We get to see a lot of 8-bit titles on the indie scene these days. It’s actually something I can appreciate; when I was younger they were the kind of titles I dreamt of creating myself and I can imagine countless developers share that mindset, so being able to release the games they always wanted to create and for them to actually feel relevant must be a dream come true. That’s kind of how I see Alwa’s Awakening, with it feeling like a game that has the passion and care put into it from a team that enjoyed the days when 8-bit platformers were all the rage.
Alwa’s Awakening tells the tale of the land of Alwa, a once peaceful place where the citizens are now under constant torment from the evil Vicar and his dastardly minions. You play the role of Zoe, a hero brought from another world who has to unlock the power within herself to defeat Vicar and bring peace to Alwa once more. It’s all a little bit cliché and bares a ton of similarities to the countless tales we’ve seen so many times before, but it doesn’t really matter. In fact, it feels quite fitting; everything about Alwa’s Awakening feels like a homage, so why can’t the story too?
You take Zoe through an assortment of locales, all of which are lovingly crafted with a classic 8-bit style. There are deadly pits, hazardous spikes, statues that shoot flames, falling platforms, and countless foes to take down – you know, the usual. There’s simple puzzle solving too, though it typically consisted of pushing a few blocks or simply opening a few locked doors. You’ll be running, jumping, and smashing your way through the game and it’s always enjoyable. Alwa’s Awakening takes the simplicities we’re used to and uses them to its advantage, offering a gameplay experience that feels pure and incredibly old-school but most importantly keeps everything fun from start to end.
Your weapon of choice in Alwa’s Awakening is a magic staff that can be used to bash away at your enemies from close range. You’ll eventually earn different power ups that can either be used to dish out some damage to foes or alternatively help reach previously inaccessible areas. Take the Green power up for example – using it allows you to create a block that can either be used as a platform or to shield yourself from enemy attacks. Each power up can be utilised in different ways throughout the game, so it’s up to the player to use them to their advantage in each situation they come across.
There’s a big emphasis on backtracking in Alwa’s Awakening, with the player expected to remember previously unreachable areas as they progress through the game and enhance their abilities. Sometimes it’ll just be to return to a blocked off area to collect an assortment of blue orbs that have been scattered around, whilst other times it’ll be to progress the story further. Keeping track of things can be a bit of a pain, but thankfully there are plenty of NPCs around who’ll offer hints as to where you need to go, so forgetting a previously inaccessible route doesn’t bear terrible consequences. Still, the constant backtracking could be a little frustrating, especially for a gamer like me who simply can’t leave any collectible behind. There are a few teleporters around that can warp you back to different locations, but nine times out of ten you’ll have to re-explore the nooks and crannies of a previously explored area to find what you were looking for.
Gamers who enjoyed the NES-era will (perhaps fondly) remember the tricky level of difficulty that came with most games. Alwa’s Awakening follows the 8-bit trend in that respect too and whilst it isn’t as tough as the likes of ‘Megaman’ or ‘Castlevania’, you’ll certainly suffer plenty of deaths during your adventure. You only ever have three hit points and with so many ways to get hurt in the game and the demand for absolute precision in everything you do, you’ll suffer plenty of ‘Game Overs’ during your time in Alwa. Thankfully you have unlimited lives, so the consequence of death is simply a case of being taking back to the last save point and having an extra number added to your ‘Death Count’ (that’s constantly brought to your attention each time you fall – thanks for the reminder, Alwa’s Awakening).
Returning to save points could be a little frustrating; they could be few and far between leaving quite the journey to return back to the point of death, which is a bit of a pain when you die so often. Maybe I’m just used to being spoilt by modern games that offer auto-saves and checkpoints aplenty though, with Alwa’s Awakening a gentle reminder of how tricky and unforgiving older titles could be. It’s a welcome challenge though and it felt refreshing to have to work hard to progress. The game never felt unfair and the difficulty offered more instances of satisfaction as opposed to frustration.
Everything about Alwa’s Awakening feels like it draws inspiration from a multitude of titles, including ‘Metroid’ with its ‘come back when you have this power’ style of exploration and ‘Megaman’ with the ways levels are structured. It even has touches of modern games about it too, with the interconnected world, burning savepoints, and tricky difficulty sharing some similarities with the ‘Dark Souls’ series. Despite being clearly inspired by so many games, Alwa’s Awakening still manages to have its own sense of identity; I never felt like I was simply playing a clone of other games, but something that was simply inspired by them.
Still, there is a sense of nostalgia to be found that might actually be Alwa’s Awakening’s biggest flaw. Whilst the gameplay is sound and, in my opinion, has stood the test of time, I don’t think someone who didn’t play 8-bit games back in the day will necessarily enjoy it as much as someone who did. A non-video gaming family member saw me playing through Alwa’s Awakening and was quite shocked to learn that I was playing a new release and not something that came out a long time ago, which is something I can imagine other gamers not quite in the know might feel.
That’s not to say the game isn’t enjoyable nor is it meant to insult it, but nearly every facet of design stems from games that were released over twenty years ago. Gameplay mechanics and visuals have improved vastly since then which is something some people may not be able to look past – it’d be a massive shame though, because Alwa’s Awakening really has a lot going for it and is a reminder of how great games were back in the day.
Alwa’s Awakening offers everything you’d expect from an 8-bit platformer; there are well designed levels to plough through, a varied world that’s made up of simplistic visuals, and a tricky difficulty that’ll keep you on your toes but never frustrates. Every facet of the game is oozing with nostalgia and it makes for an experience that’ll remind you of just how fun the games of yesteryear were. A lot of love and care has clearly gone into creating the game and it shows all throughout your adventure.
Some gameplay aspects haven’t aged as well as others, but I still had a lot of fun playing through Alwa’s Awakening. I don’t know if some gamers may be put off by the old-school simplistic vibe it offers, but if you give it a try you’ll find there’s a decent amount of depth here and the game manages to feel unique in its own way – whilst it’s clearly inspired by a plethora of old-school games, it manages to stand tall amongst them.
Developer: Elden Pixels
Publisher: Elden Pixels
Release Date: 02/02/2017
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Mac, Linux