When thinking of the legendary Japanese developer Game Freak, the vast array of Pokémon titles instantly springs to mind. We've seen these games take us on journeys across vibrant worlds filled with diverse creatures, with each becoming more inventive than the last. With this being said, what may surprise a lot of people is knowing Game Freak actually didn't start with Pokémon. When the company was first founded - thirty years ago - they spent around seven years developing a host of different games, of which only the most committed fans will remember. So, when we heard about Giga Wrecker - originally seeing release on the PC, before being ported to the Switch, PS4, and Xbox One - we were ecstatic to see the team flexing out of the routine they usually find themselves in.
Giga Wrecker Alt. is the update of the 2017 PC original. Set in a future where Earth has been invaded by robots and ravaged to the brink of destruction. The story follows a young girl called Reika, who is saved from death through the process of cybernetic augmentation. Reika travels across these dangerous lands in search of answers while the fate of humanity rests on her shoulders. Throughout the journey, she will have to solve physics-based puzzles with the arsenal of weapons she creates using debris as she attempts to save mankind from devastation.
This 2D action-adventure is a long way from the world of Pokémon but it's by no means less entertaining. The complex but varied puzzles the game offers, which are different in every room, require players to be both ingenious and almost flawless in how they approach and perform actions to pass them. Likewise, the physics used within each puzzle adds a whole new layer to the game, which means there can be several solutions, even if it means 'cheesing it' sometimes.
To become a master of puzzles in Giga Wrecker Alt. and really begin exploiting the physics, one must also become a master of the game's mechanics. This is no small feat as it has quite a diverse control scheme. Aside from movement and jumping, one of the most notable core mechanics in the game is the recall function, which allows Reika to amass the glowing debris into a ball from which she can create tools from. This clump of metal can twist and turn into a varied selection of items, but it can also be used to attack, either as a mass of junk or as a sharp, constructed sword. The sword feature can also surgically decimate parts of the game world which can be broken, whereas the mass of junk will brute force anything it comes against, which is where we see mechanical differentiation start taking effect.
Sometimes the heap is useless as it is and needs to be transformed into a block which can be jumped onto to reach new heights or even weigh things down. Likewise, there are other tools that Reika can craft, such as a drill which can burrow through soft environments without the need to be close to them, or a javelin feature which when fired into a wall can be used as an impromptu platform. The final tool of note is a temporal reset function - when a level has been irreparably altered it can be taken back to its original state. This feature also plays heavily into the story of the game and how everything progresses, so be ready to face a Groundhog Day-esque questline.
As for how Reika interacts with the parts of the levels that cannot be broken, this can sometimes be quite clunky. Throughout our playthrough, we frequently would be eliminated by spikes even if we didn't hit them, i.e. sometimes being killed by them when getting near to the under-side of them. As well, it's worth noting we found enemies didn't necessarily need to connect with Reika in order for the damage to register, which can be frustrating. All in all, though, this was one of the few negatives we found during the game which may seem inconsequential, but as more time is spent with the title, these sorts of events seemed to add up.
Giga Wrecker Alt. also has several boss fights throughout the game, each of which utilises their own mechanics, resulting in a variety of entertaining conflicts. These are notoriously difficult and will require several attempts to understand the routines and then take down, but they do add a whole new level to the gameplay. In general, this is how the majority of the game plays out. It's a tough love scenario, as you play more it frequently punishes you for mistakes until you execute what's necessary, perfectly. We like to think of the game as a Mr Miyagi and we're the doting student training through failure and learning from our mistakes.
Before jumping into the unique art style and the unexpected cosmetics in the game, we should point out two features we noticed. First of all, the game has a lot of loading screens, each lasting around eight to ten seconds, which often breaks immersion. Secondly, unlike Pokémon games, Giga Wrecker Alt. does not allow the player to save at any point, meaning frequent trips to the known save points are recommended, something we learnt the hard way. Anyway, as mentioned earlier, the game features an anime-styled world, as well as pop-up conversations bringing chunks of lore and story to the player. Also, players can unlock a variety of skins, which bring a humorous touch to the experience.
Finally, it's worth being aware the game has an overwhelming skill tree which spreads further than we ever imagined, sort of similar to how the game never seemed to end, which was interesting considering its variety. This embodies Game Freak's knack for managing to get the absolute most out of limited space, and the relatively concise but seemingly endless Pokémon regions spring to mind in this regard.
Overall, Giga Wrecker Alt. is a challenging but enjoyable experience, which any action-adventure or Game Freak fan will undoubtedly be pleased with. However, the consistently punishing nature of the game combined with the sometimes-cumbersome damage registration will entice frustration and may be off-putting to less versed players.