Robots (not) in disguise!
Mechs are currently “in” right now, and I’m perfectly okay with that. With Titanfall right around the corner, there couldn’t possibly be a better time for Japanese indie studio Astro Port to give Gigantic Army a western release and put it forward for Steam Greenlight, as it features a wide array of huge killing machines ready and waiting for you to blow them apart with your own huge killing machine.
Gigantic Army is a side-scrolling shooter, a.k.a. “schmup," that places the player in control of a mech with a selection of six weapons: three basic and three special. You can take one basic and one special weapon, of which you have a limited ammo, with you into battle, and you can customise your loadout prior to taking to the battlefield. The weapons are well-balanced, ranging from projectiles to explosives and you can find power-ups in each level that increase your basic weapon’s strength.
Pick a less powerful basic weapon and Gigantic Army rewards you with more ammo for your special weapon, but if you equip yourself with the Grenade Launcher, a heavy-duty piece of equipment that does a great deal of damage at the expense of its rate of fire, then you’ll have to make do with only a couple of rounds for the special weapon. Considering some of the behemoth bosses you’ll face in each level, having less ammo for your special weapon puts you at a major disadvantage, and it forces you to consider your loadout greatly prior to each play session.
These boss battles are the real draw of Gigantic Army, and I found myself eagerly anticipating the next mechanical monstrosity I’d come up against. Thankfully, Gigantic Army doesn’t restrict bosses to just the end of each stage, with it instead pitting you against two or three of them per level. While each 2D sprite in the game is superbly detailed, the bosses really step it up a notch in this department. It must be difficult to attempt to evoke a sense of awe in players using graphics inspired by the 16-bit era, but Astro Port certainly bowled me over with the gargantuan enemies they lobbed in my direction.
Unlike other schmups, Gigantic Army isn’t exactly fast-paced. The mech you control is slow and clunky, though the game does allow you to dash by double-tapping the arrow key or flicking your gamepad’s analog stick twice in the desired direction. You won’t be performing any awesome acrobatic moves in the steel confines of your robotic war machine.
Instead, Gigantic Army favors more methodical gameplay. You’re equipped with a shield that you can use to block yourself from enemy attacks (but which can only take a limited amount of damage) and thrusters attached to your feet which allow you to boost your way out of tricky situations. Initially, playing a schmup where I was not required to bounce from screen to screen was a little jarring, but after a few attempts it eventually became second nature to combine dashing, boosting, shooting, and shielding in my offense.
The only complaint I have with this otherwise excellent game is that the fun is brought to an end very abruptly. There are only six levels in Gigantic Army, and as it only begins firing on all cylinders in its third level in which flying Gundam-esque mechs are introduced, I was immediately hankering for more after completing it.
As it’s a budget title—currently retailing for $5.99 on GiganticArmy.com, GamersGate, Desura, and Rice Digital—I wasn’t expecting a lengthy campaign, but I was not left feeling satisfied upon defeating the final boss, and I can’t help but feel that the forty minutes or so that it takes to complete the game on Normal difficulty will prove to be off-putting for many. While it offers two unlockable difficulty levels in the form of Hard and Insane, it offers little replayability except for those who wish to speedrun it.
This is a shame, because the game that Astro Port has made here is a great one, and it’s my favorite game featuring mechs since last year’s hugely underappreciated Bionic Dues. If you’re willing to accept its short length and appreciate it for the fleeting wave of joy that it is, then Gigantic Army is absolutely a must-buy. If you expect more bang for your buck despite its budget pricing, then you might be left feeling a little underwhelmed by this short-but-sweet adventure.
Code provided by publisher. PC exclusive.