Elden Pixels has just released their first project, Alwa's Awakening, on the PC, and you don't have to look for more than a few seconds before you realise what they are trying to do. The Swedish team are emulating the nostalgic feel of NES-era platformers, including the 8-bit graphics, catchy soundtrack, and challenging gameplay, the kind that would have you pulling your hair out for hours in the days before internet guides and forums.
To sum up the plot of Alwa's Awakening, which is outlined pretty well in the story trailer below, you play as Zoe, a seemingly normal girl who has to save the land of Alwa, which has been taken over by evil forces. You therefore have to scour the land and use your magic staff to find out what's happened and unlock the items you need to progress. Throughout the game, you'll have to talk with Alwa's residents so they can assist you too, and there are plenty of enemies unleashed upon the land for you to defeat as well.
Although this is harking back to an era where games had less graphical capabilities, you'd be mistaken if you thought this was a small and simple experience. The map itself is huge, something we were surprised by (we were lured into thinking it might be a linear game), and layers of it unfurl as you progress, especially since you may need a key item from one area in the North East to progress to an area in the South West, for example. This means, as expected, there's a lot of travelling, but there are six warp points throughout the game to save time.
Sometimes, however, knowing what to do or where to go can be tricky, and even when you do know where to go you can find yourself unsure as to how to get there. The map system helps with this, but there's still a lot to try and figure out. This is that classic NES challenge that Elden Pixels is trying to nail, and they do it pretty well. We've seen in forums people relishing the puzzles and not knowing where to go, but at the same time there's plenty of people giving tips, tricks, and guides for those who don't fancy wandering in circles for hours. How much you like this feature really depends on your approach to being lost: if you see it as a challenge, this is great, but if you get miffed pretty easily, you might get annoyed if you're not resorting to guides.
That said, there are some extra-obstinate parts of the game that grated on us. For instance, some respawn points were far enough away from their nearest boss that it was a frustrating slog to try and navigate our way through it time and time again just to get to the fight itself (much like Dark Souls), and the boss fight was challenging enough to justify a respawn point a bit closer.
Staying on the topic of boss fights, there were only a handful of them in Alwa's Awakening, but these were all firm and fair. They weren't easy by any means, but once you got the hang of their patterns and how they attacked, defeating them was all a matter of patience and waiting for your moment. The feeling of learning and outmanoeuvring an opponent really made these boss fights feel rewarding, especially the last one, and they all require you to call upon all the powers at your disposal to defeat them.
The same learning process applies to the game's puzzles as well, which, by the end, require not only logical thinking but quick movement and a lot of skill. One, for instance, requires you to float across a moving block, avoid spikes above you, and jump over another obstacle to land on the floating block again. The puzzles aren't so much a case of slow, methodical thinking, but more about navigating your environment without dying, or finding the item you need to get to one point or another.
All of this is helped by the three key magical abilities you encounter throughout the game: the ability to spawn a green block; the ability to produce a bubble you can stand on; and the ability to shoot a magic projectile from your staff (a staff which can also be used for melee attacks). Getting all of these aren't enough to progress to the end, however, as the former two need to be upgraded to reach different areas, but they do give a burst of freshness to gameplay and unlock different areas.
Design-wise, Alwa's Awakening is very effective in trying to be a retro platformer reminiscent of those on the NES. Obviously the 8-bit style is there, but there's so much more to appreciate, from the varied environments, dungeon settings reminiscent of Metroidvania titles, and varied colour palette. The enemies are equally creative in design as well, and their varied attacks always keep you on your toes; you never know what to expect when entering a new section of Alwa. Many levels contain little secrets like fake walls, too, which are nice little surprises.
This applies to the soundtrack as well, which could easily be plucked straight from a vintage platformer. A good indicator of the quality in this regard is that the tunes seem to drill into your brain and stay there, probably because you hear them looped so much during any one period of time. There are 25 of these chiptune tracks overall, and there's clear influence from things like pop and even dubstep in there too.
It took us about 10 hours to complete the game (and that was with a little help), but there's definitely way more content to see than we discovered. For example, we got roughly half of the collectible magic orbs scattered throughout the map, unlocked 85% of the map, and collected 75% of the items, and without a guide we can see total completion taking 20 hours, maybe more depending on how stuck you get trying to find certain areas.
Who is Alwa's Awakening for, then? Well, if you enjoy challenging NES platformers, you'll probably like what Alwa's Awakening is doing, but if you don't like not knowing where to go sometimes, and prefer a bit more hand-holding, then it's definitely going to grate on you. There's pretty much nothing more to it. The story isn't going to win awards (it's pretty much just good vs. evil), nor is the combat/gameplay, but it does reproduce that NES era essentials very well, with a memorable soundtrack and visual style, which is commendable in itself.
Loading next content