The shoot 'em up genre was one of the very first to crawl out of the coalescing primordial swamps of early gaming, becoming a massive hit in arcades and lovng rooms alike as developers continued to push the boundaries. But by the time the Amiga rolled around, shooters had adopted a set of simple yet universal rules.
- Your character/spaceship/Gunstar Hero is very small
- Your enemies are larger... or legion
- Bosses are absolutely enormous and will merrily crush you like a pathetic insect given half a chance
Got that? Aside from incoming projectiles or swarms, the player was always the smallest and most vulnerable thing on the battlefield; forced to dodge and weave to avoid humiliating destruction at the hands of titanic bosses. That was the way of things since as long as anyone could remember. Since time immemorial. Until DMA Design and Psygnosis decided to redress the balance with a bona fide Amiga gamechanger, that is.
This time, you weren't a terrified little peon facing off against an implacable death machine.
You were the implacable death machine. Carnage incarnate. The Walker.
Towering above the battlefield in a bipedal mech, players could finally enjoy the perspective that bosses had been monopolising for years. Terrified tiny foes scattered like ants or died under your guns - literally ripped apart by your massive calibre chin cannons. And if that didn't work, you could literally squash them underfoot. DMA Design consciously made the action scroll from right to left, literally making you feel like an end-game boss on the rampage.
Who's pushing who around now, SHMUP genre?
Of course, this wouldn't have been much of a challenge by itself, and DMA managed to make the experience exceptionally difficult by giving our adversaries strength in numbers. Small though they were, soldiers were tenacious and versatile; capable of abseiling up your mech or setting up ambushes to lure you out of position. Later levels fielded powerful aerial fleets, air strikes, tanks and even transforming robots. Size mattered, sure, but your guns needed time to cool down and your enemy needed a window in which to strike.
Walker was also a profound demonstration of the importance of sound design. The bassy roar of your firearms, thumping explosions, painfully authentic screams and tense gurgling rush of your cooling systems all fleshed out what was a primitive graphics achievement even by Amiga standards. Walker's smooth animations were let down by some low-resolution sprites and a drab colour palette, but the sound kept us immersed in the fight regardless.
The crude visuals did manage to accomplish one thing brilliantly, though. Brutality. Walker pulled no punches: your guns had a larger bore than main battle tanks yet sprayed out with the fire rate of a machine gun, and human soldiers are soft. And yielding. Oh, so very yielding. Extended volleys shredded entire infantry formations into crimson pixels in seconds, and I occasionally had to stop playing simply because I was appalled at what I was doing.
Though admittedly not for long. After all, it was brilliant fun.
Mech games are few and far between these days, and shooters have definitely defaulted back to their classic three rules now that Psygnosis are known as SCE Studio Liverpool. But for one glorious campaign, we stopped being the terrorised tiddler and became the biggest fish in the pond. It turns out that bigger is definitely better.