Mechs are popular figures in global fiction, from their representation in Gundam to a more recent showcasing in Pacific Rim. Controlling a giant robot which has ridiculously powerful weapons is a fantasy that sounds appealing to many people and it’s that which has brought about the existence of side-scrolling shooter Gigantic Army, taking a lot of inspiration from classic titles like Metal Slug and Front Mission: Gun Hazard.
Gigantic Army has six levels in total which may not sound like much – though it comes out at $1 per level – but they’re challenging enough and with different enemy types across the stages that will always keep you guessing. It’s only once you’ve played through the stages a gew times that their movements start to become familiar and you can exploit the patterns.
The enemy forces aren’t the only thing you need to watch, as each level has a time limit. This limit can be extended by collecting a power up, many of which are contained within destroyable crates, but if you run out of time, your health bar starts depleting and when that goes your Mech explodes. Adding to that challenge, there are no checkpoints during a level and when you lose your three continues you’re sent back to the main menu to try again from the very beginning.
However, there is a practice area available so that you can play through a stage and experiment with the different weapons that are available, with the choice between three regular weapons and three super weapons. During a playthrough you can equip one of each, the regular options being an assault rifle, a riot gun which acts like a shotgun firing multiple rounds at once, and a grenade launcher, while the super weapons include cluster bombs, missiles and an energy beam.
Trial and error is required before landing on your particular perfect combination, with my turning out to be the riot gun and energy beam. Your regular choice weapon does affect how much ammo you can have for the special weapon so planning is important here.
Once your loadout is sorted you can go and make things explode from little mechs to huge bosses that have high damage attacks. To counter those attacks you need to use your shield and jetpack to defend yourself, but the shield can’t be used endlessly as it becomes weaker each time it is hit, eventually leading to its destruction and leaving you with nothing to block with.
Interestingly, once you finish a level and start the next one you’ll notice that not all of your health has been replenished, a design decision links that to the narrative. It’s set in a retro-futuristic sci-fi universe where spacebound humans encountered the Ramulons, leading to territorial disputes and the waging of the Ramulon War.
The story itself is given from the point of view of an engineer who is tasked with repairing the mechs between battles. Though the fight has been taken to the Ramulon homeworld, the engineer’s notes he describes equipment shortages meaning proper maintenance can’t be done.
Though it’s all 2D, Gigantic Army does look good and the explosions as enemies are removed from your path are well animated. Naturally, everything can run at a nice, smooth 60fps and the scenery in the background is also animated as battles take place or as a city skyline changes, which helps to make you feel as part of a bigger force fighting. Just as you can choose your loadout, you can also pick your control scheme, with keyboard and gamepads both supported. Personally, I preferred playing with the pad for aiming.
Gigantic Army is set for a Steam release at some point, having been through the Greenlight process, but is already out now for PC via a few other places like GamersGate and Desure or through the game’s website itself. In case you’re not sold, there’s also a demo, but for the price it is, it’s worth it if you want to take a bit of a nostalgia trip to the era of side scrolling shooters.