If you don’t like peas, it is probably because you have not had them fresh.
“The following is a contributor post by the Regional Exclusive Mage.”
Thinking of classic Nintendo games makes me think back to younger more innocent times: I’m taken right back to my childhood with a big bowl of cornflakes on a sunny Saturday morning and being able to focus my attention solely on those pixelated adventures on the screen. Particularly when it comes to those days, way back in the late eighties and early nineties, I genuinely can’t think of a more iconic aesthetic than Nintendo’s own Game Boy: there’s absolutely no mistaking those various shades of green. From my own personal experience, I did have friends who owned Game Boy machines and played on some of those when I was young, but my immersion in the Game Boy library was saved for when I got a Super Game Boy. This was a ridiculously cool gizmo that allowed me to play these games on a television via my Super Nintendo console. Suddenly Link’s Awakening, Metroid II, Super Mario Land and a whole host of other titles were available to me… and my fascination with portable systems and their games grew and grew.
Since then, Nintendo’s handheld machines have only gone from strength to strength, but even with an absolute technical powerhouse in your hands, a retro aesthetic to a video game is certainly fashionable right now. It’s the kind of detail that makes gamers of a certain age (myself included) feel so nostalgic for those care-free days. As a selling-point it attracts those of us who were there to witness games of that style; and of course, to intrigue and educate those younger gamers who have an interest in games from days gone by. This has served many games very well: Shovel Knight, The Messenger, Celeste… all of these have presented contemporary gamers with the level of challenge usually associated with classics such as Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden. This coupled with the success of “classic” consoles has shown that games of this style and difficulty are still in demand.
Which brings me to Awesome Pea, a game that presents itself as particularly retro in several ways. It’s got the right aesthetic, it controls perfectly, and it demands a great deal of patience for each of its short bursts of play. In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s the antidote to a lot of the larger and more epic games releasing right now. Considering I am spreading myself very thin between games such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Resident Evil 2 and Metro Exodus, it’s an absolute joy to flick over to something a little less full-on, kind of like slipping into a gaming comfort-zone. I’m certainly no stranger to platform games and am particularly unafraid of trickier ones such as Super Meat Boy, so I was excited for Awesome Pea to occupy a little of my time.
So… if this was judged on how accurately Awesome Pea re-creates the look of a Game Boy game, this would be a ten out of ten. It harks back to a time when developers had to work to the hardware limitations to represent their ideas on the screen. As a result, you’ve got recognisable environments such as dungeons and caverns alongside enemies such as frogs and… bubbles. Awesome Pea himself (or itself) is animated well enough, jumping smoothly across platforms and between obstacles, but there are only a few distinct hazards throughout the course of the adventure, and only a handful that move. There are hovering and rotating platforms to hop between, alongside saw-blades and projectiles that will send you back to the start of a level if touched, but that’s about your lot. Unlike most games of its style, there are no invisible obstacles in Awesome Pea: everything is in plain sight.
In fact, the greatest dangers in Awesome Pea are the backgrounds themselves. In some levels, the background is comprised of a two-or-three frame waterfall that can completely obscure your vision. Whilst used cleverly in one or two cases to hide coins or gems, it can also be a bit of a strain on your eyes as you struggle to see where your pea is amongst a very busy screenful of shifting pixels. The same goes for the levels set on a train: with the background rushing past it can be quite tricky to see any projectiles rushing your way. There were a couple of moments that made me question “What actually got me, there?” thanks to the limitations of the graphical style.
One of the specifically interesting features, upon starting Awesome Pea, is the ability to switch between a flat-screen or CRT-monitor aesthetic. The latter gives a nostalgic filter to events as though watching them on an old-style screen, however, I found that playing in this way affected my ability to judge some of the game’s jumps, so I switched to flat-screen mode very quickly and didn’t look back. It’s a nice feature for the game to have, but I can’t imagine that playing the full game in this way would be a benefit at all.
All the sound effects are in-place: the pea’s bounce offers a gentle “boop” with each jump and the player is given gently encouraging tones with each coin or gemstone collected. However, where Awesome Pea’s audio shines is in the compositions for the soundtrack. Whilst the Game Boy has provided a specific look, there are so many tunes made famous by Nintendo’s handheld legend, too: for instance, the soundtracks for Tetris and Mystic Quest have stayed lodged in my brain for years!
The soundtrack to Awesome Pea isn’t quite on that same iconic level, but the tunes here are memorable enough that they have had me humming for quite a few hours after beating the game. Each level-style comes with its own unique theme, each one an up-tempo ditty that bounces along and gives you the encouragement you need to try, try and try again on some of the trickier levels. Generally, it’s everything you could wish for from a soundtrack inspired by the Game Boy hardware and the famous music from that gaming era.
The gameplay of Awesome Pea is undoubtedly its strongest suit. With no real story to speak of, save for a brief congratulatory line of text at the end of the game, it lets the levels speak for themselves, and I was very glad for this in a game seemingly designed for “quick-fix” gaming. Each of the levels presents the player with a 2D course where the titular pea must reach the goal, whether all the way to the right, top or in some cases bottom of the stage. Within each level are several obstacles that stand in the pea’s way, and with no life-bars in sight, it’s a game of one-hit-kills promoting a perfect-run through each. This takes quite a lot of trial-and-error, but the satisfaction gained by reaching the end is only heightened by knowing you’ve completed it in one swift run.
The player-character moves smoothly and with only a jump and double-jump at his disposal, this isn’t a game about fighting back, just making it to the goal in one piece. Some of the coins available to collect are positioned in an arc to guide you through some of the jumps, which I found helped a great deal in the earlier stages of the game to learn the way in which the pea moves. However, in other stages there are sections you’ll have to traverse more than once to collect all the coins available. There is certainly a recommended route through each level, though with a timer running it can be tempting to rush through. This is a tactic that will only result in death. In fact, the greatest tactic for approaching all the levels is, quite simply, patience. Taking your time with each jump can reduce your risk of running into danger, but the more times you play a level you’ll find places where a double-jump can help miss certain platforms completely and expedite your route to the end.
The tutorial stage tells you everything you need to know: walk, jump, double-jump. Jump through spikes, fall through pipes. Then, once you know all the basics, the rest of the game is yours to enjoy. The game itself offers this simple move-set and lets the player judge the rest for themselves, which is a testament to how simple the game is to pick up and play. If you’ve ever played a 2D platform game you’ll be in your element, though I admit the graphical style can be either a hit or a miss depending on your level of affinity for the original Game Boy. Whilst I was able to dive straight in, it’s fair to say that some would be turned off by the classic look and might find it difficult to look at.
Even having beaten the game, I know for a fact that I would be able to return to Awesome Pea quickly for a level or two if I fancied a quick blast of a platforming level, especially playing on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode. It was easy to pick up and play without having to trawl through endless tutorial menus and details. For a portable game it’s ideal, and as a home console game, it’s good enough for a quick five-minute bit of gaming goodness.
With plenty of levels incorporating varying length, Awesome Pea presents a mixed-bag in terms of difficulty. Some of the later levels only took me one attempt to beat whereas even some of the first levels took me a fair few tries just to just reach the end. This uneven quality doesn’t even mesh neatly with the progression of levels: there is no overarching theme, just dotting between caves, trains and towers.
Of all the levels, however, the ones that felt the most punishing were the ones set in caves. These levels involved the pea jumping between small platforms and avoiding bubbles shooting from the sides and the bottom of the screen. These levels felt particularly punishing and, in some cases, overly long. In fact, I found myself spending much more time on these levels than those immediately before or after them.
There are collectibles to be found in each level: a set number of coins and gems are placed throughout and counted-up at the end. These are reset upon taking a hit and returning to the start of a stage, so must be collected in one clear run. This adds a certain degree of challenge to the game and gives the player something to be aware of as they progress through the levels, especially as some of the coins and gems are placed in some of the most awkward places. One level had me restart a few times thanks to a vertical row of coins that, thanks to a rising bubble-obstacle, cannot be collected in one single fall. Being returned to the beginning time after time trying to figure this one out felt just on the right side of frustration to me, resulting in a couple of involuntary comments such as “Pffffffffffft… okay!” Thankfully there were no moments that made me feel like quitting: most of the deaths I suffered felt fair and made me more determined to go back for another attempt.
Let me get this out of the way: Awesome Pea is a short game. Four islands might sound fairly lengthy, but the courses can range between way-too-long to “Is that it?!” short. Truthfully, I played this game from start to finish during a single train journey, and still had plenty of time (and battery-life left in my Switch) left over before reaching my destination. That said, it is so far on the short side that I would have no hesitation playing through it again if the mood struck, which is something I wouldn’t as readily do for an eighty-hour long RPG. There’s no real commitment to make so it’s the perfect “one more go” game.
Collecting all the coins and gems in a level adds to the replayability of each one, but there aren’t too many that really offer much of a challenge. There was one that I struggled with, but it was more a trick of the graphics hiding a collectible than anything offering a specific challenge. That said, I am sure that the addition of a timer is a feature that could promote competition between players. It’s not the way I choose to play, but speed-running is certainly a potential within some of the levels, especially in those moments where you can double-jump to miss out some platforms or obstacles entirely.
Awesome Pea isn’t exactly the most unique game, in fact in a lot of ways it’s too specifically a love-letter to some of the classics to earn a place amongst more modern interpretations of the past. As a fan of Super Meat Boy, a game that I found myself making comparisons to throughout my playthrough of Awesome Pea, I found that the former offered more in the way of levels, challenge and intricacy of level-design. Meat Boy’s ability to wall-jump and the focus on building and maintaining momentum pushed it into the stratosphere in terms of my reaction to it. Awesome Pea feels more like a lost game from the Game Boy era that has been restored, both for better and for worse. There is a world-map… but it’s not as detailed or as interesting as the map from Super Mario Land 2. There aren’t secret levels… or if there are, I didn’t find them! I feel that this is something that could be included or at least improved upon in a future update or sequel.
In fact, I found myself over-analysing some of the levels in search of secrets, expecting to be able to hop over certain parts to access extra areas. Unfortunately, Awesome Pea doesn’t expect so much from the player: doing so only made me fall through the scenery back to earlier parts of the level or, in one case, through the floor leading to an unexpected death. As such, it doesn’t really offer anything new or indeed unique to the “hardcore platforming” genre.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
As a fan of platform games, as well as modern-retro games, it’s easy for me to recommend Awesome Pea to anyone who’s looking for a bit of something different to the current norm. It’s not the longest or most challenging game available, but as a budget-priced download title it certainly delivers on its promise of bringing the Game Boy style and classic “Nintendo difficulty” back into fashion. It’s a solid recommendation from me to anyone interested in checking out some modern 2D platformers or to anyone eagerly waiting for Super Meat Boy Forever.
We would like to thank PigeonDev for supplying us with a copy of their game for this review.
Aggregated score: 6.0
The Regional Exclusive Mage is an avid video-game collector and literature enthusiast. When he isn’t educating the younger generation, he can be found sharing a wealth of obscure gaming knowledge as TeacherBloke85 on Twitter.
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Categories: Game Review