Giga Wrecker Alt
Developed By: Game
Published By: Rising Star Games
Category: Action, Platformer, Puzzle
Release Date: 05.02.19
Upon seeing the announcement for Giga Wrecker Alt for the Nintendo Switch, my first thought was that if I ever got to review it, I’d make a joke about not having played Giga Wrecker Standard. It was dumb, but it made me laugh. And then I found out that there was a regular Giga Wrecker released for the PC in 2017, and that Alt is a remaster of that game with some new features. So now it’s not a joke but rather a statement of fact, and I feel less clever, even though I was never clever in the first place. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can focus on the fact that Game Freak made a new game that’s not part of their most famous series, Tembo the Badass Elephant… I mean Pokémon. GWA features action/puzzle platforming gameplay, metroidvania-style exploration, and some pretty darn neat graphics and music, so let’s not waste any more time on bad jokes and awesome elephants.
Wrecked by Reika Rekkeiji
Merciless alien robots known as the Ajeet have invaded Earth and decimated the human population. Anyone healthy enough to work is used as slave labor, the rest are savagely cut down. Former schoolgirl and current bedraggled survivor Reika Rekkeiji has been captured by the Ajeet and sits in a cell awaiting their judgement about her fate. A mysterious woman breaks into the detention area in search of Reika, telling her that she is a kind person… and that is why she must die. She shoots Reika before being captured by the Ajeet, leaving Reika to slowly drift away into darkness… until she opens her eyes once more, in the laboratory of Dr. Koutaro Kouzuki. Luckily, he needed a subject to turn into a battle-ready cyborg to take down the Ajeet, and Reika is missing enough parts to need his upgrades. Using her newfound abilities, Reika sets off to find the woman who attempted to kill her and wreck the Ajeet’s stuff.
The story is a very touching, surprisingly grounded view of a post-robot-apocalypse hellscape. Reika’s evolving, complicated emotions concerning the woman who shot her and her place in the world as a cyborg heroine, the game’s slow revelations about Koutaro’s past, and the development of the Ajeet as humanity’s enemy all make for very compelling storylines. All three elements masterfully intertwine to build a grand, personal narrative that engages from start to finish.
Mega Spectacular Art
Giga Wrecker Alt is simply a stunning game from an art direction perspective. The story is well-constructed and compelling, but the visual and audio design are nothing to sneer at either. The character and enemy designs are cool. The robotic designs, especially Reika’s cyborg parts, are unique and colorful. The backgrounds are detailed and well-designed. In short, the game’s graphics are almost perfect… almost. There are two problems with the game, visually. First, the dialogue text is really small, making it hard to read both in the Switch’s handheld mode and in docked mode on a TV. Second, the game often zooms out to get an entire room on the screen at the same time, which makes Reika and any enemies on screen very, very small and hard to see. When the game is zoomed out like this, it gets very hard to follow the action.
The game’s audio elements are as stunning as its visuals. Giga Wrecker Alt features an electronic-heavy musical score that compares favorably with some of my favorite game soundtracks in recent memory. The thrilling techno beats during boss fights and chill tunes of the game’s exploration elements comprehensively create a futuristic atmosphere. It wasn’t quite as stunning as the music from recent favorite VA-11 Hall-A, but it’s pretty close.
The Puzzle of Survival
Giga Wrecker Alt has some pretty cool gameplay concepts, but the execution sometimes leaves a little to be desired. The basic gameplay is a lot like what you’ve seen before in 2D metroidvanias; you jump around from platform to platform, defeating enemies and unlocking new paths forward. GWA’s unique elements comes from Reika’s ability to accumulate large boulders of debris from any destructible material coated in the Ajeet’s nanomachine blood. Reika gains the abilities to solidify these boulders into square crates to create new platforms to jump from and flatten the debris into a blade to slice through destructible walls – oh, and she can just swing the boulders around as an extension of her regular attack, too, increasing its range and damage. It’s a pretty cool system with a lot of potential, but as I’ve already hinted, it runs into some problems in its execution.
Destroying certain walls or bricks in the proper order is essential to finding your way forward in GWA. Some of the puzzles require you to knock a certain pillar over to cross a spike pit, some will have you drop sections of a floor onto an enemy that you otherwise can’t attack, and some will require you to cut the right pieces of a structure to create a swing to move you between two platforms. The big problem with everything is that the games’ physics are really finicky. If you don’t hit something at just the right angle, or if you’re standing too close to something when you clobber it, or any number of other unknown reasons can cause your intended plans to go awry. Every room has one or more reset points that allow you to try again fairly quickly, but the game’s physics were a constant source of disappointment.
Despite the physics problems, the puzzles are fun to solve in general, but when there are timing elements things get a little frustrating. Relatively long attack windup animations mean that there is a fraction of time between when you hit attack and when the attack happens. Because of the frequently very tiny character models, getting the timing right can be downright infuriating, especially during the boss fights. Most action games ask you to balance reaction speed and pattern recognition with anticipation, but Giga Wrecker Alt leans way too far towards the latter. The timing required is ridiculously tight, and anticipating your actions through to the end of the attack animations often feels imprecise and inconsistent. It’s a frustratingly poor implementation of a cool gameplay mechanic concept.
Cyborg Upgrade Upgrades
Defeating enemies and destroying certain barriers containing blue crystals provide Reika with points she can use to upgrade her cyborg abilities. Every 100 crystals collected gives her one upgrade point, which she can use to increase her health bar, health regeneration, and offensive abilities, among other things. The upgrade chart has certain nodes that can only be unlocked after obtaining certain abilities, opening up even more upgrade options. The chart makes skill progression pretty straightforward, but I have to say it still feels rewarding. Something about a skill tree slot going from the dull, deactivated brown to a vibrant red, green, or blue activated slot just makes me feel good in my soul. It feels like I’m building something. In addition to unlocking new skills, Reika can also find terminals that allow her to unlock new skins for her abilities, like a voxelated skin for her blade ability. They’re purely ornamental, but cool nonetheless.
Giga Wrecker Alt features no touch or motion controls, which makes sense considering it is essentially a port of a PC game. I recommend playing it docked, however, because of the aforementioned issues with tiny text and the game screen zooming out way too far to discern the action. The only other aspect of the game that affects playability has nothing to do with controls; there are frequent load screens during screen transitions and when resetting a puzzle. It’s not that the load screens are long – none lasted more than ten seconds, tops – it’s just that they are very frequent and really break up the action.
TL;DR: Gorgeous metroidvania action/puzzle-platformer partially derailed by imprecise physics and controls.