It’s kind of rare to see Japanese indie titles get much screen time in the west, but developers Astro Port are one of the exceptions with their latest digital release, Gigantic Army. For the less initiated, Gigantic Army is a mech side scrolling shooter released a few years back in their native land. With 16-bit era counterparts such as Assault Suits Valken and Mechwarrior on the SNES being paid some serious tribute, we take a look to see how this latest version, boasting new features and re-balanced gameplay, holds up.
Game: Gigantic Army
Developer: ASTRO PORT
Publisher: Nyu Media
Reviewed on: PC
Not all Astro Port’s outings have given much insight to the carnage that’s unfolding on screen. Gigantic Army, however, lays out the scenario efficiently enough to warrant some attention. Set in the 21st Century, the Ramulons are an alien race hellbent on stopping humans expanding into space. With war inevitably reaching the Planet of Ramulon itself, you’re tasked with piloting a mech to essentially get in amongst it all and show them how us humans get stuff done.
More narrative is added via a memo pad that acts as the unnamed protagonist’s journal in between missions. The overall feel of the game is portrayed in similar fashion to the way over-the-top action movies may have done it 25 years ago; the text is often vague and inconsequential but intentionally so, because that’s how games did it during that time. Gigantic Army captures the essence of that gaming period exceptionally well – in the visuals and in the way the game is presented. It’s easy to appreciate the developers’ obvious passion for that era, thanks to the game’s clever execution of nostalgic design.
That design, from a retrospective view, is a largely beautiful one. Visuals and animations are super smooth, along with some decently varied level design that also works vertically by putting the mechs rocket boost jump mechanic to good use reaching higher platforms. Backgrounds waver between highly detailed canyons all the way to non-existent cavern darkness. They’re all okay, but some foreground objects lack the depth and imagination to really bring the game to life. For the most part however, you’ll find the 16 bit soundscape and visual presentation is captured well.
If you had ever played any of those old SNES games you’ll feel right at home with the gameplay, too. The aim is to guide your mech through several levels of platforming, under constant pressure of laser fire and explosions. It’s an arcade title that demands quick run throughs on a timer, with an unchangeable customised loadout at the very beginning. There’s 3 main and 3 secondary guns to choose one of each from, and they all offer different shot power and spread that suit whatever playstyle you’d prefer. This will be your loadout through your entire game, with only a few weapon boosts, health and time extension pickups to be found along the way.
There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of fun to be found in Gigantic Army’s shooting mechanics, although it might take a little while to adjust if you’re coming off the back of some regular or twin-stick shooters. Pointing the direction won’t aim your weapon; you’ll have press up or down to aim and stop firing to aim the gun again. It’s jarring at first but once you persevere it eventually begins to feel natural and the game really becomes enjoyable. It’s the same on keyboard or gamepad, along with the other controls that allow a shield, a jump (with boost when held), and your secondary weapon – the one that really brings the pain.
Gigantic Army is only a short game so don’t expect sprawling levels and endless new scenarios. There’s around 6 stages with multiple difficulty modes that open up some new enemies whilst kicking up the aggression on existing ones. You’ll comfortably get through the game in under an hour but coming back to beat scores and times is more in keeping to what this arcade title is gunning for. It’s by no means easy, though. You’ll only have one life throughout the game so once you begin raising the level of difficulty, completing the game is far from a guarantee.
The feature list is also a little thin which may harm replay value. You can watch your playthroughs back which is a nice touch, but bearing in mind the length and nature of the game, unless you’re a massive fan of the genre and/or era, it may not be something you aspire to play repeatedly over the long-term – this is quelled somewhat with the steam version that’s said to add achievements and trading cards. This latest western version also has re-balanced gameplay from the original, so adding that and the Steam extras all into the equation, it’s easily the most definitive version available.
Astro Port have done a decent job recreating a retro-driven arcade shooter that ticks several boxes. Some more detail in visuals and narrative, along with some added incentive other than scores and time beating would have taken this indie title to another level. As it stands, even for those that aren’t fans of the genre, it still remains a fun mech-romp that demands short-term replay and comes with the added bonus of a ‘would be rude not to’ price tag. For that reason, Gigantic Army is easy to recommend, in spite of its slightly thin content.