps go into a level where you can get to them fairly quickly and practice just running around the level on that wave without killing anything. This is one of the reasons I like pacifism modes in twin stick shooters - it's basically survival training.
Ranking: Tips (S+ / Score runs)
S+ Ranks
Now you have to start worrying about the chains. The chain timer gives you 2 seconds to defeat something before it runs out. Get a feeling for how long that is in game. Not having to watch it constantly makes S+ a lot easier. I'll go over the basics below, which should get you through S+, but if you're looking for the details have a look at the mechanics section - you won't really need it until you start going for scores, though.

At lower primary power levels most androids can't outright defeat larger enemies before the chain timer runs out. You will either have to power up or drop weaker enemies while damaging larger ones to keep the chain. This is why I mentioned it's a good habit to kite smaller enemies around earlier. At S+ they act as a chain buffer (with score runs you'll want to plan them into chains for score, too).

Coral and Shiitake also have to worry about their primary fire times. Both of them have to kill something within two shots - they'll lose the chain before you fire the third shot. For example, if you attack a large enemy and your shot doesn't kill it then your next shot absolutely needs to kill something. In these situations smaller enemies allow you to pick away at the large enemy while dropping smaller ones every other shot. You'll find yourself doing this a fair bit on higher levels when there are large enemies in the first waves and you don't have the primary power to outright defeat them yet.

The energy small enemies drop to power up your primary (and the limited number of enemies in waves) means you'll want to drop some of them for the energy to help power up. It doesn't take much to hit the first primary level, so you probably want to at least drop some small ones to get up to that if there are large enemies in the first wave. You also don't want large enemies being the last thing from a wave on the level (unless you're absolutely sure it's the last spawn of a wave). If a wave has two large enemies, that have linked spawns, and the last thing on the level was the first large enemy then after defeating the first you won't have time for the linked large enemy to spawn and then to kill it before time runs out (unless you have full power / power ups).

Another factor to the chains is that some secondary weapons have a long enough delay that using them without planning for what they'll be doing will lose your chain. For example, trying to use Holly's cannonball, or Starch's micro missiles, when they aren't close to enemies will lose the chain. Starch's missiles like to be flashy, and all that time showing off means you'll lose half the chain timer before they even hit something under good circumstances. A lot of the androids have their own considerations with secondary usage. In general, it's a good habit to drop an enemy right before you switch to secondary weapons to ensure the chain survives the swap. With the right conditions secondaries can still be used as an emergency swap, but you'll have to be a lot more careful about that now.

At this rank you probably don't need to save power up orbs for blue anymore. Firepower drones from the red orbs can help keep chains alive while switching to secondary weapons, and they also allow you to drop larger enemies in time when you otherwise might not be able to.



Score Runs
This opens up a bunch of mechanics and things you have to consider. At this point you want to get familiar with the mechanics. The tactics section is meant to provide tips, theory, and implications drawn from AAC in order to improve scores. The perfect score on levels requires so many components coming together that it will largely be up to the player to make choices for their own style. The information I provide documents mechanics and presents theory to help you get to a position to make those choices.
Ranking: Enemies p1
There are 10 classes of enemies containing various sub types. Each class generally has certain behaviors that the sub types follow with their own specific traits.

There are two ways to measure enemy health. You can either do this by their icon on the edge of the screen (when they are out of view) or by colored indicator patches on the enemies. Both indicators have four phases which generally start off light blue and eventually become red just before dying. The information on enemy types show what the first and last phases look like. While ranking (up to S+ even) you won't really need to worry about enemy health. Just be aware of the off screen icons as they can help you locate enemies. It wouldn't hurt to start getting used to how long it takes to beat larger enemies if you're planning to go for score runs later, though.


Enemy Types

Mines
Types:
  • Mine: worth 20 points.
  • Super Mine: 700 points.

Mines on their own (not from containers and without any interference from other things) are slow moving. Their explosions have two sections: a primary blast area that is lethal point blank, and a secondary outer ring which only does a bar of damage on the edge. Since their explosions are red damage any mines near them when they explode will cause a chain reaction. Chaining mine kills should be avoided (in general) since anything killed by red damage won't count for your score. Although, when you're still in a phase where score doesn't matter, mines and enemies with lasers can be used to help you clear levels (it's just a bad habit to get into >.>).

Mines have to be one of the most misunderstood units in AAC. They are extremely dangerous and almost always show up in various size groups (except when Bomber Titans are making them... but, then you have other problems >.>). The combination of them being lethal and having numbers seems to result in people being terrified of them. Get caught in an explosion a few times, and see that blast radius, and people don't want to be anywhere near the blast radius. I don't blame them >.>. I actually treated them like that for a lot longer than I should have, lol. When ranking up these will probably be fairly high on the list of things that cause you grief. However, they are another one of the AAC enemies that aren't so bad once you learn how to deal with them.

There are a few things you will want to get familiar with to make handling mines easier.

First, it's important to know their trigger range. The explosion range is larger than the trigger range - which is part of what I think scares people so much. Once you die to a mine and see the explosion range it's easy to think that is the area you need to avoid. Using Influx grid squares as a measurement, it takes about 1 and a half squares to trigger - which is just slightly farther than Cactus's flamethrower (it will basically be touching the mine's spikes). However, the explosion radius is about 2 squares.

Second, their explosion damage is also based on proximity. Small Mines only knock you down if they detonate right on top of you (when you're at full health). At an Influx square away (just outside the primary blast) they'll do a little less than half health damage. If you're quick you can trigger them as you back up and reduce that further. At their outer explosion radius they'll only take off a bar of health; the same amount as being shot by a basic Drone - definitely not something to be afraid of.

Third, you want to understand how they move. Mines have a top speed that they will gradually accelerate to (unless they are hit by something else from behind... then you end up with flying balls of death >.<). Their top speed is a fair bit slower than the android's top speed. They are also slow at turning. They have rolling momentum so side stepping them puts them into a wide curve to try and run into you again. Also, moving to the side, then behind them, causes them to try and head in the opposite direction (towards you). They need to get to a stop and then accelerate again, taking a decent amount of time. Mines also interact with other enemies and can be blocked or knocked off course (or, they could also be moved faster by some units >.>).

When dealing with them there are also some options. Like all enemies they do have that initial spawn setup time. When they spawn in a level they will drop in and make a metallic knock sound. You'll see them hit the floor, bounce fairly high (above the android's head - it's key to the trick), and then settle to the floor with another bounce. If you are near their spawn you can move under that first bounce and the proximity trigger will cause the mine to explode while they are above you without knocking you down. This does take some getting used to so that it's timed correctly.

There are also some easy ways to deal with them involving baiting their proximity trigger. With proper timing you can time a weapon swap so that you are invincible right as it explodes. The other ways to bait it rely on movement speed. If you have a yellow wings power up you can fly right by them, or fly towards their trigger range and back out, to set them off. Even at normal speed you can also head towards their trigger range and back out right as you cross their trigger range to take minimal damage.

Influx makes a good level to get used to Mines. The first wave has a bunch of mines in it. Go in, kill off the other stuff, and play around with them. Get used to their trigger range and the damage they'll do, and see how they move around.


Wasps

  • melee attack. 30 points.

Wasps are fairly fast flying units with low health. They have melee attacks which actually drop you pretty fast when they're in a swarm now. These always show up in swarms and make excellent units to use for chains once going for score runs.


Tanks

Types:
  • Wasp Tank: 90 points.
  • Mine Tank: 120 points.

Both containers are slow moving and will explode when in close proximity to a player. The explosion doesn't cause damage but you lose the points from killing the container; although, neither container is worth very much.

Mine containers should be given some space before killing them. The mines are released at a decent speed and need to be planned for. As the mines are red damage and there are a bunch of them you should try to be in a place where clearing the mines that will come out of the container won't lose you a lot of points.


Drones

Types:
  • Drone: plasma shot. 60 points.
  • Turbo Drone: large plasma burst. 100 points.

Drones are flying units that will stay about medium distance away from a player.

White Drones have low health, are slow, and don't move about much. They will approach a player fairly directly. These make good units to leave alive for chains once going for S+ / score runs.

Red Turbo Drones have a bit more health, are pretty fast, and have evasion tactics. Their attack is a burst of 3 heavy plasma shots (same shots Vespula uses) and is quite deadly. Due to how much damage their shots do these guys cause bullet hell quickly. They are still pretty good to use for chains; but, lots of them being up could cause problems. Their evasion routine is to move to the opposite side of a player's targeting beam - if targeting their left they will move to their right and vice versa. Their evasion can be used against them by quickly sweeping your targeting back and forth across their center causing them to stay in place as they keep trying to move the opposite way to avoid your attack.
Ranking: Enemies p2
Kegs

Types:
  • Keg: melee attack. 90 points.
  • Hunter Keg: three plasma shots. 100 points.
  • Mega Keg: three plasma shot bursts in three directions. 1000 points.

Kegs don't move very fast and can be kited. They are also slow to turn around and strafing around them will stop their attacks and reduce their threat level.

The base green Kegs are melee units that will cause a knockdown if they get the chance to do a full attack on you. They have low health. The combination of slow speed and low health make these a great unit to leave alive to use for chains on larger enemies when needed.

Hunter Kegs have a bit more health than Kegs and fire plasma shots. They're still pretty easy to kite around and can still work for chains; but, large numbers of these guys can start to cause bullet hell so leaving them up depends on the level and wave.

Mega Kegs are one of the tougher enemies in AAC. Like all Kegs they are still slow, can be kited, and are vulnerable to circle strafing (even more with these ones because of their size); but, they have quite a bit of health and their spread plasma burst can kill quickly if you're hit by a lot of them. Their attacks can cause bullet hell pretty quickly. It's safest to be at least medium distance away from them to give some room to avoid their streams. If you have to go close to them time it so that you move to them between their shots.


Fidos

Types:
  • Rocket Fido: missile attack (red damage). 120 points.
  • Fetcher Fido: grapple beam. 500 points.
  • Jumbo Fido: missile swarm (red damage). 900 points.

None of the Fidos are very fast and can be kited around fairly easily.

The Rocket Fidos, and Jumbo Fidos, shoot missiles with red damage which will cause a knock down. The targeting mark placed where the missile will land gets smaller as the missile gets closer. The area is safe for a bit; but, the explosions flair out quite a bit and hurt a lot. The Rocket Fido's missiles can be mislead without many problems.

The Jumbo Fido's missile swarm is more intelligent. The Jumbo Fido's missiles will track your current path and will also adjust to your movements after the first is fired. Depending on how well the swarm tracked / predicted your path it may require some weaving to throw them off. The Jumbo Fidos are worth enough points that people going for score runs should try to chain them. Because their attacks are red damage they should be high on the kill priority list to stop wasted points.

The Fetcher Fidos use an energy beam type thing that will prevent you from moving farther than it's range from the Fido. Since Fetchers will pull you towards other enemies it results in them being shielded by the group they go to. This is absolutely deadly if they hide behind larger enemies because you'll have to spend a bit of time clearing the large enemy before you can defeat the Fetcher and break the chain to avoid other attacks. Even though these things aren't dangerous on their own I still have them as one of my top tracked enemies just because of the fact they hide behind other things and stop your movement. While ranking up you probably want to remove them fairly fast so they don't cause you problems later.

Once you know how Fetcher's leash works they aren't bad to leave around (still track them if you're doing that, though... sudden leashes can lead to bad things). Fetchers themselves are slow moving, and really slow turning, making them good to leave up for score purposes. If they're causing problems then definitely remove them, but kiting them is a good habit to get into earlier rather than later (all the score habits really). They need a moment where you are in front of them to leash on to you. So, if you want to pass them without being leashed you can either approach slightly to the side of them, at an angle, so that you cut through their leash area quickly, or you can move straight at them while they're coming towards you and pass quickly through them. Once you get a feel for how much time, and the range, they need to leash on you should be able move around them in the stage without many problems.

Fetchers aren't worth enough points to be a huge concern with chaining. If the level allows them to be kited safely than it's the preferred method of handling them until they can be chained. If these guys can cause problems when combined with the level, or other enemies, then killing them quickly is a viable option that won't hurt scores too badly.


Factories

Types:
  • Tendril Factory: plasma ring pulse attack. 600 points.
  • Vector Factory: node attack. 1200 points.
  • Orbital Factory: node swarm. 1200 points.

In general, these are not very fast and all have their methods of keeping them under control. The Factories themselves don't hurt players, it's possible to pass under them if you time it right. Tendril Factories pulse rings of plasma shots (look like beads) with a gap in the rings that can be used to move between them if needed. The shots disappear when the Tendril Factory is killed.

Vector Factories use their nodes to attack the player rather aggressively. They don't generally keep too many nodes built up unless they can't attack a player. The nodes don't have very much life but are pretty quick and do hurt. If the nodes are kept under control these aren't a large threat. If they're allowed to build up their nodes, or are being covered by other enemies, they can take a lot of attention to get under control.

Orbital Factories use the same nodes to swarm around them, as they move towards the player, rather than attack directly. Other than how they handle nodes these have the same traits as the Vector Factories. Because of how they swarm their nodes these units tend to shield other enemies.
Ranking: Enemies p3
Titans

Types:
  • Blaster Titan: shockwave attack. 1100 points.
  • Bomber Titan: spike mine attack. 1200 points.
  • Buster Titan: jump attack. 2000 points.

Very slow moving, powerful, and with a fair bit of charge time to their attacks. Blaster Titans and Bomber Titans have red attack types. Blaster Titans and Bomber Titans can be passed through without a knock down, but don't touch Buster Titans.

Blaster Titan's attacks have a large distance and trying to out run them is generally bad. The sound effect when they launch their attack sounds sort of like the brain spiders from Doom. Getting used to their sound makes dealing with the attack a lot easier. The attacks home on a player; but, they don't track everywhere. The attacks can be side stepped once familiar with their movement; the player is safe once the attack has passed. Since these attacks are red damage (and hurt) Blaster Titans should be high on the kill priority list.

Bomber Titans raise their arms while reloading the mines. The slight delay while they reload, and get into a position to fire, allows some time to close distance and get near them. The mines are shot at a bit of an arc and if a player is close enough to the Titan the mines will go over a player's head.

Buster Titans can jump extremely far distances. They walk really slow, but they are fast while flying. Awareness is crucial with them. If you are always moving they will likely miss you when they land anyway; however, if you paused for a bit and didn't see one jump you're probably dead (emergency secondary swap!). So, if you notice one spawn keep track of it. Their weakness is that they have to aim their jump and it takes them a little bit to do (unless you touch them). If you strafe back and forth (or around them... just never in a straight line away from / towards them) they won't have time to lock on to you and jump.


Spectres

  • Reaper Spectre: laser attack. teleports. 900 points.
  • Banshee Spectre: plasma waves. teleports. 1050 points.

Reapers attack with the same red damage laser as the laser turrets. The Reapers will keep their focus on their target until just before the laser is ready to fire. Once ready to fire the Reapers quit moving to fire the beam. The slight delay between when the Reapers stop tracking and then fire the laser is enough to step out of its path. While ranking they're another one of the red damage units that could help you clear the level. But, when going for scores the charge time should be used to make sure the laser will be negated by terrain or to get into a position where the beam won't cause much point loss damage. Since their attacks are red damage these should have a high kill priority.

Banshees have some gaps in the waves of heavy plasma shots they create, and they also have an open back. These cause bullet hell really fast and you probably want them dead fairly quickly.


Turrets

Types:
  • Bullet Turret: plasma attacks. 900 points.
  • Laser Turret: laser attacks (red damage). 1300 points.
  • Maser Turret: blue laser attacks. 1800 points.

Turrets all have multiple attacks that rotate. While ranking you probably want to deal with these as soon as possible.

Bullet Turrets fire plasma shots in 5 shot clusters that rotate in a pentagon pattern. The rotating pattern can be used to determine the safe spots between their next round of attacks.

Laser / Maser Turrets fire 4 lasers in a cross. The lasers take a bit to charge up and the beam lasts awhile while firing. While not firing there is a small trace line where the beams will be (like Starch's laser). If you aren't killing these quickly then keep track of where their targeting lines are moving.

While ranking it is possible to use Laser Turrets to help you clear a room (they're actually quite effective lol). Since up to S rank should only be concerned about finishing the level, and living, these can actually help you quite a bit. However, as mentioned above it's a bad habit for score runs. This is a fairly easy habit to break, though. The other thing to be aware of is that larger enemies can take a couple passes of laser beams before going down. If you find yourself in a bad position with a laser heading your way and there is a Titan (just not the Buster Titans...), or Mega Keg, near you then position them between you and the turret so they soak up the beam - as an added bonus you now have a weaker large enemy.
Ranking: Batteries
First thing first: you're going to die and fail a level. This is a twin stick shooter. The genre has never been about going into levels, loitering around, and just casually shooting the odd thing. Typical score based twin stick shooters are about swarming the player with continually increasing things until it overwhelms them. Most in the genre use a life system where you gain lives at certain score marks and it's game over when you're out. If you think about it, a life system from points is a depleting timer as well. In those games you are going to lose a life - that's not the question. The question is: are you losing lives faster then you are gaining them? If you are then you are on a depleting timer to game over. Even the best players hit a point in traditional twin stick shooters where they go from that question being false to it being true - and then it's death shortly after (albeit with an impressive high score to match how long it took for that question to be true, lol).

AAC departs from the genre standard in a lot of areas, and even if you're familiar with the genre you'll have some deaths. I come from a history with the genre and still had problems jumping straight into the later levels (when you used to be able to skip to the end right away). The good news here is that a lot of the things it does differently actually balance the field and make the game more approachable by various skill levels while not hurting the high score side. A lot of work has gone into making sure AAC mechanics are fine tuned. If you find yourself in a bad situation, dying a lot, or having problems passing levels then it's a result of something you chose to do. Breaking bad habits and identifying places you could improve will get you passed those situations.

The battery mechanic, like practically everything in AAC, works off a set of rules that give it predictable outcomes. The rules are actually fairly forgiving to lower rank players; there are special rules to lower the score amount you need to hit to spawn a battery if you are having troubles. However, since the battery is a very visible reason why players die it tends to take a lot of heat. The problem here isn't that the battery mechanic kills people. It's wasted time from play style problems that cause the battery to look like it is the obstacle. If you skipped some sections and came straight here going "damn battery killed me again!" go back and read the earlier ranking sections with tips to try and help with the lost time.

One of the biggest tips I can give ranking players is to actually not worry about the battery. If you are having problems with it I guarantee you there are play style problems behind why you are getting into trouble with the battery. Even if the battery was completely removed from the game those play style problems would still be there. At that point you would have unlimited knockdowns and would start seeing level clears with hundreds of knockdowns - when they can all be beaten with none. Improving your play will cause battery problems to solve themselves. This was why I tried to go over any tips I could think of that might give people problems throughout the ranking sections.

So, if you are here because you're having problems (and read the ranking sections) then the points in the ranking sections about android range and kill speed are the two most likely things that you need to spend time improving (go read those again and practice a bit!). One generalization of the battery spawn mechanics you can use to understand how much it takes to spawn is that you will need roughly 30 smaller enemies or 2 larger enemies and a couple small ones. However, you really don't need to worry about the battery, seriously! You'll hit the score amount needed to spawn one just by defeating enemies, and you can get that amount in seconds on most levels - which is why kill rate is such a big part of why lower ranked people have problems. Just worry about defeating enemies and not killing things across the level from you. If a battery spawns across the level and you can't get it that is a situation you caused with a bad habit, and you should be breaking those bad habits.
Mechanics
The mechanics portion is meant as documentation, and a reference, primarily. There are some notes scattered around this area to explain some of the numbers, but this area itself doesn't go into how to use the mechanics.
Mechanics: Controls
AAC has some controls that aren't mentioned in the game. I suspect that once input rebinding is in place the actions will show up on a bind list and solve this issue. For now, though, I'll throw up a collection of the inputs.

For android actions, the bumper and trigger both work the same. So, you can replace LT with LB if you find it more comfortable. On m+kb the arrow keys also work in place of asdw for movement. Also, you can hold the swap weapon input when the level is starting and it will swap as soon as you are in control of your android (mostly a high score thing).

With knock downs, the following all work to raise your android when I was writing this:
  • xbox: A, B, LB, RB, LT, and RT
  • ps: X, Square, LB, RB, LT, and RT
  • m+kb: Control, Enter, Space, and either main mouse button (wheel, side buttons, etc didn't)

There is an instant level restart button that works anywhere in a level.
  • xbox: Start / Menu button thing (I'm really not an xbox person lol)
  • ps: Start / Options
  • m+kb: Home
Mechanics: Level Rank
The level rank is based on the final score value and certain other factors.
  • Up to rank A is just a matter of hitting a certain score mark for each level.
  • S runs require no deaths.
  • S+ requires a perfect chain (which requires no deaths) - all enemies that the player kills must be in a single, unbroken, chain.

As long as the requirements are met you'll get a corresponding rank.

If an S run manages to chain enemies more efficiently than an S+ run then the S run comes out with a higher score. But, because the S run lost the chain somewhere (in these cases probably at the start when it wasn't as much of a factor on the score) it didn't meet the requirements for an S+ rank regardless of the higher score.
Mechanics: Damage Types
There are three types of damage in AAC.
  • Red damage: hurts players and enemies
  • Blue damage: hurts only players
  • Yellow damage: hurts only enemies

In general, everything you see from levels and enemies is bad for you. The androids are the only entities with yellow damage. Blue damage will pass through enemies, so you need to keep that in mind. Red damage types are the ones that need some special treatment by score runs (see Tactics: Secondary Factors). Enemies killed by red damage aren't counted for your chain or score (only things the player directly kills).


Red Damage Sources
  • Laser Turrets
  • Reapers
  • Bomber Titans (not directly, but due to their mines)
  • Mines
  • Fidos (Missile and Jumbo)
  • Blaster Titans
  • flames on Heat
  • Convection's incinerators
  • wall lasers on Transit
Mechanics: Power Ups
General
  • Orb color cycle: red > yellow > blue
  • Orb on field cycle time: 5 sec
  • Orb timer has 20 bars around it (same as the android secondary cooldown). About .25 seconds per notch, 1 second for each set of 5 (each set has a longer line separating them). These work fairly well as an in game timer sometimes.
  • Initial color you get when an orb spawns seems to be tied to level time. I haven't worked out the details yet, but as a rough rule seems to take a little less than a second to change spawn colors. I doubt there is any way to use this reliably in normal levels, but on bosses you can plan out every orb that you'll see and it makes a large difference to the score.

Red
  • 13 sec duration
  • 19 bars damage (1.4615 bps)
  • Each drone has its own timer, but they usually come down at the same time anyway.
  • Drones can block laser shots.

Yellow
  • Speed upgrade with wings
  • Attracts weapon energy and batteries (the batteries still depend on how much your gauge is missing)
  • Grants a 33% dodge rate

Blue
  • Full health, invincibility, and a shutdown wave
  • 4 second invincibility
  • 2.32 second shutdown
  • Shutdown applies a 1.5x normal damage vulnerability


Spawns
AAC has a very modular design underneath the hood. Many aspects of the game can be toggled. This affects the orb spawns a bit. In normal levels, and most places dealing with normal enemies, it uses the algorithm to determine when to spawn orbs. It's mostly in bosses where orbs don't work off the algorithm and are linked to certain triggers.

(I want to map out the level algorithm, but those tests are forthcoming)


Upgrade Energy
Dropped by most entities that are worth points. All normal enemies drop them; things like Justice's heads, Mines from Titans, and Drones the Factories spawn don't drop energy.

Energy amount to level up the primary weapon:
  • L0: 10 energy to fill bar
  • L1: 62 energy to fill
  • L2: 111 energy to fill

Entity
Energy
Rocket Fido
2
Keg
2
Hunter Keg
3
Drone
3
Turbo Drone
4
Turret
7
Blaster Titan
7
Bomber Titan
7
Mega Keg
9
Vector Factory
13

Bosses drop 6 energy every 1/4 hp of a phase (75, 50, 25, 0).
Mechanics: Enemy Values
The following table shows the point list (in order of point value), 10x and 15x chain values, and the 15x - 10x difference (useful as a quick look up against bonus time values for a topic in the Tactics section):

Type
Base Value
10x
15x
15x-10x (= bonus time)
Mine
20
200
300
100
Wasp
30
300
450
150
Drone
60
600
900
300
Keg
90
900
1350
450
Wasp Tank
90
900
1350
450
Hunter Keg
100
1000
1500
500
Turbo Drone
100
1000
1500
500
Mine Tank
120
1200
1800
600
Rocket Fido
120
1200
1800
600
Fetcher Fido
500
5000
7500
2500 = 1.56 seconds of bonus time
Tendril Factory
600
6000
9000
3000 = 1.86 seconds
Super Mine
700
7000
10,500
3500 = 2.19 seconds
Jumbo Fido
900
9000
13,500
4500 = 2.81 seconds
Bullet Turret
900
9000
13,500
4500 = 2.81 seconds
Reaper Spectre
900
9000
13,500
4500 = 2.81 seconds
Battery
1000
10,000
15,000
5000 = 3.13 seconds
Mega Keg
1000
10,000
15,000
5000 = 3.13 seconds
Banshee Spectre
1050
10,500
15,750
5250 = 3.28 seconds
Blaster Titan
1100
11,000
16,500
5500 = 3.44 seconds
Bomber Titan
1200
12,000
18,000
6000 = 3.75 seconds
Vector Factory
1200
12,000
18,000
6000 = 3.75 seconds
Orbital Factory
1200
12,000
18,000
6000 = 3.75 seconds
Laser Turret
1300
13,000
19,500
6500 = 4.06 seconds
Maser Turret
1800
18,000
27,000
9000 = 5.63 seconds
Buster Titan
2000
20,000
30,000
10,000 = 6.25 seconds


Enemy Spawns
Enemies seem to have a number of ways they can spawn. I started mapping out some of the normal levels to see about theory on them and decided to just classify things in 4 sub groups in a wave:
  • Resupply: each killed unit is replaced by the same kind of unit for x times
  • Reinforce: a wave with x units in a group where y unit deaths causes a new group of x units to spawn
  • Time delay: mystery mechanic
  • Linked: like resupply but linked unit that is spawned can be a different type
Mechanics: Chains
Killing 3 enemies quickly will start a chain timer which begins with multiplying enemy base point values by 2. At 11 kills the chain multiplier caps at 10 times the base point value. The chain timer gives a 2 second window from when an enemy dies to kill another enemy and keep the chain counter up. Every kill is worth one chain count. Enemies must be killed by the player to affect the chain (or your score), so red damage killing enemies hurts your score since you lose those points (see the "Tactics: Secondary Factors" section). S+ rank requires an unbroken chain of all enemies killed by the player.

Enemies are worth a base amount of points which are then multiplied by the chain multiplier and added to the sub total score on the bottom of the screen. If points are added to the score fast enough the display just adds them together and shows one score increase instead of a bunch of smaller increases.

The mines the Bomber Titans shoot and the nodes the Factories create aren't worth points; they don't increase the chain counter, but they do reset the chain timer. Destroyed things must be worth points to use them for chain surges. Batteries don't affect the chain counter, but they do get multiplied by surge chains.

Multiple kills in about a 100 millisecond span for subsequent kills begin a surge chain. The counter will flash red and temporarily surge to 15x the base score of units killed during this time. Continuously killing units will keep it active.
Mechanics: Bonus Clear Time
Level run time is actually tracked by a millisecond timer, but it is presented in a minute and second format at the end. The display format makes it possible to have different clear time bonuses for the "same clear time" - as a displayed clear time of 1:20 has a 1000 millisecond area that it could have actually taken.

The clear time bonus is calculated by comparing the player's clear time to a "level par time". Any clear time after the par time is a 0 bonus. The level par times are in milliseconds, but make up a whole amount of seconds. Each full second is worth 1600 points. The level par times so far are (shown in seconds):
  • Descent: 120
  • Turbine: 150
  • Filament: 120
  • Capacitor: 120
  • Embryo: 120
  • Hive: 150
  • Influx: 150
  • Oxygen: 150
  • Process: 150
  • Vespula: 150
  • Checkpoint: 165
  • Transit: 210
  • Heat: 160
  • Revolution: 225
  • Justice: 150
  • Assembly: 210
  • Relay: 230
  • Focus: 195
  • Repeater: 210
  • Venom: 195
  • Centrifuge: 225
  • Control: 240
  • Convection: 240
  • Collider: 275
  • Medulla: 300

Level progression is tied to kills - not time. Level clear time isn't quite the same as run clear time, either. The level (and battery) begin counting as soon as the android starts to drop in. This results in 3 seconds on the clock before you can even move. Likewise, there are 5 seconds at the end while the android performs their ending animation before the timer actually ends. These additional 8 seconds are consistent. If you quick restart a level, use the S+ indicator, or are reading dialog the game adds time, or pauses the timer, accordingly. So, it won't really affect your run (as any clear is always "clear time" + 8 seconds), but if you try to add up clear time for calculations that's why your numbers will be off.
Mechanics: Batteries
General Rules
  • 60 second reserve gauge
  • Warning flash / sound starts at 10 seconds remaining on the gauge
  • Batteries recharge 25 seconds

The battery spawn system seems to be based off of enemy base score amounts. Hit x point value and a battery spawns. The tricky part to this is that it scales the required amount depending on performance. Isolating the rules has proven to be a pain. I'm relatively sure that remaining time on the gauge and knock downs play a role in how it scales. I also have suspicions on the chain and kill speed playing a part as well. This is going to take some more tests to get sorted out, though. So, updates pending a breakthrough >.>. For now, some general rules you can use at various ranks...


Ranking runs
First off, don't worry about the battery (if you're doing ranking clears and came here checking this... go read the "Ranking: Battery" section - which is basically a tl;dr of practice aim and not dying over worrying about the battery). I've seen batteries spawn as low as 650 base points while testing them (killed 7 enemies got a battery >.> took me 3 seconds to generate it).


Score runs (S+ too if they're doing well enough)
High level runs seem to be limited by the time missing from the gauge (and whatever performance modifiers play a part...) rather than the score amount. At those levels of play, I've killed things fast enough to be generating 10,100 base points between batteries. On the lower end of this, I've seen 3370 generate a battery. The thing that seems to be fairly constant here is that they (and the others with score amounts all over the place in between those values) were taking about 15 seconds before a battery would spawn. So, it's fairly predictable, but still has modifiers that will adjust that time (blue orbs and batteries left to linger on a level while you kill things seem to be two that affect it the most for score runs).
Mechanics: Androids
Soon™ lol. It's mostly going to be a condensed, and slightly modified, version of my android tests from the forum post here: http://steamcommunity.com/app/250110/discussions/0/626329821117150154/
Tactics
Once consistently getting S+ ranks the two major factors to high score runs are clear speed and chain surges. Secondary factors include battery handling, red damage mitigation, relative spawn paths, and power up orb / energy usage. Basically, everything you do in the level starts to matter for top scores. The goal for the Tactics sections is to present theory on how to use the mechanics. This should allow people to adapt the information to their own play styles (or make play style changes) and improve scores.

Due to the android's play styles varying quite a bit they each have their own optimal balance of clear speed to chain surges. The balance also depends on the enemy composition of each level.

The main factors require a bit of detail. The "Tactics: Chain Surges" section covers that portion. The clear speed is dependent on each level, android, and the secondary factors. The "Tactics: Secondary Factors" section deals with the secondary aspects of the score. Developing perfect paths, orb usage, android usage, and clear times for each level is where the difficulty in AAC takes a serious jump, but that's what makes score runs amusing.
Tactics: Surge Chains
Enemies in a level are already the major portion of any score; getting bonus points for how you kill each enemy quickly adds up. Fetcher Fidos, and any enemy worth more than them, start to really affect the score with chains.

Fetcher Fidos are also the spot where health has a noticeable split. Fetcher Fidos are the lowest score enemies that have enough health to break a surge chain if you try to kill them without preparing them before hand (for the continuous androids, so excluding Shiitake and Coral). From their score and up, enemies need to be dropped to low health in order to kill them in a surge chain. Preparing a situation to create surge chains often means wasting some time. Since time is worth points there is an equilibrium between time spent to setup the surge and the point value of a surge chain. You can spend enough time setting up a chain that you actually lose points overall. The 15x - 10x difference in the mechanics table shows the time each enemy allows you to take setting up a chain on them before you are losing points by chaining them.


Level Progression
Level progression being tied to kills means that you would need to know the exact number of enemies that will spawn with each wave in order to setup the perfect chain kill. In reality, though, this mostly just means that players will need to be aware of when there are waves with low enemy counts - so they aren't trying to wait for spawns which won't come until something in the current wave is killed.

Certain parts of waves are also triggered by killing specific types of enemies. On Discs, for example, the red drones at the beginning only spawn more when other red drones are killed. Killing only the green spiders will only spawn the next set of spiders. A lot of waves larger enemies, as well as turrets, seem to be tied together like this. If you leave a turret up as the last thing to kill in a wave but the wave spawns two turrets (one at a time) than the second turret's spawn is tied to the first and will only drop after the first turret is dead. Mixing large enemy kills with smaller enemies result in being able to use the surge effectively, and it also stops the last enemies of a wave being a bunch of large units (which has a good chance of killing the chain for S+).


Applying the Surge
The first thing to get used to is being able to measure enemy health. To use surge chains you'll need to be able to switch to other enemies and leave the first one with a sliver of health. The two most effective ways to do surge chains seem to be either small focused chains or in larger sweeping chains. Short focused surge chains would prepare a large enemy and then use some small ones and chain into the large enemy. Sweeping chains prepare any high value enemies on the level (while only killing enough low point enemies to keep the chain) and then chain as much as possible.

Focus chains:
  • + Faster to setup individually, but may lose some time if enemies aren't positioned well or when playing some androids
  • + Easier to keep track of how much time you've spent performing the chain
  • + Can adapt to situations in a level (new enemy spawns etc) easier
  • - Usually requires some sacrificial small ones to start the chain on - which wastes their score

Sweeping chains:
  • + Can be faster overall compared to focused chains if the enemies are in a good layout or while playing certain androids
  • + Almost all enemies in the wave can be chained once it's setup
  • - Wave breaks in a level and spawn triggers need to be well known

Focus chains mean you will be wasting the bonus points from lower value enemies (but their lower value so... still adds up though). Focus chains being more adaptable means they can also use things like mines in their chains. A couple small mines in a good position can quickly bring a larger enemy near death. Sweeping chains have higher values in theory, but are harder to setup for the perfect chain. Sweeping chains have to worry about not killing enough enemies to trigger the next spawns. To optimize the bonus time you should have a fairly constant flow of things spawning. If you hit the end of a wave's spawns you are wasting bonus time until you start to get things spawning again. Sweeping chains can hit those wave breaks fairly easily (waves should be fairly well known before you start trying to set them up).
Tactics: Secondary Factors
Battery
Batteries are affected by surge chains (and I included the time you have to work them into a chain in the mechanic's enemies list). This means you should only be picking them up when you are doing a surge chain. Considering that in Descent it's possible to see 5 batteries (if you're taking awhile - score runs will see less than that), the way you pick them up has a 25,000 point difference. As levels start to get longer these become a decent portion of your sub score.

Of course, since they fade out you don't really want to be taking too long to chain them. I think the later levels in zone 2 (and past that) have enough enemies to generate a battery in the S+ time limit before the gauge will let one spawn - which should be where they start to be more predictable in score runs. Working them into your surge chains is still a chore because of how their attraction works. The only saving grace here is that since we're talking about score run levels of play the gauge should only be missing 12 - 20 seconds and the battery doesn't have too much of a variance in it's attraction at those times. I'd suggest playing around in a level with some batteries on the field for a bit and get a feel for how they attract. Unless they're within about the range of Cactus' flamethrower from you then you will probably have to move towards them a little bit to get the attraction working.

The spawn time, and fact that they can linger for awhile before fading out now, means you'll see a varying number of batteries spawn depending on how you're killing things and picking them up. Leaving them around for too long will cause a lower amount of batteries to spawn throughout the stage - which will obviously hurt your score a bit. For now, I think the best way to do this is probably to expect batteries around every 15 seconds, and try to setup a surge chain condition for when it will spawn. If you have to setup a surge chain after a battery has already spawned then you only have 3.13 seconds before you're losing points. If you do get caught by a battery spawn when you weren't expecting it a contingency plan which wouldn't hurt scores too much would be to just quickly use two low score enemies for a quick chain just to pick up the battery - not optimal, but it's still better than getting an un-chained battery.


Red Damage
Since red damage attacks can hurt both the player and enemies it's possible to lose a lot of points when they kill enemies. This especially hurts the score when large enemies are killed by red damage attacks. So, anything that has red damage attacks (see the mechanics section) should be taken out as quickly as possible. Except for the small mines and missile Fidos the other red damage enemies are all worth a lot of points and you should chain their kills.


Power Up Orbs
For score runs in normal levels it's pretty much the red attack power orb always - for most androids. Some androids, and play styles, could make an argument for yellow, but both blue and yellow are surpassed by how useful red is in general. The higher dps helps with bonus time. The drones can also block lasers; if you're going to use them like that I suggest staying still for a moment to make sure they don't have any influence to move. Blue in normal levels is almost always a waste for score purposes. With bosses blue actually becomes the better power up for some androids (Coral and Shiitake for sure, I have suspicions Cactus too) as the bosses have enough health that you'll get full use out of the shutdown time.


Routes / Relative Spawns
Spawns are relative to your position and cause movement in a level to matter. This is something that takes familiarity with levels. When you know the waves you can start playing with positioning to see if you can get things to group up better. Some positions can cause things to spawn behind obstacles or in positions that cause a bit of running around to clear the wave. On the other hand, good positioning can result in the same wave dropping enemies already lined up and close to you.


Weapon Energy
Weapon energy plays a small roll in scores. The faster you get to max level the faster your run will be, and it also makes chaining large enemies quicker as well. Since you should never be losing a weapon level in even S+ runs, this only really plays a part at the very start of a level. Your route for the level should be trying to get all the energy you can (that won't compromise time) to get up to level 3 quickly.
Combat
The combat sections are going to be for high score theory and information on the levels with regards to things like wave composition etc. I'll fill in these sections as I get back into level score runs and start taking serious score run attempts on the levels.

Boss information is going to go in this area, too. Bosses will probably have a slightly more detailed theory section on them and contain their mechanics (as boss mechanics can have unique properties).
Combat: Embryo
Mechanics
  • Level par time of 120 seconds
  • Each of Embryo's 6 phases use a system that is similar to the bonus time calculations with a par time
  • Each phase has a minimum value of 12,500 (his base value) and a maximum of 18,750
  • Any phase time worse than the par + 4 seconds always gets 12,500 - just like the way bonus par time works
  • The chain starts as soon as he is knocked out of phase 1. The chain timer lasts for 12 seconds before it expires (rather than 2 seconds like in a standard level). Otherwise the chain system works the same.
  • Batteries can't be chained. I've picked up batteries before they hit the ground, immediately after a spawn, and it still wasn't enough time to make it for a surge chain. They're probably disabled for the fight.

Conclusion
The start of the original forum post came about from me trying to figure out how I could improve my Starch high score runs. I'm pretty sure this touches on the major factors for score runs; however, there are definitely subtle tricks with each android's play style that will modify how they use the score mechanics. I also wouldn't be surprised if other players have some more tricks. It also isn't easy to apply the surge chains all the time - so, that will be an on going thing to tackle.

Any comments or other score suggestions are welcome, and thanks for reading.

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29 Comments
Popsnorkle Apr 19, 2018 @ 8:41am 
FYI not dying isn't enough to get rank S. Perhaps this changed at some point?

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1365176786

Thanks for the great guide, you obviously spent a lot of time on it.
jumjumlp May 20, 2017 @ 1:57pm 
well I came looking for a guide, and I sure found one. Awesome job on this one, even if some of it went over my head (as I am still rather inexperienced with the game).
Manta Feb 21, 2016 @ 4:05am 
I think this guide needs a little explanation on how the game handles simultaneous kills with regards to scoring. I've found that if you kill more than one enemy at exactly the same time (like with the railgun), the game increments the chain counter, and starts the surge, before actually calculating how much score each individual enemy is worth. Basically meaning that any double kill or better with the shotgun, railgun, propeller mines, rockets or vorpal blade will cause every kill in that attack to get the 50% bonus. This is fairly easy to test by killing kegs at 10x chain, every double kill gets you 2700 points (900x2x1.5). This is why shiitake easily gets those high scores.
Manta Jan 22, 2016 @ 1:42am 
Yeah, but it doesn't quite cancel hits either, even negated damage resets the countdown before your shield regenerates. It's almost like you have 9hp rather than 6.
Sylaris  [author] Jan 21, 2016 @ 11:32pm 
Yeah, I should say 1 of every 3 damage sources is negated or reduced. If it's a small hit it's just cancelled. If it's a large hit / something that can kill you it's reduced by a couple points of damage it seems. That is why I think it could be planned into runs, because you could set something up so that a boss' large attack is the one that triggers the reduction and you live through it. Although, red and blue on bosses have a serious advantage for score runs. I'd need a bunch more info on it to decide. I think you're probably right about the speed amount. I did basic checks on that and it seemed to be somewhere around double.
Manta Jan 19, 2016 @ 6:40am 
I've noticed the other thing about that 33% dodge rate, it applies even within single hits. Those insta-kill purple bullets that venom and medulla use only deal 4 damage if you've got wings. Liquorice's cannon and factory missiles seem to beahve in the same way.
Manta Jan 8, 2016 @ 3:41pm 
Odd that it does that, but thinking about it, it's probably to counteract the extra shots you're likely to blunder into while zipping around the place.

Am I right in thinking that it's double speed?
Sylaris  [author] Jan 8, 2016 @ 2:49pm 
Yeah, 1/3 of damage is negated. I should probably clear that up, but I want to test the rules there some more first. Actually there are a couple things I'm probably going to reword... but, anyway... it's not 100% on everything though. Large damage sources (mines say) will still hurt, but they have their damage reduced. Small damage like drone shots are just completely countered. From what I've noticed I think it really is every third damage source it applies to as well - so it could be planned into things. Although, stuff like lasers, or other continuous damage sources, pretty much aren't affected by it since they'll just damage you on the next hit anyway. I want to test the actual reduction and if it applies any invincibility frames. On my list to do some time, lol.
Manta Jan 8, 2016 @ 5:08am 
Oh one more question, what is exactly meant by the 33% dodge rate on the acceleration powerup? Does it mean one in three enemy shots just passes through you or does no damage?
Manta Jan 7, 2016 @ 6:27am 
Heh, yeah, Although saying that Vespy's wasps dropping energy is one thing... actually picking it up is quite another (Unless you're peanut).