Despite the fact its often working on the next entry in the eternal cultural phenomenon that is Pokémon, Game Freak every so often takes the time to cleanse its creative palette with something that doesn’t involve pocket-based monsters. The most recent of its side forays was Giga Wrecker, which smashed its way onto PC two years ago, and while it’s a world away from the top-down beast battling of Game Freak’s usual fare, this puzzle-platformer has a similar level of quality you’ll instantly appreciate.
Finally ported to consoles as Giga Wrecker Alt., this little open-ended 2D side-scroller has some grand ideas when it comes to puzzles and how you interact with the world around you. Everything centres around one Reika Rekkeiji. Following an invasion by an army of ravenous robots, young Reika is locked away in a cell and seemingly left for dead. That is until another equally young heroine blasts open her cell and shoots her. Now definitely left for dead, Reika is rescued by the snarky yet brilliant Doctor Kozuki, who uses the technology of Earth’s new robotic invaders to rebuild our leading lady with cybernetic implants.
So yes, it’s very Mega Man (with a sprinkling of 2D Castlevania), but the actual gameplay itself is more focused on puzzle solving than nails-hard combat. With her new metallic limbs, Reika can now smash her way through giant blocks, including smashing up and smashing down to access new areas. Destruction is physics-based, so columns of rock will often fall depending on how they’ve been struck, enabling you to create bridges across gaps early in the game. However, it’s not just about creating destruction, but using the results of your destructive abilities to solve conundrums and to aid you in combat. By pressing ‘ZR’ or ‘R’ you can ‘recall’ any nearby rubble to you to create a sphere of deadly detritus.
The larger your ball of rubble, the further it’ll reach. At first this’ll simply seem like a quick fix for a lack of ranged attacks, but soon you realise it’s ideal for turning destructible elements into shapes needed to solve a certain environmental puzzle. Need to reach a high platform? How about turning a high ledge above you into a slope by smashing the nearest section away? Or bashing a large haphazard block into a rudimentary series of steps? Most of the Giga Wrecker Alt.’s puzzles ultimately boil down to ‘reach this point so you can unlock this door’, but the fun of solving how to turn the environment into a solution often negates the predictable setup.
It’s easy to mess up – especially if you haven’t got the hang of Reika’s powerful punch and how best to use it at certain heights and distances – so most major puzzles come with a nearby tachyon point. The electromagnetic waves you use to recall rubble can be used to create a paradoxical time jump that basically resets the puzzle and restores all previously destroyed scenery. The only caveat is these ‘tachyon bursts’ remove any rubble you were carrying at the time. It’s also really easy to keep activating these points as you only need to push up on the analogue stick to activate them. They also reset all enemies, making retries that extra bit tricky.
The console port isn’t just a straight rehash of the PC version, either. Giga Wrecker Alt. comes with over 20 new levels to explore, a brand new ‘Iron Man’ hard mode for those thirsting for a little extra challenge and a new hint system in the form of your floating robot pal, Dölma. The latter is easily the most beneficial of the lot. Sure, lots of extra levels to play through is always welcome – especially for those who played the original – but considering how obtuse some of its grander puzzles can be, having Dölma there to assist in what a rubble formation should look like when it’s finished is a godsend. New players will really appreciate this new feature, while more experienced rubble-rousers will really get a kick out of having a higher difficulty mode to overcome.
Weirdly, Giga Wrecker Alt.’s weakest elements are its looks. A more retro anime aesthetic was clearly the intention Game Freak was going with, but in an era where similar titles have produced visual styles as striking as Dead Cells or Celeste, this sometimes ends up like something someone put together in Flash. It’s environments can also look really captivating at times, especially during certain boss battles, but the dichotomy between the two can be very jarring.
When it’s not giving the world more reasons to ‘Catch ‘Em All’, Game Freak continues to deliver interesting and unexpected forays into other genres. Much like Tembo the Badass Elephant before it, Giga Wrecker Alt. is a quirky left-turn that takes the exploration staples of a 2D Metroidvania and combines it with a destructible environment puzzle system for some creative and hugely rewarding puzzles. Combat is quite forgettable, but sucker-punching a boss with a giant ball can be ridiculous fun when you pull it off. Its looks might not be that memorable, but it’s still a worthy way to make a mess on Switch.