05th Oct2018

‘Alwa’s Awakening’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

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Another indie hit from the Steam stable comes to Nintendo Switch. Following the likes of Shovel Knight and The Messenger, Alwa’s Awakening is a 2D pixel art platformer in an 8-bit style. It’s clearly a labour of love, but I must say I found it quite laborious.

The introduction sequence kind of sums it up. The art is quite nice, but disappointingly static. The words are functional, but lack personality. The story… well, it tells a story, but it’s entirely generic. There’s nothing to draw you away from those other, better, retro-styled pretenders. You play as Zoe, who is chosen to save the land of Alwa from an evil overlord named Vicar. To do this, she must venture into four interconnected dungeons, and obtain a magic element and defeat a boss in each. You will also collect tools to aid you, enabling you to reach new areas. A green block will help you reach higher areas. A bubble will help you reach even higher areas. A lightning bolt can shoot stuff and open certain gateways.

The graphics are clear and efficient, if a little bland. The reddish browns of the overworld contrast with the slightly paler browns of the underworld. There are trees and buildings, two-frame water and fire, and pits of spikes. Nothing you’ve not seen before. The chiptune music does stand out, though, with memorable themes and catchy melodies.

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Bosses are called portentous things like The Crimson Guardian and The Beholder, but they’re not too taxing. Even the Vicar himself is straightforward once you have his pattern down. Combat is very basic: a swipe of your sword (yes, it may be a staff, but it functions as a Monster Boy-type sword) or a shot of lightning. Enemies will run back and forth, or stand still and fire. Sometimes they’ll even do both!

The real challenge of Alwa’s Awakening is navigating its sprawling map. For a start, the player is fundamentally hampered by the mechanical process of moving around, which is too sluggish to be a joy in itself. The walking pace is slow and the jump physics are floaty. The bog standard traps and monsters (which respawn the moment you step foot off-screen, of course) don’t exactly fill the player with joy when a lengthy backtrack begins.

While the map is large, it is also firewalled in all directions. In “classic” – i.e. tedious – Metroid style, you can spend several minutes backtracking through a section in the hope that a passageway you spotted on the map might now be traversable. Maybe. If not then it’s a case of finding a warp portal to take another punt at where you’re meant to go next. Dedicated warp portals seems pointless when the save points – which are already sparse – could do the job just fine. The checkpoint system would feel less mean-spirited if the aforementioned stodgy controls were given a boost of dynamism.

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Elden Pixels’ is affectionate to a fault, meaning 8-bit irritations abound. I’ve already mentioned the lack of guidance and the cruel checkpoint system. But there are also the basic rules of the gameworld itself. I had to confirm that water was deadly by sacrificing myself. The enemy hitboxes appear to be based on squares, meaning brushes with death will always favour the enemy. Dialogue text is bland to the extreme, with little in the way of character – NPCs provide instructions and nothing more.

Alwa’s Awakening is like one of those games you remember loving on the NES or Master System, and then you track it down thirty years later and find it’s a bit mediocre. It plays smoothly enough, and it certainly looks and sounds the part. But it hasn’t a fresh idea in its head, and it doesn’t refine any of the ideas it “borrows”. It’s one for dedicated retro-heads only.

Alwa’s Awakening is available, via the eShop, on the Nintendo Switch now.

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