It’s always fascinating to see certain game developers branch out and explore genres they would not usually tackle. Arguably, the biggest recent example of this was Guerilla Games with 2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn. Previously known for exclusively developing first-person shooters in the form of the Killzone franchise, Guerilla blew the industry away with its open-world RPG. Likewise, a developer I have always been excited to see experiment with certain titles is Pokémon developer Game Freak. While having developed seven main Pokémon titles over the span of 23 years (not counting the separate versions, the four remakes or the five improved re-releases) and soon moving onto generation eight with the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield, Game Freak has more than earned the right to branch out from the beloved RPG series. Remaining independent as a developer means that they have branched out a few times over the years with titles such as Drill Dozer for the Game Boy Advance, Tembo the Badass Elephant (which was published by SEGA) and a personal favourite of mine, 2012’s 3DS title HarmoKnight, as well as the upcoming Nintendo Switch title currently referred to as ‘Town’. In 2016, however, the developer produced a small puzzle-platformer for PC titled Giga Wrecker, with a full release following in 2017. Now, two years later, Game Freak’s unique side-project has made its way to PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One thanks to Rising Star Games in the form of Giga Wrecker Alt., an improved re-release with new stages and improvements to the main game and its localisation.
The game’s story takes place in 2035 following an apocalypse caused by a race of robotic extra-terrestrials known as the Ajeet that sees the near-extinction of the entire human race. Caught in the crosshairs of their invasion is a young girl named Reika who is rescued by a mysterious young girl after losing her arm in the attack; however, the young girl is taken just before Reika loses consciousness. Soon after, Reika awakens to realise that she has been saved yet again, this time by a mysterious scientist who equips her with a robotic ARM (that’s ‘Arms Reconstruction and Manipulation) device that allows her to manipulate and control debris. Following this, Raika sets out to learn more about the Ajeet and save the girl that rescued her.
This story is mainly held up by its charming cast and writing as its main narrative itself is in no way unique or even all that engaging. The early moments of the game feel incredibly slow for a game of its kind entirely because the story takes itself so seriously, but after the initial setup, I found myself taking a break from gameplay to read the interactions between the scientist and Reika due to how well their dialogue is written and how interesting the characters start to become when the story focuses entirely on them. The plot itself just gets in the way of this though, and I wished that it wasn’t taken so seriously as near the end it starts to dwindle into sheer ridiculousness. Needless to say, the reward for completing a puzzle is to learn more about the characters, not the events surrounding them.
Giga Wrecker Alt. stands out most with its inventive and fun physics-based 2D puzzle-platforming. Using Reika’s ARM ability, the player can destroy certain walls and platforms and quickly gather the fallen debris up into a ball, which they can then use to attack enemies, transform it into a block to add pressure to a lever or shift it into a javelin to reach a high platform. Each challenge room comes with the option to restart should the physics not work in your favour, an issue that does hurt the game mainly on the basis of it being a physics-based platformer. I found that simply making Reika jump felt noticeably off throughout my entire run of the game, with a small touch of input latency between me pressing the button and the character actually jumping. This would be a little more forgivable if the weight of the game were a bit more lenient, but everything on a downward momentum moves a lot faster than it does on the upward. It’s made less frustrating by the fact that dying has very little consequence, but it is still frustrating to put a lot of work into solving a puzzle just to lose your footing because of an ever-so-slightly misaligned jump and then fall to your doom. This isn’t to say that it’s a problem with the puzzles either though as most are very creative and fun to sink some time into. Of course, they can’t all be hits, and I especially found the bosses to be a little uninteresting in comparison, but the level design is easily the game’s main delicacy.
In addition to the many upgrades Reika acquires throughout her journey, the game does also open up to a skill tree very early on that can be upgraded by defeating enemies and crushing certain terrain. The skill tree itself isn’t the most complex and feels slightly unnecessary due to the minimal impact it actually has on gameplay throughout. Even replacing this with a simple leveling system probably would have felt more rewarding and relevant, but as it stands, nothing you level up through the skill tree is necessarily required; however, it will lead to a more forgiving experience. On top of this, this re-released version introduces an AI companion that Reika interacts with that allows the player to see a hint at how to solve a given puzzle whenever needed. It’s not a huge issue, but it does help with some of the more vague puzzles and opens the game up to those looking to experience the characters and narrative.
While the character designs and cutscene art for Giga Wrecker Alt. are gorgeous, the game’s general look during gameplay and the character animations left me wanting a whole lot more. Reika feels like she’s missing frames of animation in each of her jumps and attacks, and the environments and backgrounds just look uninspired and empty. Couple this with the fact that the camera perspective can be vastly zoomed out during some challenge rooms, making the character and details hard to see, and Giga Wrecker Alt. is a generally unmemorable and plain looking game. The game does contain a beautifully atmospheric soundtrack that lends itself incredibly well to the environments and character-based moments, but it’s not incredibly memorable either unless you’re looking for some video game music to relax to. However, I can’t help but feel that the addition of voice acting may have benefited the game as, despite its gorgeous music, its bland visual design leaves it feeling quite hollow.
Giga Wrecker Alt. is another example of how talented of a developer Game Freak is, outside of Pokémon, of course. Its mostly uninteresting story and underwhelming art direction in gameplay are held up by fun character interactions and charming writing, and the level design is top notch with beautifully nuanced physics puzzles and a gorgeous soundtrack. It’s exciting to see where the team will go from here with their future experimentation projects or maybe even a continuation of this title’s ideas. Either way, it still stands that Game Freak can do no wrong.
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Rising Star Games/Limited Run
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: 30th April 2019