Developer: Astro Port
Publisher/Localisation: Nyu Media
There's nothing so satisfying as stomping across the battlefield in an enormous walking tank, gears grinding and servos screeching, shredding through unending robot legions with a gun the size of a railway carriage. It's an intoxicating feeling for any mech aficionado, and Gigantic Army absolutely nails it.
I'd expect nothing less, given that Gigantic Army is heavily based on the legendary Cybernator and hails from the veteran Doujin circle behind Satazius. Snuggled within the mighty GMR-34 SALADIN, players crush, blast, smash and generally brutalise their way across an alien homeworld in a one-mech orgy of destruction, facing off against enormous bosses with truly outrageous weaponry. And just when things couldn't possibly get any better, Gigantic Army lets us punch a skyscraper-dwarfing arachobot with a massive hydraulic ram.
Oh baby. I'm tempted to end the review and hand out an Editor's Choice Award right there, frankly, but behind the massive explosions and rampant Pile Bunker shenanigans lurks an impressively versatile SHMUP that's more nuanced than it lets on.
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Ensconced in a lumbering war machine and tasked with annihilating everything in sight, you'll quickly discover that you're nowhere near the biggest mech on campus. Gigantic Army more than lives up to its name, stuffing its six sidescrolling stages with a menagerie of gorgeously-designed enemy robots, tanks, turrets, fliers and bosses that storm the screen in large yet well-balanced numbers. You'll frequently face off against foes much larger than yourself just among the regular rank and file, before running into bosses that rank amongst the biggest we've ever seen. It feels every inch an epic intergalactic war, thanks partly to the three-tiered parallax backgrounds packed with little details, with you right in the centre of the action.
To put "Gigantic" into perspective: the first mid-boss is a tank the size of a small town... and it's just the appetiser.
Desperate times call for the most obscene military hardware, meaning that it's high time we discussed our all-important bipedal tank. So many SHMUPs feature mechs, too many to count, but so few genuinely capture that feeling of power, armour and weight that typifies a truly great mech sidescroller (such as Walker and Cybernator). Enter Gigantic Army, which strives to make you feel like you're in encased within tons of deadly steel. Every step, jump, shot and arm movement feels deliberate and solid, accompanied by appropriately beefy sound effects. The moment you stomp over to an enemy warbot, hit the fire button and skewer its carapace with your hydraulic Pile Bunker ("KRAAAAAAANG!!"), you'll likely fall in love with the GMR-34.
At the very least, you'll crack a smile from ear to ear; whooping and hollering like a complete loon as you bring the rain with merry abandon.
Don't mistake heft for sluggishness, though. A directional double-tap triggers a powerful dash to evade attacks or close to Pile Bunker range. Projectiles can be blocked with a limited shield, or hovered over using replenishing booster rockets. It's nothing new for genre fans, but SALADIN is more nimble than it looks, leading to a surprisingly tactical experience after a couple of brainless (and incredibly short) gung-ho attempts. Having been dragged through the wringer by so many twitchy pattern-memorising bullet hell/danmaku SHMUPs, it's refreshing to play something a little more considered and balanced while still retaining a rambunctious explosion-heavy atmosphere.
Gigantic Army's selection of three primary and secondary weapons initially feels restrictive, but gradually reveals hidden depths. Primary weapons boast infinite ammo and excel at different roles, from the Riot Gun's effortless crowd control to the Grenade Launcher's slow yet deadly barrage. The twist is that your primary weapon directly affects the ammo capacity of your more powerful secondary armament. Guided missiles can clear much-needed breathing space, while the enormous beam cannon deals ridiculous boss-crunching damage balanced out by its limited uses. You'll find a loadout that suits your playstyle through experimentation.
As you can see in my enthusiastic video above, I'm a Riot Gun fanatic who makes light work of fliers and infantry, but my weaker weapon leads to much lengthier boss fights that often end when the timer ticks down to zero [I'm more competent when I'm not jabbering down the microphone - honest!].
Hang on. Time limits?
Unlike Cybernator, Gigantic Army compels players forward with its ruthless clock, inexorably ticking down unless replenished with infrequent bonus pickups. I've never been a fan of time limits and haven't changed my opinion one iota, but in all fairness, at least it keeps you pushing forward and ensures that the pace is always utterly ridiculous.
Despite the time limits, Gigantic Army still feels fair and equitable in terms of its challenge curve, which will put hairs on your chest without ever cheap or vindictive (apart from aggravating land mine placement in level three, which marrs otherwise excellent level design by forcing us into some annoying platforming). Expect three continues and a generous health bar, but no lives or checkpoints. It'll take you a few runs to finally smash through the campaign, at which point, you'll unlock two new difficulty modes that remix enemy attack patterns rather than just buffing health across the board. There's plenty of replayability here, though I'd have loved some local co-op.
Not only is Gigantic Army the best game Nyu Media have ever localised in this pundit's opinion, but it's also their best localisation job to date. All text dialogue has been fully translated without the usual grammatical issues that tends to blight the genre, showing real effort and imagination. Native Xbox 360 controller support and competent optimisation bring the package home.
Don't get me wrong: there are shinier shooters on the market. You won't have to look far to find SHMUPs with more pleasant soundtracks, longer campaigns and more innovative ideas.
But for £3.99, you'll be hard-pressed to find a shooter that's crafted with more attention to detail, replaybility and proper honest-to-goodness fun than Gigantic Army.
- Gigantic mechs
- Gigantic bosses
- Gigantic satisfying fun factor
- Microscopic price
- Time limits (and land mines!) can be annoying
- Uninspired soundtrack
- Apparently some people don't love mechs and SHMUPs as much as I do (but why?)
The Short Version: Gigantic Army is pure bot-crushing, Pile Bunkering, beam-cannoning, dodge-dashing, shield-blocking, mech-stomping, boss-smashing, riot-blasting, speed-running, mind-blowing action at its finest.
Considering the tiny price tag and huge attention to detail, I can't recommend Gigantic Army strongly enough to genre fans and fellow mech-fanciers. A localised legend.