While I regularly bash on Game Freak for their work with the Pokemon series and slow approach to changing things, I really do respect them as a developer. They have such a strong obligation to keep with their titles, a multimillion dollar franchise in the balance, and incredibly high expectations for each new release to do as well as the last and continue selling upwards of 10 million units. I want to look positively not only on their Pokemon titles, as that series is largely why I am into gaming to begin with, but I want to see them show off more creative energy with smaller experimental titles.
The only one I have any meaningful experience with is Drill Dozer, a quirky action platformer released for the GBA that proved to be one of my favorite games on the system. While they have also tried out other ideas, such as the rhythm game HarmoKnight, or Pocket Card Jockey, none have really caught my eyes except for Giga Wrecker, a PC exclusive title that came out of Early Access a few months ago and boasted a striking art style. It is surprisingly obscure given the developer behind it, but after playing through to the end, I think it should probably stay that way, ‘cos it’s pretty bad.
Giga Wrecker Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed) and Mac
Developer/Publisher: Game Freak Inc.
Giga Wrecker is a 2D physics puzzle platformer set in a post-apocalyptic Earth on the brink of destruction by the hands of an alien robotic force known as the Ajeet, who thrust the world into ruin, while also enslaving or abducting any humans they can get their metallic mitts on. The story proper centers around Reika Rekkeiji, a high school girl trying to survive in this tattered world who unceremoniously gets shot by a strange silver haired girl and is left for dead. At least until her body is found by a multi-faceted and surprisingly well equipped scientist, Dr. Kouzuki, who turns her into a cyborg in order to fight against the Ajeet forces and predictably save the world.
From that basic premise, the story proceeds rather plainly, with Reika traversing through an Ajeet fortress of sorts to defeat the commanding officers, the Astras, in the hopes of freeing humanity. There are a few unique ideas, and it does gradually expand as the Ajeet race is explored in more detail and time travel shenanigans are inserted into the proceedings. However, beyond a few nifty lore-based tidbits, the story is nothing special, coming off as alarmingly blasé and generic due to how obvious and predictable its numerous twists and turns are to anybody with at least a passing familiarity in time travel fiction.
Oh, and the story’s presentation is kind of a mess too. Between nondescript text boxes with text too small to be read from a distance, a mythology filled with confusing and similar sounding names, an inconsistent translation that feels like it was translated by a machine half the time, it all feels remarkably unpolished. Almost as if the developers had originally planned on sprucing things up before leaving Early Access, but just abandoned the project as it was due to a lack of time or resources. Which is a sentiment that I would doubly apply to the gameplay.
Giga Wrecker is structured as a series of rooms, some optional but most required, which contain various puzzles for Reika to solve using a repertoire of abilities she accumulates throughout the game. She can demolish certain objects and enemies with her robot arm, collect the debris that her destruction creates, activate certain objects by collecting debris and can then either find that debris or transform it into a block, blade, javelin, or a flying drill.
These abilities give Reika a manageable but resourceful skill set that in theory meshes well with the puzzles themselves, which contain a series of objects that can be used in conjunction with one another to do some admittedly creative things. Such as lobbing a javelin, using the remaining a debris to form a block that lands in a floating gravity well, freezing the block in mid-air, collecting the javelin debris, but not the block debris, and using it to form a blade to cut down a large piece of rubble hanging from above so it can land on the debris block created beneath it, forming a bridge that Reika may cross. While that does sound interesting on paper, the reality of the matter is that the puzzles that make up the majority of Giga Wrecker are rarely ever as simple or intuitive as the example I just gave.
In actually, my example is based on a particularly annoying puzzle I encountered involving similar circumstances. Except this puzzle serves as the player’s introduction to the gravity well mechanic, and is laid out in a misleading and less than intuitive manner. Because of this, I spent a good twenty minutes on the puzzle before I finally uncovered what I was actually supposed to do, and the leap in logic I had to take to get there was downright absurd for a puzzle that is meant to introduce the core mechanic. After completing this puzzle and being granted access to the next room, the game then introduces and explains how the anti-gravity wells work in a small isolated instance that would have made the prior puzzle far, far easier.
Looking over my time with the game, I would place the puzzles into three mostly equally distributed categories. The first category is legitimately well designed puzzles that work well within this game’s limitations and can be methodically breezed through due to their intuitive design. The second category are puzzles where the solution is understandable, but the game’s limitations make the act of reaching the intended solution needlessly difficult and annoying. While the third category were the puzzles so unintuitive that I simply could not solve them, and had to watch an obscure Japanese video walkthrough to tell me the solution.
I mentioned the game’s limitations earlier, and I should extrapolate on that. I already said that Giga Wrecker is a physics based platformer, and it suffers from the worst problem that a game of that genre could, unreliable, unintuitive, or just miscellaneously bad physics. Everything feels like it lacks any true weight to it, with even the giant debris ball that Reika can wield feeling like it is made out of paper mache, and objects based on rocks and rubble having all the girth and weight of a piece of styrofoam. Sometimes the puzzles are so rigid that nothing short of perfection is required to progress, while other times they are so loose that one could easily break through them with an unintended solution that, in its most extreme cases, completely bypasses the puzzle before the player
On top of this, Reika herself does not control that well. With her movement speed being far too fast and sensitive for the precision platforming the game can often demand, while her abilities are hindered by the same unreliable physics as the rest of the game. She is also rather hard to pinpoint at times due to the rather preposterously wide camera angle that the game often adopts to show off how needlessly massive its environments are. All of these factors culminate into resounding mess of a game that I probably would have dropped before the 2 hour mark was up, if it did not seem like a prime candidate for a review.
Although, it was not the bad physics or poor puzzle design that made me question my decision to play this game. It was the bosses. Despite being a puzzle platformer, and built as such, Giga Wrecker features a total of 7 boss battles (3 of which are rematches). During these sequences, the game mechanically shifts into being an action game wherein Reika must avoid the rapid and frantic attacks of enemies while memorizing their patterns, determining what they need to do to damage them, and doing that 3 or 6 times until the battle is over.
It is a very standard setup made distinct by how this game is clearly not made for fast paced action oriented boss battles, how this is a dramatic genre shift that can be difficult to adjust to, and how these battles are surprisingly difficult, and require nothing short of pattern memorization in order to get through certain fights. Like with everything else, these patterns also run the gamut, with some being plainly obvious, while others require the player to make a leap and logic before they can so much as damage a boss.
For example, the very first boss in the game involves hitting a sword as it flies towards Reika in order to counter it and absorb its debris. The player is expected to attack a giant sword that is bigger than the player character as their first introduction to countering, a mechanic not used elsewhere in the entire game. I would have honestly never have guessed that, and only figured it out after the game took pity on me and told me that the swords could be countered like that.
As for how this is all strung together, the game has Reika traversing between 3 bases from a central tutorial area with a detailed 4 part map system that initially reminded me of a metroidvania title. But in reality, the game is very straightforward and simply contains a series of extra puzzles that sometimes gate off progress, and often reward Reika with a skin for her abilities, or a scattering of skill points. Skill points that may be used to build Reika’s abilities in one of the most uninteresting and linearly constructed skill trees I have ever been subjected too. They are used to slowly gain more pips of health, increase Reika’s health regeneration speed, make it easier to earn skill points, and a few passive abilities I barely remember aside from the ability to throw multiple javelins at once, which is also the easiest way to break most puzzles.
Visually, I am actually conflicted about Giga Wrecker. On one hand, the game is hindered by its drawn back camera that makes it difficult to appreciate the small details put on each object and into enemy movement, instead encouraging the player to look at the bigger picture. A picture that the game egregiously distorted by using a screen filter that makes it look as if the game is being played on a dusty or messy monitor. It is such an ugly and distracting visual element that I hoped there was some sort of mod or simple fix to remove, but alas, it seems to be ingrained deep into the game’s code.
On the other hand, the game’s art style is wonderful. GameFreak has some of the best character designers in the industry working for them, and Giga Wrecker seems like one of them exercising their full, true, unrestrained style, and I utterly love it. The stylized proportions of each character, the linework used on their designs, the color schemes, the gorgeous shading that is applied to these characters during the game’s, for lack of a better word, cutscenes.
It is all such a striking style that really does resonate with me and served as the main reason why I was so interested in this game. It’s just a shame that so much of the game prefers to keep things simple with bland sci-fi tech building blocks and repurposed interactables to make up most of the puzzle rooms, which are only given a sense of visual pizazz thanks to the gorgeous backgrounds that exist in most areas. Almost like the puzzles of this game were meant to be easily recreated using a toolset available to all players, and they are, but if the developers could only make a few good puzzles with these mechanics, why would I expect anything better from its community?
Giga Wrecker is an unfortunate little game. One with a compelling premise and striking art style that does about everything it can be to be a murky and mildly frustrating mess most of the time, while still offering a few brief glimpses of what what could have easily been a far better game. It’s story, presentation and gameplay, especially gameplay, are so overrun with minor and frustrating issues that made the game a laborious chore to go through. For as much flak as I give them I know Game Freak is a better developer than this, and that just makes the final product on display here immensely upsetting.