Alwa’s Awakening, from developer Elden Pixels, is a sincere trip down memory lane as a retro inspired Metroidvania, Castlevania type of title. While it may not do anything particularly new with the genre or the level design, Alwa’s Awakening seems like a game that could have been released back when the NES was going strong. In that sense it has a level of charm that’s admirable, but won’t do anything to win a game-of-the-year award.
The story takes place in Alwa’s, a beautiful world that was once covered in stunning nature. Sadly, this was all disrupted by a mystical being named Vicar who began to enslave the innocent people living there. With his powers he formed a group of protectors to seek out ornaments: the only things protecting Alwa’s. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost a girl named Zoe appears from another world to stop Vicar and redeem this land that is sliding into disarray.
The narrative takes cues from other titles in the genre. You’re the chosen one that has to collect some sacred relics in order to become powerful enough to stop an evil entity. It’s nothing new from the formula and there is very little dialogue throughout the entire campaign. The story is passable and is not the major draw of why Alwa’s Awakening is intriguing.
Alwa’s Awakening is a side-scrolling Metroidvania title with every detail of the genre coming to the forefront. You’ll control Zoe as she explores dungeons and villages looking for new powers that will then open up new paths for her to explore. The control scheme, just like the aesthetic, feels like it was ripped out from the 80’s era of gaming. You control Zoe using the d-pad, jump with the B button, and activate her magic staff with the Y button.
Through a variation of these control methods and buttons you can also perform other types of magic attacks and abilities you unlock throughout the game. The controls are so simplified that you could literally play it with a NES controller. In terms of platforming, Zoe moves rather slow compared to other titles in the genre with her feeling floaty while jumping. It’s something I had to get used to as it was at first easy to miss jumps and fall into pits or spikes.
One thing I appreciated about Alwa’s Awakening was the level design with dungeons expanding both vertical and horizontally. I was surprised by how few death or spike pits to fall into, instead falling into a lower section of the dungeon that I was already in. There was also less of a penalty for falling into specific traps, as it would just take one point of health away instead of outright killing you. Sometimes the backtracking from falling down a pit would be annoying due to the slow nature of your character.
The platforming does continue to progress as you go through the adventure, with powers that can be unlocked helping you reach new areas. There’s three main powers you can use in a variety of different ways. For example, one of the spells gives you the ability to summon a green block. This block can then be used to raise you up a platform or block certain traps. The spell list was in depth and versatile and expanded in use the deeper you went into a dungeon.
Every one of the boss fights, despite their challenge, felt great to take part in because of how the magic attacks were incorporated into their design. It could be said, the gameplay of Alwa’s Awakening wasn’t inspired by the games of the past, but instead felt like a game from the past with all the charm and frustrations that come with it. While titles like Shovel Knight and The Messenger tried to take inspiration from classics and then warp them into some modern gameplay mechanics, Alwa’s Awakening is more of a true representation from the past.
Visually, Alwa’s Awakening stays within the boundaries of what the NES was capable of. It does get a few liberties with the amount of colors it can display at once, but in terms of the art direction and animations, Alwa’s Awakening stays true to the games from the 80’s. The characters and enemies have a nice retro aesthetic to them and there is an inherent charm to see them wobble about, especially with the floaty nature of the gameplay.
Complementing the visual design of Alwa’s Awakening, is a soundtrack that is heavily influenced by chip tunes music from the past. The music fell right in line with the sense of adventure you get when you embark on a new journey. It was memorable enough for me that some of the tunes stuck in my head long after putting the game down. The sound effects as well felt like they were ripped out of the 80’s lending over to that classic theme Alwa’s Awakening has presented.
Overall, Alwa’s Awakening is a solid Metroidvania title that delivers a mostly fun gameplay experience. Despite some blemishes in the platforming, it succeeds in the mission of creating a fun blast from the past. While it doesn’t try to do enough new in the genre to truly make it memorable, there is still a lot of good here with Alwa’s Awakening.