What looks, sounds, plays and feels like an indie game but actually isn’t one? It’s a puzzle-platformer Giga Wrecker Alt. by Game Freak. Yup, the very same Game Freak who launched Pokémon into a phenomenon and turned out generation after generation of pocket monsters to be caught for over twenty years. This isn’t the first diversion outside Pokémon for Game Freak, though, as their resume includes other quirky platformers over the years. Giga Wrecker was originally released on PC two years ago but console players get an enhanced edition with some additional features and editing.
In the near future, a robotic race of Ajith has conquered the earth and wiped out almost all of the human kind. The few survivors hide in the ruins that remains of their heyday - until they’re caught and taken into slave labor camps where they’ll toil until they drop dead. Such is the fate of Reika, our young heroine who’s imprisoned after many years of successful running and hiding. Suddenly, she gets a visitor, a white-haired girl who declares that Reika’s kindness spells an end for the humanity and tries to assassinate her. Reika is left behind mortally wounded, with a severed off left arm and internal damage. In a true Battle Angel Alita twist, a wandering scientist finds Reika and saves her life by turning her into a cyborg. Armed with a multi-purpose arm prosthesis, an enhanced vision, and other augments, Reiko sets her goal to find the mysterious girl, seek the answers to her predicament and wipe the Ajith from the face of the earth.
What ensues from the story set-up is not a run-and-think-later platformer but more of a stop-and-ponder kind. Due to Reikas’s abilities bestowed upon her by her cyborg enhancements, she can smash certain elements into debris and recall it to form a ball of scrap at her command. The condensed debris can be thrown at enemies and obstacles to break them, left behind as a block to help in platforming or transformed into a long-reaching scrap sword. Each sub-world within the game’s dystopic theater of events also represents new means to affect the scrap, like turning it into a super-bouncy rubber. Even if the game is more contemplative than twitchy, there are occasions when you need to run on collapsing platforms or recall the junk on the fly to smash up obstacles ahead. A rudimentary skill tree enhances Reiko’s basic abilities and gives her more hit points. Nothing in it is obligatory but it can make life much easier in the long run.
I haven’t played the PC original of Giga Wrecker but by referencing YouTube videos, I can see that the console version has a new English translation (the original seems terrible!) and there are more teleport nodes scattered around the map for a quick access through different sections. The most notable addition is Dölma, a small robot Reika befriends early on. Dölmä can show solutions to numerous environmental puzzles standing in the way of Reiko’s rampaging revenge, either as pictures or by hovering onto points that are relevant in solving puzzles. Sometimes, though, the pictures can puzzlingly show wrong solutions, not by a mile but still a little off to throw a wrench into the cognitive cog nonetheless. Some creative planning is called upon to sketch out the real solution.
Giga Wrecker looks bit of a mess. It’s like a mixed media collage, combining high resolution sprites and low-fi background images to an odd effect. Maybe it’s a metaphor to reflect poor Reika who likewise is patched together from whatever was available. Still, backdrops are featureless and you’d never know what nondescript platforms and shapes that make up each area are meant to represent if it wasn’t told through the dialogue. Strictly 2D areas make the game map sometimes hard to perceive, getting you often lost among samey rooms. You won’t necessarily know if you’re heading to a right direction in a pursuit of consoles and nodes that open further passages in each sub-level.
Giga Wrecker is hard but not because its challenge would be too steep. After a little thinking pause, puzzle and platforming solutions are often obvious but executing what you have planned out is another thing. Erratic physics modeling and sloppy controls make the game rely too much on trial and error and thus, trying to overcome the gameplay issues become the biggest hurdle in Reiko’s path. In a suspicious move - perhaps to cover gameplay flaws - Game Freak added resetting points to each puzzle room. Activating them take environmental puzzles back to their starting layouts, with enemies and all. Numerous are those occasions where you end up in a dead-end due to the shifty physics that seem to follow different laws at each take on the puzzle. As often you find yourself cursing imprecise controls for missing a crucial jump or mistiming a swing at the enemy.
Control issues are highlighted in the boss fights against feminine robots who want to stop Reiko from causing any more wanton damage to their sinister agenda. You learn exactly what you need to do to counter boss attacks but wonky gameplay takes its unfortunate toll on a poor player, culminating in dozens of needless re-tries when a sudden spell of input lag decides to kick in or physics needed to form assets for you are random.
Many indie games have good ideas but often a limited budget and personnel result in either homespun looks or inherent problems in the gameplay. However, it’s hard to imagine Game Freak suffering from a similar situation. Not only that, they are die-hard professionals at game developing. Considering all this, Giga Wrecker’s mishmash graphics, wonky gameplay and erratic physics make it like a parody of an indie game. It could have been a really well-made puzzle-platformer but somehow, the developer decided to settle with less, even though the console version is a second take on the game. There are obvious improvements over the PC original but the core issues of inaccurate controls and shifty physics still remain. Sad, really, as I so wanted to love this game.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.