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Review #014: Alwa's Awakening (Nintendo Switch)

Reviewed by: John B.

Developed By: Elden Pixels Published By: Elden Pixels Category: Arcade, Action Release Date: 9.27.18

Purchase Alwa's Awakening from the Nintendo eShop here.

The very first thing you see when you boot up Alwa’s Awakening is a message from the creators thanking you for picking up their game. This game is clearly a labor of love, made by people who remember how it felt the first time they put that Castlevania cartridge into their NES. Or at least I assume so. Maybe it was Metroid, but I’m guessing by the whole fantasy thing that it was probably Castlevania. Either way, they created a fantastic throwback platformer with some innovative touches.

Beware the Vicar

Alwa’s Awakening is the story of the mystical land of Alwa. For generations the land was at peace, until the dark wizard Vicar appeared and stole all the powerful magic artifacts keeping peace in the land for himself. After fighting back for centuries, the people of Alwa are weary of fighting. In a last-ditch effort to defeat Vicar, a ritual to summon a hero to save the land is performed. Enter Zoe, the player-character and (probably) the heroine Alwa needs. It’s up to you now.

The story isn’t super-deep, from a character development or thematic standpoint. It’s just your typical good/evil battle between bad hooded wizards with no face and a good hooded wizard with a face. Still, the game’s lore is tight and talking to NPCs as you progress through the game often results in some new information about both the game and its world. In short, the story is fine, but it’s not what we’re here for.

More Vania than Metroid

Alwa’s Awakening is pretty clearly inspired by the Metroidvania genre of games. As I said in the intro, it appears to me to be more influenced by Castlevania due to the fantasy setting and overall aesthetic. The character models don’t really look the same, but the backgrounds look like they could be right out of the Belmont clan’s tales. Anyway, it plays similar to what you might expect; it’s a platformer with puzzle elements.

Zoe can run, jump, duck, and, after a short introductory sequence, swing around her staff to hit enemies. She also unlocks new magical abilities to help her get past obstacles as the game progresses in the form of magical gemstones. For example, the first stone is green and lets you create green blocks that you can jump on. You can also unlock power-ups that provide additional useful properties for your spells. You need mana to cast magic, but the bar regenerates quickly enough that running out is never really a problem.

Spikes… Why Did It Have To Be Spikes?

The pathfinding puzzles are challenging while mostly not being frustrating. There are a few places where jumping through a spike tunnel can be a bit of a chore. The jump button is pressure sensitive, I guess. The longer you hold it, the higher you jump. Now, the minimum and maximum jump distance aren’t that far apart, but during the aforementioned sequences you need to only jump the minimum. It feels inconsistent as to how much of a tap you need to only jump the minimum, which creates some frustration when you jump too high and hit a low spike. It’s especially frustrating because some spikes cause instant death, and some only take one life crystal away, and there’s really no way to know which is which until you’ve hit the spikes. As I said, this is a fairly rare problem, but it does come up more than once.

Modern Flourish

The game introduces some more modern features, like save points and fast travel. Save points are just big torches you light by smacking them with your staff. Warp points are activated just by walking up to them and hitting the activate button. Each area of the map only has one warp point, though, so there will still be some backtracking required even when you warp. But, like any good Metroidvania, backtracking is just part of the deal. Still, it’s good to see Alwa’s Awakening do something to ameliorate it.

Zoe in the Sky With Gemstones

Alwa’s Awakening looks and sounds like it’s straight off an NES cartridge. The game commits to the 8-bit aesthetic all the way, but takes advantage of modern graphical power to keep the game looking smooth. Character models are as detailed as they can get considering the retro influences. The backgrounds manage to look imposing and detailed despite the limitations of the game’s chosen visual style. The music is a blend of spooky and adventurous chiptune tracks, perfectly suited to the atmosphere of the game. The audio-visual design of the game is nostalgically perfect.

Alwa’s Wrap-Up

OK, I straight up love this game. From the graphics to the music to the gameplay, Alwa’s Awakening brought me all the way back to arguing with my brother about whose turn it was to play on the NES. He usually won. Still, if you have any fond memories at all with a Nintendo Entertainment System, this game is for you.

Final Score: 9/10

Purchase Alwa's Awakening from the Nintendo eShop here.

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