Long before Gigantic Army was announced for it’s Western release by Nyu Media, I’d been lucky enough to have played Gigantic Army an awful lot. It wouldn’t be unrealistic for me to say it’s one of my favourite shooters . There’s a very good reason for that – back when I was a kid, I absolutely adored Cybernator.
For me Cybernator sealed my love for Japanese culture. Back then – the most badass robots and mechs got were Transformers. I’m sorry to say it Transformers fans, but I’ve always found Optimus Prime and his merry band of chums a little bit camp. A little too colourful. They never felt serious enough.
Konami’s side scrolling-mech shooter seemed dirtier, somehow more real – and I loved it for it. It also had pixelated anime art of a girl wearing a headset – which basically sealed the deal for me right then and there. Anyway, I digress…
Cybernator was the absolute business – a side-scrolling powerhouse of total awesomeness. And it was difficult – a genuine challenge – which meant it remained firmly in my SNES for a very long time. And then after that – nothing. Bar a few exceptions like GunhoundEX, the side-scrolling mech-shooter has been criminally underrepresented – and with that drought, my thirst for stompy robot action had gone un-quenched for the best part for twenty years.
So, you’ll understand why I’m excited to see Gigantic Army finally get a little of the Western limelite.
Gigantic Army then, puts you in control of a ‘GMR-34 SALADIN’ – that is to say a whopping great mech suit as tall as eight double decker buses stacked one on top the other. The kind of giant, lumbering machine you’d be happy to cocoon yourself in if you’re going to land on an alien home world and pick a fight with the natives.
All on your own.
As all mech afficionado’s will know – the singular, most important thing you want from a side-scrolling mech shooter is that, even though you’re just controlling a little bundle of pixels, you need to feel like you’re controlling a stupidly large pile of iron and circuits. In this respect developers Astro Port have really nailed it.
The Saladin feels clunky, heavy, slow and purposeful and with it all the accompanying fx you could want – the thud of metal on stone, the clang of metal on enemy – the whirring and wheezing of servos straining. As much as a big metal thing can – Gigantic Army feels meaty, chunky… badass.
But with that comes a problem. ‘Slow and chunky’ doesn’t necessarily make for riveting gameplay – which is why your SALADIN has been balanced with some innate abilities. First off, a double jump and hover for increased mobility. You can also double tap a direction to make an extended dash along the ground. Lastly you also have a shield for when you want to hold your ground, and a pile bunker – a vicious explosive pike that you can jab at the enemy if anyone gets too close for comfort.
It’s a handy repetoir that opens up a host of defense and mobility options – and so despite Gigantic Army’s undoubted feeling of weight, you never feel as though it’s laborious, or that it’s stifling you. If anything, it’s the means by which Gigantic Army finds it’s hidden depths.
Much like Astro Port’s Satazius (another favourite of mine) Gigantic Army presents you with a weapon select before the game kicks off. You get a choice between three primary and three secondary modes of fire – which essentially means nine different combinations of weapon types to help you.
For primary fire you get to chose between an Assault rifle (steady stream of bullets) a riot gun (shotgun-like spread) and a grenade gun – a slow firing weapon that demands accuracy – but with the added bonus of some splash damage. What seems like a relatively small amount of primary options actually present a number of important tactical choices.
The riot gun for example pretty much removes the need for accurate aiming – at the expense of power – making it a good entry level weapon, while the grenade gun provides great boss damage – but with the need to be very accurate, especially against airborne enemies or in picking out a bosses weak spot. Meanwhile the secondary fire options range from the boss-killing beam weapon to more effective crown control in the shape of the missile pods. Do you sacrifice the ability to get to the boss in once piece in favour of a weapon that can make light work of them? That’s down to your preferred playing style.
Gigantic Army perfectly strikes a balance, allowing you to play defensively, use your shield (though slow and temporary) to anticipate and soak up enemy fire, or throw caution to the wind by hovering and dashing between enemy attacks.
Interestingly, although you’re a lumbering beast of a mech – quick mobility and timing are the key to nailing a 1cc run – an antithesis to how you would expect the game to play. This need for speed and deft movement are testament to the game’s subtleties – and mastering what tools to use and when is hugely satisfying.
This solid kernel for the mechanics is wrapped in a very nicely presented package. The 16bit-style artwork, all olives and greys are nicely detailed and crisp, presenting a foreboding militaristic sci-fi feel and, crucially are clear throughout. The real stars though are the mechs and bosses themselves – imaginative and fluid in their movements, they provide satisfying endings to the journey of each stage.
What Astro Port have created then, is an awesome, iron-clad, destructive delight to both side-scrolling mech fans and indeed ANY fan of shmups. In a world where, by and large, bullet hell shooters continue to dominate the doujin scene – Gigantic Army stomps boldly away from the competition to deliver something that’s at once accessible and challenging, and somehow feels like a breath of fresh air while still tugging at the heartstrings of a nostalgic mech-addict like me.
Given that this will only set you back a paltry $5.99 – this really is not to be missed.
And if you have a spare moment – don’t forget to vote for it on Steam Greenight.
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