Giga Wrecker Alt. Review (Switch eShop)
Early on in Giga Wrecker Alt, a side character delivers some meaty world-building and then meta-jokes that ‘new IPs have it tough’ (to the confusion of the other characters). It feels like a joke designed for a game better than this one. It’s also a little ironic coming from developer Game Freak, who presumably have some share in lead franchise Pokemon’s ninety billion dollar lifetime revenue, and aren’t relying on this new IP to be successful at all. Maybe it’s that lack of investment, or maybe it’s the fact this was essentially made in spare time as part of Game Freak’s experimental ‘Gear Project’, but Giga Wrecker comes out feeling like not enough time was spent on programming, testing, and refining. It’s a shame since the game seems to have a lot of thought put into the initial concept and design. It’s sad that it just largely comes through as wasted potential.
Let’s start at the beginning: you play as Reika, a nineteen-year-old anime girl. She’s angry at the alien robots (Ajith) who have nearly completely destroyed humanity. After being imprisoned by said robots, then nearly killed for mysterious reasons by another teenage anime girl, then rescued and cyborg-ified by bored medical genius Dr. Kozuki, she’s got the means to act on that anger and defeat the robots once and for all. It’s a fun setup, and as you may guess isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. The game paces its opening well, and while it can get a little bogged down in some awkward turns of phrase and a need to make everything in the game a Proper Noun, the plot is reasonably entertaining the way through. Certainly not a masterpiece in storytelling, and there are some minor plot holes and localisation quirks, but it’s pleasant, melodramatic, and fun.
Reika’s cyborg arm is the focus of the gameplay. Stripping the aforementioned proper nouns away (the game explains this as nanomachines, tachyons, Ajith Technology, ARMs, etc…), you’ll use your arm to break robots and terrain, breaking them up into little pieces you then collect into a giant ball of debris. You can then transform this into various tools to help with puzzle solving – breaking robots and terrain in just the right way to let you access various switches and the doors those switches open. A physics engine underlies this, so if you break a platform’s connecting points, it’ll fall down, maybe crushing a robot or covering a spike pit, or forming a ramp to let you access a higher area. This core concept is built on through the game but doesn’t dramatically change – most of the game is these puzzle rooms. In general, these are really nicely designed. Solutions are rarely super difficult to work out after a little experimentation, and the escalation in difficulty is nice and smooth throughout the game. You’ll acquire new tools like a javelin and a drill as you play which shake up the puzzle solving, which is a very Zelda touch. There are also ‘tachyon’ stations which will reset a room to its initial state, allowing for some forgiveness in mistakes made, and a sidekick character who at specific terminals will provide assistance in completing puzzles. This makes working out what to do rarely a drag, and you’ll never be ‘stuck’ trying to work out a puzzle in order to progress. There are boss battles, too, each with their own do-this-three-times-to-win mechanic, and similarly you’re filled in on how to beat them once you die a few times.
So this all sounds very positive after that downer of a first paragraph, but here’s the problem: despite the game being designed well, it’s very very difficult to actually play it. Neither the character controls or the physics engine have any predictability or consistency, and it leads to endless frustration. It’s impossible to tell how far you’ll actually move when you hit a directional button, so if you try to sidle up to the edge of a platform you’ll inevitably run off. Your character isn’t beholden to the same physics as the world, either, so when you do fall off a platform you tend to travel an absurd distance forwards. If you touch an enemy or an environmental hazard, you’ll be thrown a huge distance backwards. The game demands a fair amount of precision in its jumping, as well, which just isn’t executable. Your character just constantly feels bad to control, and so many deaths are purely the result of an inability to line a jump up because you can’t predict how far you’ll go on a given button press.
Environmental physics, too, become a nightmare quickly. Here, it’s less that things aren’t consistent, but more that precisely lining up platforms to fall in a specific way is arbitrarily difficult. The sidekick-hint system will often show you what the solved state of the room looks like, but there are times where perfectly executing what the game has told you is the solution will result in failure. I lined up platforms as instructed to guide a laser into a switch, yet I had to reset multiple times despite doing the ‘correct’ solution as a platform had fallen half a centimetre to the right of where it needed to be. Another situation had me create a ramp, but the first so many times I tried, the ramp would fall in a way making me unable to climb it. The game seems to arbitrarily decide what is a wall, what is a floor, and what it would be more convenient for you to pass straight through – a great idea to stop you getting trapped, but more often you’ll be sighing as you fall through ramps you’ve created and slide back through walls you just jumped over. Multiple loose objects will also strangely bounce and float awkwardly off each other, so any loose debris from necessary environmental destruction can throw off your ability to complete a puzzle, and if you need to jump onto an object it’s likely to tip over and throw you to your death (if you can get yourself to jump onto it in the first place, that is).
There’s also the matter of the visuals. The art style is for the most part perfectly adequate, channeling a kind of 90s anime charm, but it’s the lack of distinguishing between foreground and background and a terrible camera that sabotage any good design work. Sometimes the camera will zoom so far out that the detailed designs just look like noise against a noisy background, and it’s easy to lose track of where your character is on the screen. Some animated backgrounds, particularly in the mine area later in the game, are intrusive on the foreground. There’s also the matter of hitboxes not lining up with sprites – you can run underneath swinging saws that look far too close the ground to make it past, but then you’ll be hit by enemy fire when it looked like it would pass right above you. It makes most of the game hard to keep visual track of, and there were instances where the camera would suddenly zoom, I would lose track of things on the screen, and Reika would plummet to her death yet again.
It’s all well and good to have a solid, proven design, and some interesting ideas for plot, aesthetic and gameplay, but when you’re slapped at every turn by slippery controls and difficult visuals it makes things very, very frustrating. Dying repeatedly doing tedious single jumps in not-particularly-challenging levels sure Wrecked my Giga. I don’t think it’s impossible to have fun here, but I’d recommend seeking out a better Alt-ernative.
- Clever level design
- Good hint system
- Imprecise controls
- Hard-to-read visuals
- Messy physics engine