Throwback Thursday #1: The hidden beauty of Shade Inc's Destroy Gunners series and why I still love playing it
Lo and behold, the world of Real Steel
Let's face it. It was a glorious time to be alive in the late 20th century, which ushered in the Golden era of sci-fi robot franchises that made a mark in the history of theatrics and dazzled the lives of many with the gargantuan mechas, owing exposure to classics like the G1 Transformers or the 1979 Gundam series. These mouth-watering, steel behemoths came a long way from the clay that shapes the golem that first appeared in classic literature.
Fast forward to the future, technological inventions and breakthroughs assisted in the surge of mecha games across various gaming platforms. Undoubtedly, big names such as the Armored Core series (which spans six instalments) trademarked the breathtaking aerial combat that, during my playthrough, always saw me drenched with sweat from the constant adrenaline rush. But still, I found myself charmed by the prospect of having a portable, general-use device to emulate Ray Amuro at my beck and call and to escape the metaphorical confine of an immobile PlayStation console.
A disclaimer. Yes, this article is sponsored by my younger self from an alternate universe who figured out complex physics phenomena and cracked the code of time travel. So, let's hop on board the boat flowing through the temporal passage.
Enter the universe of Destroy GunnersTake a step back to the early 2010s, a transformative period when the mobile gaming market's potential was still in its infancy thanks to the redefining and transition of smartphones. Risky ventures and strides were made: outliers have carved their legendary status in the hall of fame. Few stood out from the herd, such as unexpected, overnight successes like Fruit Ninja bear the pioneering flag and flourish in the Age of Discovery. Thereafter, the wave of funky games like Subway Surfers and Candy Crush Saga continued to spur bewilderment and dominate in the top-grossing and hottest game section.
Fast forward to the current dayWhile the number of turn-based fantasy medieval and contemporary military-themed games eclipsed the mecha scene, notwithstanding its niche quality, I have had the pleasure of experiencing a fair share of such games. One example is Super Mecha Champions - a one-of-a-kind game where battle royale meets Japanese-style, humanoid mecha, decorated with Fortnite aesthetics, though the build-and-battle element is missing. Naturally, the options are evenly matched for its Western brethren, with its medium depicting mechas as cumbersome and appearing as non-human as possible.
Filling that gap is War Robots (Formerly Walking War Robots, abbreviated as WWR) - which instantly resonated with me. Fond are the days when I marched proudly across the desolate ruins with the GI Patton. Its standout feature is the four middle weapon slots that allow flexible arrangement. True to my motto to demand maximum destruction, I outfitted the weapon with four Pinatas and stealthy manoeuvres to unleash a deadly barrage.
Now backtracking to the 2010s for the umpteenth time
While the early stage of mobile gaming is devoid of any solid mecha action, I can proudly say Shade Inc is one of the few pioneers that built a legacy during the mobile boom with the Destroy Gunner series. The first version graced the stores in 2011, followed by a deluge of releases such as IceBURN, Sigma and the magnum opus that happens to be one of the most up-to-date on the stores, the SP series.
Not only that, you get two games neatly packed in one app namely the alpha and beta series (the Greek naming convention will never cease to impress me). Indirectly, it pays homage to the Muv-Luv series which originated as a romance visual novel that took a dark turn into an alien apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganza.
Its premise is set in stone with the world besieged by an unsightly species hailing from outer space that calls themselves the BETA. Of course, the character development and chemistry are remarkably constructed - demonstrated in the Alternative series that's regarded as the peak of the franchise. The main star of the show - Tactical Surface Fighter - caught my attention with its fighter jet-infused elements.
Ace in the hole! Gripping Musou-style gameplay
Whew, with the long-winded expository banter aside, let’s dive right into the juicy element and, yes, some of the instalments are lost to time and as such I will only gloss over the SP series. The main draw that had me head over heels in this series will be the combat which bears striking resemblance to the ones seen in all iterations of Muv-Luv.
The novelties of Destroy Gunners lie in fighting your way out of a swarm of mobs that flood the battlefield. Nothing comes close to the gritty satisfaction of crushing grunts. The mission agenda might have a twist, a case-in-point-based defense where you guard your tiny pod against countless, restless waves of rogue cannon fodder. While the single-player campaign's length leaves a lot to be desired (9 normal missions and 18 high-difficulty missions) with battles typically ranging under 10 minutes, looking from the other side of the lens, there is a high replayability value.
Yay! Customisation galore
Every mecha fan revels in the delight of customising their workhorse. To meet that tendency, your mecha is retrofitted with an array of weapons that range from the standard affair of ballistic artillery, laser beams and cluster missiles with the bonus of knuckle dusters as the sole melee option. The biggest boy of them all is the rocket launcher perched on your mecha's backside. Utility-based options are included as part of the equation as well, most of which can enhance your ATK output, ammo capacity and higher chances for spoils of war.
When it comes to utilities functioning akin to passive abilities, mundane moments are never present as the customisation options are vast with a gallery of upgrades and mecha parts to mix and match. But I will be damned to spill the sweet part. There is a mobility upgrade that enables your mecha to glide across the battlefield instead of sprinting, du reste, you can be temporarily airborne with a jet thrusters upgrade to evade gunfire. Now that's the recipe to coolness and a step closer to emulating the Muv Luv mecha skating across the fields with their thruster boosters.
General sentiment had it that new is always flashy. After all, who wants to turn their backs on the stylised, neat user interface to one that looks like it's from the 90s? On the contrary, the old, Matrix-inspired neon green and blocky interface miraculously fit like a glove to Shade's line of Destroy Gunners series, after all, retaining that militaristic vibes without all the flamboyance highlights its charm more radiantly.
You're not the only one...
To stimulate your cognition and coordination, rest assured there are elite-tier bosses with boundless bloodlust and a penchant for initiating a duel. One particular one that piqued my interest is the Char Aznable-like dual wielder mecha with that regal samurai aesthetics. Another stand-out is a highly agile double barrel tank with a recurring appearance across different titles.