When you think about it, games really have changed alot since the old days. We’ve gone from simple ball & paddle games to epic adventure games with extremely realistic graphics. And there’s been all sorts of eras in between, each memorable for it’s own reason, such as the Golden Age of Arcades, where scoring high was the ultimate achievement, and you didnt play the games at home much. Or the period when platformers and shmups were absolutely everywhere. But one of the most famous eras was that of the original NES. It was known for it’s incredible library of games, sure. But it was also known for extremely difficult games, which would later gain the label of “Nintendo Hard”. In the vein of the old Megaman series, Giga Girl attempts to relive that old era with it’s own brand of brutal challenges, cruel bosses, and instant death spikes. But how well does it fare overall? Well, let’s find out.
Developer: Invisible Tile
Publisher: Invisible Tile
Genre: Retro Run ‘n’ Gun Platformer
Release date: 23rd of March, 2016
Lets get one thing out of the way: If things like graphics or story are of particular importance to you… this is not the game for you (the music is pretty nice though). Like many games of that ancient era, the story is absolutely bare-bones, and the graphics are “functional” at best, very simplistic. The game isnt ugly, but this isnt a game with a high level of detail. Also, the game does not play in a full widescreen resolution. Nope, it’s going to be that old standard boxy screen, just like the old days of CRT televisions. Now, that being said, if these facts dont bother you, then by all means read on.
As you can probably guess, this game is very heavily inspired by the Megaman series on the NES. From the general feel of the controls, speed and jump height of your character, and even the fact that you cant crouch (because Megaman never did master that arcane technique either) so many things are pulled from those old games that used to murder you over and over. The good thing is that the controls are pretty tight… for the most part you’re not going to have any trouble getting Giga Girl to do what you want. Well… there are a couple of exceptions to that, but we’ll get to that in a bit. For the most part, the controls are very simple. As this game seems to mimic Megaman 2 the most, you have no slide maneuver or charged shot, so all you’ve got going for you is running, jumping, and firing your currently equipped weapon. Your basic weapon is actually a boomerang… a rather strange choice, really. Due to the nature of the thing, you can only have one of them on screen at a time, unable to fire again until the thing has returned to you. Fortunately for you, it travels fast. This does create a rather odd mechanic where the further away from your target you are, the longer it will take to defeat it. And if you outright miss entirely, that could cost you some health, which can be frustrating on the occaision that it happens.
And health isnt something you have very much of. You can take exactly six hits before going down, each hit draining exactly one heart. As you might expect from a game like this, hearts arent always so easy to get. Like in Megaman, you’ll either find them in preset locations, or rarely dropped by foes. The same goes for the odd little rainbow pickups, the things that recharge the energy of your special weapons. One thing that’s notable here is that there is no such thing as health-recharging items like the old Energy Tanks from Megaman. That’d be too kind, you see. Instead, you simply have rainbow jars, which are used to refill all of your weapons. This means that no matter what, during difficult boss encounters, you CANNOT recharge your health. If you enter a boss fight at max HP… six hits is all you get, no matter what. Die, and you go back to a checkpoint, just like in those old games. In some places this can be an issue, depending on where the checkpoint places you, and what’s immediately after it. Dying in certain spots may mean going once again through a section that you only barely passed the last time. This can definitely be a source of frustration, particularly if you are finding yourself dying really often.
And chances are, you will indeed be dying pretty often here. You’ll choose between 5 stages at start, each of course with it’s own unique theme, boss, and power to collect. But it doesnt really matter which one you choose first… it’s going to be pretty brutal. This is a game that doesnt hold back whatsoever when it comes to difficulty. Difficult enemies, dangerous jumps, insta-death spikes, and even the infamous vanishing blocks are here to make your job as hard as possible. The design of each level is actually pretty good, as platformers go; these levels never really have any dull or stale moments, with each section providing it’s own unique challenge for you to overcome. Often, the game will combine elements together to create particularly deadly sections, using difficult jumps, traps, AND nasty foes all at the same time, because of course it will. This is Nintendo Hard, after all, that’s how this type of game works. Like absolutely every other conceivable thing in the game, enemy and boss attack patterns seem straight out of the old series, and do provide the sort of experience you’d expect. Boss powers are for the most part decently useful (hint: go after the vacuum cleaner dude first), with some of them being able to help you access items you otherwise couldnt get, or even secret areas. The rainbow items seem to fill all of your powers at once, so that makes it a bit easier to keep these abilities going. All in all, it’s sounding pretty good so far, yeah?
The problem is that when the game makes a misstep, it does it pretty darned hard. For example, that water level. This works as you’d expect: Giga Girl cannot swim, and must instead resort to huge, slow leaps to traverse the depths. But there’s a problem here, as in my time with the game, I found myself unable to control just how high she would jump in this situation. Either she jumped as high as she possibly could, or as little as she could… I could never get it to go anywhere inbetween. Needless to say, with so many death spikes everywhere (because of course there are, just like the water levels of old) this creates more than a few problems. Even moreso though, it adds alot of nastiness to the boss of that stage, making it nigh impossible to dodge his double-shot attack if you’re close, and you need to be close to hit with your boomerang’s limited range (other weapons of course wont have that restriction). Other similar issues, the sort that make the game feel “unfair” at times, appear in various other areas. The boss of the air stage, for example, has a nearly unavoidable rushing attack, which I call the “RNG dash” where he slices vertically through the sky, coming at you both from above and also from below, with no tells; it seems to be pure random chance as to wether you get hit or not. Other areas of the game may offer the occaisional screwball jump, where you just cant make the jump, but you’re not entirely sure WHY, forcing you to do it over and over until it finally works. There are also bits that might SEEM unfair at first, yet really arent, such as the little red dudes that leap abruptly onto the screen in the early part of the cave level. They’re on the screen and on your head really abruptly, and chances are your natural reaction will be to jump over them, which doesnt work. You’ll probably get hit by these guys alot, before figuring out that the actual way to deal with them is to take a couple of steps back, turn, and fire. The game will generate a great many situations like this.
This is one of those games where I have a really hard time deciding what sort of score to give it. On one hand, the level design is well done, with plenty of varied challenges and situations. Enemy and boss attack patterns really feel like they came from the NES era when these games were such a major thing. And the game’s tight controls (aside from the Water Jump of Doom) work well with all of that. But the screwball problems that pop up can really mess up the experience, causing endless frustration that makes you want to just fling your controller at the wall. And the thing about those is that most of them could be fixed with just some minor tweaks. A really terrible jump could be entirely fixed up by moving a particular block exactly one tile to the left. A situation with a mostly unavoidable enemy could be fixed by simply shifting that enemy’s position a bit. This rather makes me wonder just how these problems were missed during the testing process. Hopefully these issues will get fixed, but with games like this you just never know if they will or not.
Do I recommend this game or not? Well, honestly that depends on the individual player. One way or another, the difficulty is very high, and can be compounded by sheer frustration. On the other hand, when the game works as intended, it’s quite enjoyable, if a bit crude in terms of visuals. This one, I think, is going to be for true fans of “Nintendo Hard” games only. If you really like that sort of thing, if you consider yourself an expert gamer, and certainly if you really love Megaman… this might be worth a go, as I think it could be quite fun to the right player; I did enjoy it myself all the way through (outside of certain nasty jumps). Just be aware of exactly what you are getting yourself into with this one, because it wont go easy on you, even for a moment.