REVIEWS

Alwa’s Awakening

A Trip Down Gaming's Memory Lane

Alwa’s Awakening
  • PublisherElden Pixels
  • DeveloperElden Pixels
  • Release DateFebruary 2, 2017
  • Platform(s)PC
  • Release Price$9.99
  • Rating
    3/5

Nostalgia is one of the most powerful human emotions, especially as people progress beyond adolescence. Literature, movies, and even politicians often hearken back to “better days” or “simpler times.” When humans reminisce, we have a tendency to recall the best aspects of the past, while ignoring its less ideal pieces. Alwa’s Awakening doubles down on the nostalgia factor, and largely succeeds, but is hindered by certain elements that are better left to gaming history.

Everything about this game is meticulously crafted to mimic the halcyon days of 2D platformer games from the NES era. The premise is typical: the evil wizard Vicar has forced Alwa, a previously tranquil land, into slavery and subjugation. As Zoe, a young girl who awakens in an unfamiliar place, the player must explore forests, dungeons, villages, and castles, striving to free Alwa from its oppressors. Along the way she must battle various enemies, collect items, and defeat Vicar’s henchmen before facing the wizard himself.

Alwa’s Awakening doubles down on the nostalgia factor…but is hindered by certain elements that are better left to gaming history

The art is 8-bit style, complete with simplistic, repetitive movement and attack animations true to the time period. The color palette is well-suited to the game, and with a wide variety of imagery the different regions of Alwa each have their own unique feel. Fittingly, the music is all chip tune, with pace and mood appropriate for the environment. Dungeon areas have spooky, creeping tones while boss fights have uptempo, anxious melodies.

Other common themes of games from previous eras are also present. A basic item collection mechanic allows the player to gain various boons like extra health. Finding numerous keys unlocks previously inaccessible rooms. Gathering blue orbs throughout the various areas makes defeating bosses easier. And defeating those bosses grants Zoe additional powers. Disappointingly, most of the bosses are somewhat gimmicky – once the player learns the trick to defeating that particular boss, the challenge becomes trivial.

Some of the more amusing idiosyncrasies are charming, as these details solidify the retro experience.

There are some aspects of the game that, while true to the era it is attempting to mimic, lead to outcomes ranging from comical to aggravating. Movement and jumping are very basic. There is only one movement speed, no acceleration or momentum to speak of. While this is amusing at times, it is also confusing. When jumping from a moving platform, the direction of motion is not maintained, so Zoe will jump straight up in the air. This is not disastrous, but does take some time to get used to, especially in this age of ever more realistic game engines.

Some of the more amusing idiosyncrasies are charming, as these details solidify the retro experience. The only way to save the game is to reach specific save points. Beyond that, though, there are few penalties for dying, despite the game keeping track of how many deaths a player has sustained (my first playthrough was north of 200, for shame). Additionally, progression is on a screen by screen basis. There is no side-scrolling, each screen is entered and then exited as Zoe moves on to the next one. The rooms reset when they are re-entered, meaning enemies and most items are restored to their initial state. This lead to a few funny, yet annoying moments. For example, when Zoe is on a moving platform, if she jumps up to another screen and is then carried back down by gravity, there is nothing to stand on in the original screen. It’s unclear if this is a bug.

Ironically, the more severe shortcomings of this game have nothing to do with the older game style. About ⅔ of the way through Alwa’s Awakening begins to feel grindy. There is a lot of backtracking, searching for items or opening passageways that previously could not be traversed. Combined with a world map that lacks important details like item locations, the player is left to memorize certain routes, frequently going the wrong direction by mistake. Additionally, the final scene is disappointingly abrupt, leaving a desire for more closure from a story perspective.

Those who grew up on the NES will find it a fine tribute to games of yesteryear and those who did not will still enjoy a pleasant, playable adventure.

Despite its imperfections, Alwa’s Awakening is an enjoyable experience. The retro art style, rich colors, and music accompany gameplay that is quaint, yet engaging. Those who grew up on the NES will find it a fine tribute to games of yesteryear and those who did not will still enjoy a pleasant, playable adventure.

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