The term ‘Metroidvania’ has been bandied around since the late 1980s, essentially for action-adventure games that feature large interconnected world maps that can slowly be uncovered upon the acquisition of new abilities, tools or weapons. Many, many titles have fit this particular bill and Giga Wrecker Alt. is another such offering, albeit one with the mighty Game Freak as developers. Can the infamous folk behind the Pokémon series of games deliver a fresh take on the Metroidvania sub-genre, or is Giga Wrecker Alt. an experience that’s been seen plenty of times already?
Well, firstly, don’t expect anything even assimilating the Pokémon games and secondly, prepare to be rather impressed at the nifty ideas that Game Freak throws into the mix for Giga Wrecker Alt.. If you can do that then there’s enjoyment to be had in this puzzling adventure, but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to a few faults and annoyances along the way.
Set in the not too distant future, we’re introduced to a world that’s been taken over by robot invaders and the protagonist of the story, a young human girl named Reika. She starts off as a kind of slave to these robots, who ends up on the brink of death after another girl mysteriously infiltrates her cell. Fortunately, a chap known as Dr. Kozuki is on hand to save the day and upon healing her, he kits her out with a cybernetic arm during surgery. Literally armed for action, it’s Reika’s mission to dismantle the Ajeet robot army from the inside and figure out who the girl was, amongst other things.
That’s the story in a nutshell and it ticks along nicely, with a lot of text-based interaction between Reika and the doctor filling in narrative gaps for the most part; the latter of whom is clearly an expert in the field of science, but is also a little wacky and that helps add some light dialogue to counteract against the technical jargon. Personally, I find Giga Wrecker Alt. similar in many ways to Alita: Battle Angel, especially in regards the relationship between the two characters and how they came together, whilst it manages to inject plenty of different aspects into the tale too. There are a few twists and turns which help to keep interest in the goings on too, however the real ingenuity of Giga Wrecker Alt. comes in the gameplay.
In order to hunt down the higher-ups of the Ajeet army, you’ll need to explore numerous inter-connected stages and overcome a variety of obstacles that’ll put your platforming, puzzle solving and combat skills to the test. To progress, buttons must be found and pressed, boss-like enemies defeated, and objectives are required to be filled. There’s a map that shows all of the areas you’ve been to, where there are fast-travel points and a couple of other informative details. As far as maps go, it’s certainly one of the better Metroidvania type offerings, resulting in far less back-tracking needing to be done.
Whilst navigating the 2D environments from right to left, left to right and vertically, relies heavily on being able to jump and move well, Reika’s brand new arm is the real key to success. This cybernetic enhancement gives her numerous abilities courtesy of a power known as ARM – yes, it’s really called that. Using the ARM ability, she can attract and manipulate debris from smashed walls, slain enemies and broken objects. The more debris she draws in, the more powerful her attacks are as she launches her arm to punch with this massive ball of rubble in its orbit. Over time there are much cooler abilities to unlock such as the option to mould the debris into a block to stand on or perform a swift slice with a sword-like construct.
Occasionally, an area will require you to reach the necessary point by creating your own route and here it’ll let you destroy the foundation of some walls to form a makeshift platform. Obviously this can go wrong if you break it up too much or hit the wrong point, but the developers have taken that into account for such puzzling situations by including a warp pad that resets the environment upon activation. The wilder puzzle sections include spiky traps, patrolling enemies and large structural mounds just waiting to be shattered to enable you to reach a coveted switch or door; figuring out how to go about solving them and actually pulling off the solution are two different things.
When you do solve a particularly bamboozling setup though, that rewarding feeling washes over you and that’s all you can ask for really. There are a few really memorable moments where physics, although sometimes erratic and unpredictable, play a huge part in proceedings; with wires needing to be cut to allow a platform to swing into an enemy to defeat it and a ball of debris, coated in gel that makes it bounce, being thrown into a stationery object to get it moving. If all else fails there’s help on hand from a defected robot companion, who can provide a glimpse of the puzzle solution to aid you.
Taking down the enemies is a different proposition altogether though, mainly because each type has different attack patterns and it’ll take varying sizes of debris-fuelled assaults to damage them. There are the weedy looking robots that go down easy, the huge mace-wielding machines that need a big hit, a speedy type that thrusts itself towards you chaotically and a kangaroo style robot that bounces all over the place. While you won’t find masses of enemies, there’s enough to pose a conundrum in your travels and variety ensures that you won’t tire of defeating them.
What you may tire of instead, is dying. You see, for a game full of platforming, Giga Wrecker Alt. suffers from movement issues as it’s like Reika is constantly skating on ice. That’s not ideal when dangers like saws, enemies and even the abyss, are just one misplaced step away. Sure, a death will only put you back to the start of that area in which you died, but sometimes it’s frustrating having to re-do tough sections before faltering at something innocuous that wouldn’t occur if the movement was more precise. It also doesn’t help when the inconsistent physics throw poor Reika into bad situations and she could get whacked once, soar across the area into a rotating blade and then be shot at by a turret all, depleting what little health she possesses.
There is a way to prolong her life and that’s by investing in the skill tree, which is absolutely massive and has a ton of unlockable nodes. To earn skill points, nanocrystals must be collected from fallen enemies, smashed walls etc. These are then used to increase vitality, speed up the health recovery process, improve ARM abilities slightly and much more. Whilst I adore the vast nature of the skill tree, I’m very confused and mildly annoyed at the fact that it includes a lot of nodes that literally do nothing once unlocked.
It’s definitely worth piling your points into the health upgrades though, especially in anticipation of a boss battle, because they are damn hard to stay alive in. The first few attempts will probably see you at a loss as to their weaknesses and what attacking manoeuvres they can perform, but the game recognises a failure when it sees one and slowly feeds info to you via Dr. Kozuki. I don’t want to spoil the strategies too much, however there’s an Ajeet leader that’s equipped with a large sword and timing attacks in relation to theirs is crucial, as is destroying the sword to use the debris from it. Thankfully, dying during the boss confrontations isn’t a problem due to how quickly you can try again after respawning nearby the teleportation device that takes you into the battle.
In terms of visuals, the anime style suits Giga Wrecker Alt. exceptionally well and there’s a great amount of detail gone in to the character designs, including the enemies to ensure they are easily distinguishable. While the environments are bland in regards the foreground, the backgrounds provide a blast of colours within still artwork that scrolls along as the character traverses the area. And even though I’d prefer animated cutscenes, the stationery pictures used are of a high quality. As for the audio and well, there’s not much to be said about the soundtrack as it stands out in neither a good or bad way. It would’ve been nice to have voiceovers, but that’s a preferred personal choice over the reading of text.
For someone who’s often apprehensive about a game described as being a Metroidvania type experience, Giga Wrecker Alt. will be a pleasant surprise. The usual back-tracking element is less of a problem due to the ideas implemented by Game Freak, the boss battles are frenetic but fun and the platforming based puzzles are teeming with ingenious ideas that get the best out of Reika’s cybernetic enhancements. It also helps that Giga Wrecker Alt. is an enhanced version of the PC offering, featuring console exclusive content that definitely adds to the experience; there are more stages to explore, a puzzle solving companion that’s a godsend and a harder difficulty mode for the upper echelon of gamers.
Unfortunately, where it lets itself down is in the movement as the precision is really lacking for a game that often has fine margins for success. There are some questionable moments involving the physics too, which when combined with moving and jumping, can lead to more deaths than needed. All things considered though, Giga Wrecker Alt. is still one of the better Metroidvania-styled 2D action-adventures on Xbox One and so I’d seriously think about grabbing it.