Gigantic Army

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Astro Port for PC and Linux, released in the US in 2014.
The mech-based action shooter genre is a small one, but it has had a number of standout titles over the years, including the likes of Target Earth and Cybernator (both part of the greater Assault Suits series), as well as Metal Warriors. These games feature large slow-moving mechs with multidirectional aiming and heavy firepower, slogging their way through an array of robots and other mechanized baddies. Gigantic Army is built upon this core design philosophy, and offers a few new touches of its own.

As is typical of the genre, the mech in Gigantic Army moves slowly and clanks around noisily as it walks. There are numerous small touches that are meant to lend scale to the otherwise small character sprite, including buildings and cars that are dwarfed by its size, a spray of spent shells as the mech fires, and large fiery explosions from every destroyed enemy. In the backgrounds of the outdoor environments, war rages on, with distant ships flying over a parallax-scrolling landscape and firing their weapons, offering additional depth to the scale of the campaign.

The mech has a 1.5x nonvariable jump and a limited-use boost assist – called Vernier – that allows the mech to make long horizontal leaps and slowly extend its jump to 3x. The boost meter recharges at a moderate rate when not in use, and it doesn’t require that the mech touch the ground again before it begins to refill. The boost can also be reengaged in the air, allowing the player to feather the controls a bit for extra precision to time a proper landing or pass through a narrow tunnel lined with land mines. Falling from any great height stuns the mech momentarily before it can move forward again, unless the player makes use of a well-timed boost to prevent a hard landing.

The mech can face to the left or right and slowly aim its cannon in all directions as the player presses UP or DOWN. Once you start firing, the mech’s aim remains locked that direction while you are free to move about. This is a core strategy for dealing with bosses and enemies at different heights while dodging enemy fire. The player must regularly deal with enemies on raised platforms or on sloped surfaces and must make frequent corrections to his aim.

All primary weapons fire repeatedly, as long as the button is held. But when the mech gets close to an enemy, tapping the ATTACK button unleashes a quick and powerful punch rather than a spray of bullets. This is handy for dealing with up-close weak enemies without redirecting your gunfire. However, the design is in contrast to most mech games where melee attacks are assigned to a separate button.

In fact, much of the game’s design is built around a simplification of the controls, allowing players to move, dash, lock their aim, jump, boost, punch, and fire primary and secondary weapons with just the directionals and two additional buttons. Again, this is in contrast to other games in the genre that feature separate lock-on buttons and multiple inputs for various kinds of attacks, for better or for worse.

On the one hand, it prevents situations where players need to manage three or four combined button presses in order to move and take down enemies at the same time. On the other hand, a bit of that control-heavy precision is sacrificed. As such, players must learn to let off the ATTACK button periodically to readjust and quickly re-lock their aim, and dashing is only available as a double-tap FORWARD, rather than a separate button press. The shield is still assigned to its own button and must be manually aimed in order to properly absorb enemy fire, although it has its own meter and will eventually be destroyed once it takes too much damage.

At the start of the game, the MCR – or Manned Combat Robot – can be equipped with one of three infinite ammo primary weapons, and this loadout cannot be changed during the game. The available weapons include a fast but weak assault rifle, a riot gun with a wide spread shot, and a powerful but slow-firing grenade gun that allows the player to toss exploding projectiles in a straight line to destroy multiple enemies simultaneously with large explosions. The choice in weapons is balanced somewhat by their weight, as the strongest weapon (the grenade gun) is also the heaviest, which limits the amount of ammo that you can carry for your secondary weapon.

The first of the three available secondary weapons is the cluster bomb. This weapon can be a bit difficult to use, as a rocket is launched into the air and then explodes, raining down a localized barrage of explosives. Players may carry as many as 18 cluster bomb shots when combined with the assault rifle, or as few as six with the grenade gun. Second are the all-purpose homing missiles which launch from the top of a mech in a swarm with tight seeking ability, allowing the player to dispatch a screenful of small enemies or hammer a boss in its weak point to deliver fast damage. Lastly, there is the Ranger X-style beam gun that unleashes a powerful energy blast in the direction you’re facing. At maximum, you can only carry three beam gun projectiles, and when paired with the grenade gun, you only get a single shot.

Ammo for secondary weapons is automatically refilled between levels, but there is no way to get additional ammo during the level, so it’s best to hold them until they can be put to maximum effect. There are a number of available pickups that may be found spread throughout the levels within breakable metal crates. These include “P” icons that offer small increases your primary weapon’s power, as represented by slightly larger projectiles. Taking damage reduces this power level by one unit.

An unusual pickup comes in the form of a “T” icon which represents time. Unlike most mech games – which tend to take pride in their slow and methodical approach – Gigantic Army’s levels are strictly timed. If you don’t kill the end boss before the timer reaches zero, the screen will start flashing red, and a few seconds later, your mech will unceremoniously explode. For each “T” icon collected, 15 to 30 seconds are added to the clock, but you still need to stay on the move if you wish to finish the level within the time limit. This design essentially forces the player to make minimal stops on his way through the level and to destroy minibosses and bosses as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Players can also collect health restoratives, which are available from small or large “H” icons, but these only restore a small amount of health. The mech’s life bar is 10 units long, and the large “H” icon only restores one unit, so players cannot rely on health restoratives to push through the game by brute force alone; they must learn the proper strategies for dealing with enemies, avoiding fire, and blocking enemy attacks.

In addition, the player’s health is not fully restored between levels, but only replenished by a couple of units, thus allowing recovery from incidental damage only. If you barely scrape by the end-level boss with a sliver of your health, chances are that you’ll die early into the next level.

What’s more, players do not have infinite lives or continues, nor are there checkpoints spread throughout the levels to record your progress. If you die, you have to start the level again from the beginning… and you only get three continues. Use them all, and it’s back to the title screen for you. If you’re having trouble moving forward, the game offers an Easy mode, and players are able to practice any previously-visited level in order to increase their skills for a dedicated start-to-finish run. Players can even save a replay of the progress they made on their first continue, should they wish to study it and pick apart their own mistakes later.

Dedicated players who make it through the game on the Normal difficulty setting will unlock Hard mode, and there’s an Insane mode above that. In addition, truly skilled players can further measure their skills with additional score bonuses. These include large bonuses for any “H” or “P” icons picked up when the mech is already at full health or power. In addition, an end of level summary awards bonus points for the amount of time left on the clock and the amount of health left in the mech, offering higher scores for truly outstanding runs.

The game features numerous boss encounters, with one end level boss and at least one miniboss in each of the six levels. The game’s limited continue system and timer require the player to learn the bosses’ patterns to dodge or block incoming fire and to deal damage quickly. At the start of each battle the boss’ weak point is highlighted so you know where to concentrate your firepower, and these weak points remain exposed throughout the battle.

The larger bosses tend to be easier to defeat as they move more slowly, allowing you to aim your primary weapon directly at their weak point and/or unleash a barrage of fire from your secondary weapon while dodging attacks from a distance. The smaller, faster-moving bosses are tougher to deal with as you have to constantly stay on the move and adjust your aim, and many of these bosses can get up close for melee damage as well. The slow speed of your mech makes it harder to get away from these enemies while they’re advancing and harder to catch them with a concentrated spray of fire. The control scheme also makes it somewhat difficult to make quick control adjustments while also readjusting your aim and locking it in position.

The game’s story is told through an introductory text scroll, as well as a series of log entries from one of the MCR mechanics preceding each mission which appear as text over a static background. These log entries are neither compelling nor well-translated, and they even have problems with formatting and corrupted characters. The game takes place in an alternate 2009 where the Terrans are fighting a war against an alien race called the Ramulons.

Gigantic Army was developed by Astro Port, a doujin studio based in Japan. The game was originally released in Japan in 2010, and the updated release offers rebalanced gameplay. Astro Port is not a stranger to the mech suit action genre, as they also developed Steel Strider (2013) and Armed Seven (2009). In addition, the studio has developed several shmups, including Wolflame (2013), Satazius (2011), Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser (2009), as well as tank action games Adventum (2010) and Super Tank Warfare : Adventia (2012).

Gigantic Army was published by Nyu Media, which focuses specifically on doujin releases. In addition to publishing several of Astro Port’s titles, Nyu media published Yatagarasu from developer PDW: Hotapen, RefleX from developer Siter Skain, and Eryi’s Action from developer Xtal Sword.