East Technology was a weird company which made very few games before fading out, but they would find a decent partnership with Taito for a few titles like The First Funky Fighter and Slap Shot. Before that was their alliance with Technos Japan, which created the horribly panned Double Dragon 3, but even before that, they created and published their very own horizontal shoot-em-up called Gigandes.
Apparently, "Gigandes" means "giant beans" in Greek, which has absolutely nothing to do with the game itself, or at least nothing that's visibly obvious. Gigandes in this context is some evil threat which awakens below Earth's surface and intends to conquer the galaxy, so Earth scientists build the Round-37 in hopes of stopping the baddies. The Round-37 is undeniably one of the strangest looking shmup fighters in arcade history, looking more like an escape pod than a ship. Still, it's not to be underestimated as its quirky design is the basis for Gigandes' main gimmick. Button #1 fires the Round-37's main cannon while button #2 rotates the gun 90° clockwise, giving you four directions of coverage instead of the standard "you can only shoot forward" paradigm of supposedly more sophisticated fighters from other games. Your starting gun is a little weedy, so there are three types of weapon pods that you can either get to replace your main gun or slap onto one of the three sides that does not have a gun on it depending on which angle you collide with a power-up box. You can potentially have all four cardinal directions covered simultaneously like a floating compass of death!
You get three weapon types: The standard missile (M), the also typical laser (R instead of L?), and the unorthodox pod weapon (C, for some reason). This last one keeps launching the pod out like a boomerang, but it clings to walls and tracks them for a second before returning to you, making it more ideal for cramped stages. All three of these can be enhanced with the (P) icon, and you can stack them with a less common power-up, the (W), which makes your weapons more erratic and wider in scope. And here's the real beauty: If you lose a life, you respawn on the spot with all your power-ups, unlike most other cruel eighties and early nineties shmups which would punt you back to a checkpoint without any upgrades. However, there are two nasty caveats to balance this out: Losing all of your lives kicks you back to the beginning of the level without any checkpoints, and if you beat a stage, you start the next level without any power-ups. It's a strange form of balancing that ensures you don't get stranded at a checkpoint totally screwed, but it's not easy to begin most levels later in the game.
Gigandes takes you through eight rounds with various levels like a city, the insides of some giant alien octopus, the classic outer-space assault, and increasingly esoteric locales like some strange mythical jungle and an Indian-influenced temple. The graphics are a mixed bag, with the backgrounds looking fairly detailed albeit with some washed-out colors, but the enemy sprites are dully simplistic. Most normal enemy sprites are static while moving, and the boss robot at the end of the first level just slides back and forth like a stable Roomba with barely any animation. Still, their poor animation quality belies their vicious tenacity, as you'll find the screen peppered with bullets even in the first stage. This is where Gigandes' weak processing power comes into play, as slowdown is very likely to occur at several points in the game. It can be argued this is a merciful mechanic, but it does make the game feel a bit amateurish at times. Disregarding the flukes in design, at least most of the bosses after the first one are cool, like this quad-segmented machine that builds laser gates around you before directly shooting, and an inexplicable giant goblin that spits an endless stream of gray globs while a large rotating spiked arm defends it.
Gigandes has a steep challenge curve which just keeps rising until you get to the HR Giger-styled final level, but sad to say, the game would have been better with just seven stages. The last stage ratchets up the challenge insanely with speedy aliens that get in your face and moving walls which restrict your movement. This reaches a head at the final boss, a gruesome segmented worm which, bizarrely, elects not to attack you until you destroy these ten red spheres lodged in between the cracks of its segments, each of which takes more shots to wreck than you'd think. You can only harm it if you destroy these spheres fast enough, but you only have a few seconds to damage it before it spits out missiles and reforms the damn spheres. You have to do this about a dozen times before it dies, provided you don't slip up and have to start from the very start of this already drawn-out stage. Some final bosses have an arsenal of lasers or can tear black holes in reality, but this jerk's primary weapon is tedium. And even after you destroy this wretched worm, your reward for somehow surviving one of the most boring final battles in any shooter is a big fat ripoff. It's possible East really didn't believe anyone would make it to the end, so they either forgot or consciously did not program in an ending, whisking you to the "GAME OVER" screen when you'd at least expect a single image of your ship flying out of an exploding space base. It's bad enough that the final boss was a timer scam, but to be repaid with absolutely nothing is almost insulting. Still, shooters are a genre where the plot is usually gravy, so an ending isn't 100% necessary, but it may make one wonder what's the point of playing to the end.
Gigandes may not be a must-play shooter like just about anything Konami's made, but even if the last stage is cruel, it's still worth playing for its multi-directional gimmick alone. The only other shmup currently coming to mind that allows for shooting in four directions at the same time is Taito's Megablast, coincidentally released the same year as Gigandes by the company with which East would eventually merge. It also has a pretty rad soundtrack which actually got a CD release. The heroic sounding first level theme, the slightly Gradius-esque third stage music, and the vaguely Egyptian level six track are all worth giving a listen. Its fine musical score and fairly innovative gameplay are potential draws, but the chintzy graphics, frequent slowdown, and diabolical difficulty curving up way past the point of sanity at the unsatisfying final level make it a bit of a tough game for all but the most devoted of shooter junkies to really appreciate.