A current trend in gaming, especially the world of indie gaming is the return of retro. The idea of making a game that looks like it could have run on an NES or Sega Master System. We have seen some breakout titles coming from the retro redux including Shovel Knight and Freedom Planet. A recent game in the vein of retro is Alwa’s Awakening, developed and published by Elden Pixels the game sets out be a side scrolling platformer with puzzles in the vein of NES Metroid or Castlevania. The question that remains is will this game do anything special to stand out?
Set in the kingdom of Alwa, which has been taken over by the demon Vicar. Players take on the role of the hero Zoe whom must defeat Vicar’s Protectors which guard the ancient treasures of power and then defeat the demon himself. As Zoe finds these treasures she gains spells which will help her solve puzzles or do better in combat. The plot is simple, but simplicity itself is not a bad thing. Many games which were used to draw inspiration from had simple plots, whether Mega Man, Castlevania or, Wizards and Warriors. Simple plots sometimes just work and here we see that the simplicity lends itself well to its retro attempt.
For gameplay there isn’t much to talk about, you have four-way movement, jumping, attacking, spell selection and a map/pause button. With the goal here being a game that could be ported and played on something like an NES or Sega system. Though this game is not without gameplay flaws. The controls feel a bit floaty which lead to issues in the case where a precise jump is required. Couple that with hitboxes that feel slightly off which leads to issues when going for pixel perfect jumps. It looks and feels like you should be able to jump, but when pressing the jump key you see Zoe fall instead. Though despite those issues the game is also somewhat forgiving, unlike other platformers of the era spike pits are not instant death instead, doing one damage to Zoe.
Combat is fairly simple, without a combat spell you attack with your staff and duck or jump to dodge projectiles, while moving out-of-the-way for melee attacks. Some enemies will drop hearts which will heal Zoe. Along the way the player will also find blue orbs, these orbs increase the damage Zoe does to the Protectors. The number of orbs that the player currently has will be displayed in the upper right corner of the screen.
The puzzles generally require platforming, block pushing or finding keys. The first spell you get lets you conjure blocks to jump up to places you were unable to reach before. For the most part, the puzzles aren’t too difficult and simply require a couple of minutes of thought. There is one early puzzle that requires precision, you are jumping across a pit, as you do so you are hitting spikes on the roof. These spikes each do one damage to you and Zoe has three health. What this means is you need to go into this room at max health or this puzzle will kill you. If there are more puzzles like this then the game could easily lead to aggravation as taking damage means going to previous screens to farm enemies in the hopes that they drop hearts.
Like older style platformers three hits and Zoe dies, in this game, there is a seemingly infinite number of continues. The game also uses a checkpoint system, when reaching and activating a checkpoint Zoe will be healed. Upon dying and selecting to continue players will start over from the most recently used checkpoint. The number of deaths is also tracked from the continue screen, this will come in handy for speed runners and completionists as one achievement requires clearing the game in under two hours without dying.
The most unusual part of the gameplay for this game were the controls, keyboard controls could not be rebound. Yet gamepad controls can be rebound, making this game with a controller in mind makes sense again going for the retro aesthetic, but not allowing keyboard controls to be rebound seems like an oversight. The key bindings are also quite unusual WASD for movement and space bar for jump are standard in most games, though the other keys were bound to ‘B’, ‘N’ and ‘M’. Because of the issues listed with the keybindings, a controller is highly recommended for this game.
Moving on to visuals and music, the sprites look great for their fidelity. Very well detailed for 8-bit, you can tell that a lot of work went into making the sprites look as good as possible. The attention to detail on the color palette and backgrounds give this game the appearance of a ROM or homebrew that was ripped straight from the NES. In all for an 8-bit retro style game, the graphics are perfectly fitting. The music is an upbeat score, a perfect fit for this type of adventure game. There really isn’t much else to say about the music, it’s excellent and it fits this title perfectly.
From a performance standpoint, there really isn’t much to discuss. There are very few graphics options, which in this case is fine. Antialiasing or shadow detail won’t do much for a game with 8-bit pixel graphics. Your only options are fullscreen on or off, v-sync on or off, and resolution options. Resolution options for this game are also unusual, there are three choices 800×480, 1200×720, and 1600×960, all three of which are 5:3 resolutions.
At the end of the day, I don’t see myself continuing this game, while the game itself has flaws, every game has flaws. This game is not a bad game, it’s just wholly unremarkable. While other titles like Freedom Planet or Shovel Knight wear the veneer of retro, combining it with a touch of modern. Alwa’s Awakening steeps itself in retro, from the controls to the map screen you can tell this game is trying to be a Metroidvania-style platformer. While it succeeds in being a Metroidvania-style platformer, it fails to set itself apart. There is no hook, nothing that really makes this game special. If you are interested in this game you can currently pick it up on Steam for $9.99 or your regional equivalent.