Good games are often made by those who are bored. Whether that’s boredom in general or boredom from making game after game in a long running franchise, letting the mind run wild from this can lead to some new and innovative games.
That’s certainly what Game Freak was aiming for when making Giga Wrecker, a post-apocalyptic 2D action adventure metroidvania with physics puzzles. A few years ago, the minds behind the Pokémon franchise ran what they called the “Gear Project”, which allowed developers room to work on something other than business as usual. A brief look at Game Freak’s history will show you why that kind of thing is important – around two thirds of their games are Pokémon titles, and almost everything they’ve made in the past decade involves Pikachu. As much as you love a franchise, if it’s all you get to work on you will inevitably tire of it.
Giga Wrecker spawned with its 2017 PC release, and a year and a half later we have Giga Wrecker Alt., an updated, slightly expanded version of the game that’s now coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch in a bid to show the world that Game Freak knows how to branch out.
With all that said, it should be little surprise that Giga Wrecker is nothing like Pokémon. Set in the 2030s, you play as 19-year-old Reika – a presumably Japanese school girl who is just trying to survive. A robot army came to Earth in 2035 and all but wiped out humanity; we just didn’t have the technology to stand up to what we were up against and we lost. What’s left of our species is on the run, constantly wondering if they will survive to see the next day. Despite these dark overtones, Giga Wrecker is surprisingly light-hearted at times. The intro is about as tongue-in-cheek as Pacific Rim, it’s about as self-referential as a Broadway show and the writing is basically like every anime you ever watched.
In the opening sequence to the game, someone who says they’re your friend tries to rescue you from prison, gets caught and instead decides to murder you in cold blood while saying it’s for the good of humanity. You obviously survive and become a cyborg with the ability to control nanomachines. It even has a science guy that in no way at all resembles the original science guy from the anime Bleach – except that it totally does resemble him in every way except the colour palette. Still, tropes exist for a reason, right?
Giga Wrecker’s graphics are very enticing. It has the usual visual appeal of 2D puzzle platformers, but with cutscenes told in a tableau with captions underneath. This isn’t how I tend to like my cutscenes, but it actually works here – the art direction is brilliant and the game is just nice to look at. The music in this game is equally beautiful, reminding me of Transistor in terms of quality, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear riffs like this in whatever melancholy song is in the charts this summer. It’s a genuine joy to listen to as I write this.
What’s less of a joy is, unfortunately, the gameplay. I found that Giga Wrecker falls down on three fronts. First, it suffers from the same issues as most physics-based puzzle platformers – objects you place roll away and refuse to land exactly where you want them to, causing all kinds of unexpected chaos. This inevitably leads to you having to reset puzzles until the game decides that you are, in fact, doing it right while standing within the single-millimetre margin of error it allows for. This isn’t the end of the world, but it is certainly annoying. One of the things that Giga Wrecker Alt. brings to the table is that, unlike the original, you have a little robot sidekick that gives you hints with the puzzles. While this is appreciated, you’re still at the game’s mercy when the physics engine is fighting you. Still, some of the puzzles are genuinely tricky, so I guess you take what you can get.
The second issue is combat. Reika interacts with the world by punching things, for the most part. Sadly, despite being the most advanced cyborg on Earth, you have the finesse of a double decker bus. Jumping isn’t as precise as you’d like, which impacts both combat and the puzzle platform bit too, and the combat isn’t all that engaging. You kill robots so you can turn them into floating bits of debris that you whack other robots with, collect the debris you make until you can whack bigger robots with your growing katamari. Once the dust settles you can use all that debris to form the blocks that allow you to navigate the puzzle bit of the screen. This is the main mechanic on which the game is built and it gets quite repetitive in places.
This brings us to the third and final problem I have with the game. While the combat up until the first boss is fairly simple and easy, the bosses are far from it. The first boss demands that you take the aggressive fighting style you’d learnt up until then and learn how to parry. Either you do this immediately with your years of videogame training, or you lose to the game’s finicky controls. Fortunately, after the boss has killed you enough times your science guy radios in and tells you how to win. That amused me, so bonus points there, but the difficulty spike for the bosses is nothing to sniff at – if that’s the kind of thing you struggle with, you will not enjoy the boss fights and may not be able to finish the game.
All that being said, Giga Wrecker Alt. is strangely compelling. Despite my frustration at the bosses, I never rage quit the game. Reika is a loveable character who just wants to know why her apparent friend wanted to kill her for the good of mankind. I’m with her on that; as far as openings go, as anime as that is, it makes for a great story hook. As I said before, tropes exist for a reason.