There are some things you grow out of when you get older, but thinking that massive robots are cool isn’t one of them. Whether you like Gundam, Titanfall, or Pacific Rim, we can all agree that a big ole mech suit is pretty much as cool as it gets. There just aren’t enough stompy clompy robots in games, so anytime something new comes along with a big mechanical monster I can control you can guarantee I want to give it a try. Shoulders of Giants goes one better than that, allowing you to control a robot and the frog riding on top it.
The world of Shoulders of Giants is in peril, as an alien menace keeps taking over planets. Thankfully there’s a bunch of animal heroes looking to take the universe back from this purple menace, including our froggy protagonist and its robot buddy. To get to the planets required to end this invasion once and for all, you’ll need to generate HEAT by taking back closer planets one at a time. This resource is generated every time you liberate a world but lost if you fail, so don’t expect saving the day to be simple.
Taking down aliens isn’t easy, and will require all the effort of both the amphibian and mech. The robot handles all the up close fighting, with a range of melee weapons you can slash and smash with. Holding the aim trigger switches you to the frog and allows you to get in some damage with the guns. Switching between the two is the only way you’ll take down the more powerful enemies in the game, especially when you take into account your special abilities.
Our two heroes have three slots each for abilities, which can be used on various cooldowns. There’s a huge amount of variety in these skills, which drop pretty regularly as you take down your foes. The robot can equip all sorts of stun abilities, temporary shields and shockwave attacks, and the frog can drop healing turrets, fire massive lasers and deflect bullets, and so much more. Every single ability you find serves a purpose and is incredibly useful in the right circumstance, but they’re even better when they work together. Combining moves like a spray that makes enemies weak to melee damage with stun moves and sword combos is so satisfying and incredibly effective.
You’ll get to experiment with all sorts of skills too, because between each expedition to another planet you’ll lose your abilities and get to start from scratch. Each of these alien blasting adventures is sort of like a mini Roguelike run, with randomised enemies, equipment and environments to explore and blast your way through.
When you arrive on a planet you’ll be given an objective to destroy all the towers in the current area, which in turn unlocks an obelisk that once approached spawns enemies or even a boss to deal with. Deal with this loop enough times and you’ll take back the world you’re on from the aliens and get the HEAT you need along with a few rewards.
And boy are those rewards worth grabbing. Most important are the new weapons you get for the dynamic duo. These absolutely change the game, with a selection of swords, hammers, grenade launchers and disc guns just waiting to be found as a random drop or reward. I was not expecting the weapons to feel so different, but the melee weapons are especially impressive with wildly different combos, dash attacks and aerial maneuvers to perform.
Alongside the weapons you’ll also get new machine cores, which grant you new starting abilities at the beginning of a run and some passive buffs. While you’re in the hub area you can also buy new skins, recycle stuff you don’t want to craft to equipment, and most importantly pump all of that hard earned experience into the massive skill tree.
The skill tree should help anyone who was almost scared off by the word Roguelike, because when grinding away on other planets you’re always getting stronger. There are basic stat upgrades that boost things like your max hp and damage output, ways to regenerate extra health, and even entirely new offensive moves to unlock that’ll make your life saving the galaxy easier. There’s a real sense of progression with every successful run, and before you know it you’ll feel like an entirely different frog and bot than you were at the start of the game.
There’s so much more depth to Shoulders of Giants than I’ve gone into in this review too. There are side quests that reward you with bonus XP and emotes for things like jumping enough times or dealing damage to stunned enemies, arenas and challenges on the enemy planets that provide extra rewards, and even online co-op for up to four players. I played a few sessions of the game with randoms during my time with the game, and it worked well every time. There’s not a lot I love more than a Roguelike that can be played co-op, so I’m happy to have another after rinsing Ship of Fools last year.
There’s a whole lot to like about Shoulders of Giants, but it isn’t without its issues. The biggest of them is the lack of a map. Some of the environments you’re dropped into are pretty large, and finding all the towers can feel a little overwhelming. Especially when the map has a lot of verticality it can take ages to explore it thoroughly, and I just don’t think it’s a necessary or fun part of the game. The maps repeat pretty regularly too, which means the bad ones come around all too often.
Shoulders of Giants is an action packed game with plenty of progression hooks and variety to keep you coming back for more. The range of weapons and abilities on offer is truly impressive, and the upgrades you unlock always feel so tangible and rewarding. Sometimes exploring the larger areas can get a little tedious, but it’s a small price to pay for this ribbiting good time.
The mix of melee and ranged combat is delightful
So many abilities and weapons to try out
Upgrades feel tangible and rewarding
Has 4 player co-op
The lack of map can make exploring a chore
Not a huge amount of map variety