Alwa’s Awakning is a labor of love from a small development team with a lot of heart and it’s reflected well in the game itself. It was developed by a very dedicated four-person team over the course of about two years and I’m incredibly impressed with what they were able to create. Alwa’s Awakening is a Metroidvania NES style game where you take on the role of protagonist Zoe who was summoned to this world to help destroy the evil that is threatening it. To do so you’ll need to travel across many different areas and learn new abilities across the 400 plus unique and challenging rooms this game has to offer. Your quest to save the land of Alwa will be very reminiscent of the NES era in all the best ways.
The 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming have experienced quite the resurgence over the last few years with games like Cave Story and Shovel Knight earning quite a bit of attention and critical acclaim, and for good reason too, but there have been a lot of games that have tried to capitalize on this retro reawakening with mixed results. As a result of this new popularity of retro goodness, it can sometimes be difficult to find the standout titles in the flood of games that aspire for greatness but ultimately fall short. Alwa’s Awakening is not one of these games at all and is worthy of both your attention and the praise it has already received. Alwa’s Awakening does a great job of capturing that retro feel and spirit while mostly leaving the negative design choices of the 80’s and 90’s back in the past where they belong. However, the positives, like the sense of exploration, challenge, and fun were placed front and center and do a wonderful job of infectiously spreading across all corners of this lovely game.
The story of Alwa’s Awakening is simple but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just like many games of the NES era the story was meant to throw in some context, background, and give players some reason and motivation for their journey. The gameplay was always front and center as it should be. A story is nice in a game but for retro-style games, we really don’t need too much. We just need a cause to fight for and a weapon and we’re ready to go. All you really need to know is evil is rising up in the land of Alwa and Zoe, who you’ll be playing as, has been summoned to fight back and save the land from the evil that threatens to close in around it. You’ll want to save this world too. It’s charming and warm with characters and dialogue that reminded me of Earthbound and Shovel Knight at times.
Zoe has a wand that you can use to vanquish enemies. You’ll acquire new abilities along your journey to destroy the wide variety of enemies you’ll encounter. From boss fights to run of the mill enemies, Alwa’s Awakening has great attention to detail. I love the design of both the enemies and the world itself. You’ll go to many different areas; from dungeons to forests to towns and they all have their own unique look and feel too. This game was very deliberately developed and you can tell the four team members were confidently all moving in the same direction throughout the entire development cycle. Combat works really well. In fact, this game controls great. It also features full controller support across a wide range of controller options. I personally chose to use an Xbox One controller and I could not have been happier. Everything worked very well. The platforming elements also work really well. I got some Castlevania vibes when I was exploring and maneuvering around different areas, particularly Bloodlines but everything feels much more open and less constricted or crowded. Zoe has a bit of a floaty jump, almost like Yoshi in Super Mario World but a little looser. It works well though and helps line things up. I never felt like I didn’t have good control over Zoe and that’s really important in a game like this.
The difficulty was just right. Things got tricky at times. I even grew to hate the death count on the continue screen but in all honesty, I actually enjoyed having that. It reminded me of the era this game is so proudly inspired by. There aren’t actual game overs though. Sure, you’ll die but you can hit continue after chuckling at your death count and then you’ll just go to your last save point. Save points are spread out perfectly. Right after I got past certain sections that I struggled with a bit there would normally be a save point. I may die later from a different challenging area but I don’t think I was ever forced to repeat previous sections because of a different section. It doesn’t feel like there are too many save points either though. The team ensured there was just the right amount. The game’s platforming and combat are the same way. There’s some challenge here and there but everything feels and controls well enough so when I failed in an area I knew it was my fault and just kept trying to get past that spot. I was very pleased with how the team handled everything. I was very reminded of Metroid when it came to encountering sections I wasn’t sure how to get past. Alwa’s Awakening has just the right amount of trial and error where I’m satisfied with my feats and rarely frustrated. It has a great learning curve and the game design helps teach you by having to get past specific areas and/or enemies where you’ll learn how to play the game well. It’s a constant conversation between the game and the player and it’s one of the best and most important things that Elden Pixels took from the NES era of game design.
Alwa’s Awakening is a wonderful game and I think it belongs right up there with Cave Story, Shovel Knight and other indie retro releases that borrow the best elements of the earlier eras of video games while still injecting their own character, design, and level building that makes the game feel like a new experience. Alwa’s Awakening may feel like an older game in its graphics, music, and structure but it never feels like it doesn’t belong in this golden age of retro throwbacks that we’re in the middle of enjoying right now. This game is bound to be a classic years from now and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A PC Review Copy for Alwa’s Awakening was provided by Elden Pixels for the Purpose of this Review
- Beautiful graphics that pay homage to the NES era while still looking sharp in today's modern age
- Fun music that always helps shape the current tone
- Tight controls that will never be to blame of your deaths (and full controller support!)
- Good length with plenty of things to see and experience on your journey
- Alwa's Awakening only brings the best elements of game design from the NES era
- Auto-Saves before bosses would be nice but there are still save points right before normally so it doesn't take too long to reach them again when you die