Wreaking havoc on your eyesight and your patience.
While developer Game Freak is certainly best known for their work on the Pokémon series, they have produced a steady stream of games outside that space, including HarmoKnight and NWR-favorite Pocket Card Jockey. GIGA WRECKER ALT. is an action-platformer with Metroidvania elements. The primary gameplay hook is that you can take debris and parts from defeated enemies and the environment to construct a block, a harpoon, and other objects to solve puzzles, reach higher platforms and destroy menacing robots. Unfortunately, controlling protagonist Reika doesn’t always give you the precision needed to traverse the environment without frustration, and small text and a zoomed-out perspective put a serious strain on your ability to read and see what is happening.
The story begins with Reika in a post-apocalyptic world that has been taken over by sentient machines. Shortly after you meet our hero, her arm is blown off and replaced with a robotic one, but her new metal appendage grants the ability to smash rocks and enemies into pieces that can then be formed up into a ball of debris and used for various purposes. Therein lies the central conceit of GIGA WRECKER: use your powers to explore the environment, turn on switches, and open doors until you get to the boss of a given area and then move to the next.
Very early in the adventure you become aware of the “nanomap” screen that shows the four main areas of the game. Prior to entering new sections or rooms within an area, the map gives you little indication of how the various rooms are connected, nor does it clearly show where you are in a given section. Even after exploring most of a large area you are likely to find the map just as vague and unhelpful. Compared to the map in Super Metroid, for example, the one here is more of a rough outline. Its overly simplistic presentation and lack of detail make it fairly ineffective, which leads into my main concern with exploring this world: it’s very easy to get lost in GIGA WRECKER since many of the environments look the same.
While the exploration is a bit of a drag, the puzzles and action elements are a bit better. Most of the puzzle-platformer segments involve breaking rock segments in the environment to destroy enemies or create stairs or platforms for you to walk on. A fair number of the puzzles also have a hint function that you can use if you are so inclined; the hints themselves can be pretty vague, however, even if you do opt for them. Certain puzzles require that you destroy enough enemies and collect enough debris to create a large square that you can use to push down a switch, and I found these to be among the most satisfying since you needed to scour the room for leftover debris and create large enough debris balls to be able to take out larger robotic enemies. Helpfully, if you do make a mistake or break up a platform that you needed, there is an easy way to restart each puzzle from the beginning.
On the flipside, though, two major issues hold back the action-side of the gameplay. First, the screen is very often zoomed out so that you can see the entire room and plan out what you need to do to get to the other side, but the problem is your character becomes incredibly small—almost impossible to see in handheld mode—and so you can easily lose sight of her and fall into a pit of spikes, for example, which kills you and forces you to start the puzzle over from scratch. The second issue is that the jumping and movement are very floaty and work against the precision you need for certain jumps and for boss fights. Action-platformer games by their nature demand solid controls, but GIGA WRECKER’s leave something to be desired. Even though death is rarely that consequential, it gets annoying to have to repeat the same rooms multiple times due to these two prominent issues.
There is a light RPG mechanic at play as well in the form of a skill tree through which Reika can increase her life meter, speed-up her automatic healing, and improve her abilities. By eliminating enemies and breaking up certain rocks, you can collect energy that can be spent unlocking segments of the skill tree. The boss encounters can be challenging, so it’s helpful to improve your health and healing as much as possible. In addition, you can find blueprints in the world that change what your abilities look like, but the changes are purely cosmetic. For example, you can swap your debris harpoon for a swordfish, which is pretty funny but doesn’t serve any gameplay purpose. Frankly, it was a little frustrating to be unable to distinguish between puzzles and exploration that would move the story forward and those that would reward me with another “useless” blueprint.
GIGA WRECKER ALT. lacks the charm and fun of previous Game Freak titles. I found playing through it more of a slog than a fun way to spend a dozen hours. The music is extremely repetitive, to the point where I would regularly turn it off after entering a new area. I did enjoy fighting the various bosses as they used the game’s mechanics in fun ways and required a fair amount of skill and practice to overcome, but the exploration in between was boring. While some of the puzzles were fun and unique, many ended up repeating the same basic structure and solutions, and even if you did know what to do you would have to fight the controls and visuals to get there. If you are looking for an action-platformer with a unique mechanic, and you can stomach the problems I’ve pointed out, you might find a fun time here. For most though, I’m recommending you GIGA WRECKER “HALT.”