Game Review

Alwa’s Awakening (2019) [Switch]

“People dig exploration.”
-Alan Stern

 

 

newageretromage “The following is a contributor post by the New Age Retro Mage.”

Since the indie boom started a decade or so ago there seem to be two things which have stood out for me. The love of the NES style for art and the use of the Metroid (or Metroidvania) style of gameplay. Games like Shovel Knight have used the pixel art style to great effect and others like Hollow Knight were all about the Metroidvania. The biggest flaw of both is that while SK looks like an NES game it has colors and effects the NES could have only dreamed of and HK’s biggest is it is so hooked on the Metroidvania that I felt it became very aimless with little real direction. This isn’t to bag on the games, necessarily. I loved Shovel Knight and while I cooled on Hollow Knight, it is an impressive game in scope and hand-drawn art style. But the bloated nature of many a Metroidvania makes me wish indie developers took more after the Metroid part of the equation rather than Symphony of the Night where the whole Metroidvania thing started.

Alwa’s Awakening is impressive in that it manages to faithfully replicate the look and feel of a NES game without going too far beyond what the system could actually achieve. Outside of the aspect ratio, lack of sprite flicker and some other limitations of the NES, the color palette feels within the realms of what the NES could do as well as the enemy designs complete with limited animations. Even the music and sound effects feel like they could have been at home on the NES in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s when developers were really getting the most of the system. Suffice to say while Shovel Knight looked like a NES game, Alwa’s Awakening feels like it truly could have been one. And if I am not wrong that was developer Elden Pixel’s goal in the first place.

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What really got me with Alwa’s Awakening is how tight the whole adventure feels. Rather than being a very large sprawling world, though it is still pretty big, the game’s world is fairly small and contained and being a Metroid-like game backtracking, while necessary, will be often for little extra collectibles and rarely because the bit you found in one part is needed somewhere far across the map. It even simplifies on the Metroid formula by making upgrades a rather small part of your experience.

Zoe will always have 3 bars of life (though with a refillable flask of water 6), you upgrade her attack power once and you will only collect 3 secondary abilities throughout the game and only upgrade 2 of them. Though it is a good idea to find the collectible Blue Orbs scattered throughout the world as they give a slight advantage in the 5 boss fights in the game. The simplicity’s one major advantage is that rather than scouring the world looking for the next upgrade, it requires you to learn how to use Zoe’s abilities and attacks effectively instead of just hoping for the next upgrade that will make you that much stronger. And when you do find a new power or upgrade, its use is immediately apparent rather than you stumbling upon a rather limited use.

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Alwa’s Awakening also finds a nice balance between being hard but not frustrating. Zoe controls well, most enemies can be taken out in less than 3 hits but if you aren’t careful you can die quite a bit, especially on some of the more tricky platforming in the late game. Bosses aren’t extremely complicated but will require a certain amount of patience, pattern recognition, and strategy before you can beat them. It works for a very tight experience that clocks in about 5-6 hours long. give or take your platforming and explorative ability.

The icing on the very NES-like cake is the story, a story of a dark evil over the land and Zoe as a destined champion to free the land from their grip. Zoe is sucked into the video game, wakes up, get a bit of encouragement and is on her way. Outside of the dialog at various points, the story is sparse but to the point. Beat the evil guys and get a cryptic and short ending.

 

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 Visuals: 8/10

Pleasing visuals that come very close to looking like something you could have found on the NES. Obviously not pushing what anything today can do but the various environments, enemies and bosses all have a good variety to them with some big sprites for the bosses that look pretty cool.

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“So close you can almost smell the sprite flicker.”

In an indie world where using the NES aesthetic is still a pretty popular thing, Alwa’s Awakening comes about as close to playing and feeling like an NES game that you could get. The only thing that would have made it more authentic would have been a forced sprite flicker and slowdown.

audio Audio: 7/10

Sounds like an NES game. Some good catchy music. I want to say more but it does exactly what it sets out to do.

gameplay Gameplay: 9/10

Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania but closer to Metroid than the -Vania side. You won’t go back and forth collecting items and the amount of upgrades is minimal. The game excels at making you use the extra abilities you do have to full effect rather than making you find the next big weapon or upgrade. While there is some backtracking once you finish an area you are usually finished with that area, though there are more than enough “Oh I see” moments when you get your weapons and find the upgrades for them. Opening up some shortcuts and warps here and there make traversal a lot easier of course and they will be useful if you look to collect the optional (and in the case of the Blue Orbs useful) items.

challenge Challenge: 6/10

Not a hard game by a huge stretch but there are some tricky jumps and enemy placements that will cause you to die. In my playthrough, I died well over 100 times but since lives aren’t an issue and checkpoints are fairly generous you don’t lose any real progress. So while the game will give you some resistance, as long as you are persistent you will get past any barriers you do come across.

accessibility Accessibility: 8/10

Very easy to get into with extremely simple controls that get you into the world almost immediately. The map marks where your main goals (the 5 bosses) are located, requiring you to just figure out the way to them. Your secondary weapons and their upgrades almost immediately provide you with ample opportunity to learn how they work for you. Alwa’s Awakening is made to work around an NES controller, so keeping it simple works keeps with the theme.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 5/10

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It is an NES-style Metroid-style indie game. Almost a dime a dozen these days. But it is a solidly put together one that sets itself apart by not being so dense and reliant on constant back and forth.

replayability Replayability: 6/10

My time pretty much clocked in around 8 hours and could have probably been a lot faster. While there isn’t a whole lot of secrets to collect, figuring out the best routes and effectively using your abilities I imagine could really work in the favor of speed runners.

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mypersonalgrade Personal Score: 8/10

Very satisfying to play despite the overall simplicity presented. Long and challenging enough to feel like you got your time’s worth but not so long that you are just waiting for that final boss. If you like Metroid-like adventure games you should definitely give this game a look.

Aggregate Score: 7.4

 

The New Age Retro Mage has been gaming since the mid-80s since the Atari 2600 all the way to today. Loves the retro and loves the new because if you can’t find enjoyment in what came before or what comes after, what’s the point? Wanna yell at him? He is on Twitter @chrisbg99.

 

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2 replies »

  1. I like the way you wrap-up the various components of the game at the end with the “/10” ratings and the small asides. It’s a good way to summarize the specifics after having discussed your overall feelings

    Liked by 1 person

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