How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. World Structure is very Metroidvania-like, however the combat is more of a hybrid between puzzlers like Adventures of Lolo and 2D Platformers.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat, Spatial-Reasoning Puzzles
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Alwa's Awakening was played on Steam.
Buy Alwa's Awakening if you like…
- Catchy 8-Bit Tunes
- Puzzle Combat
- Block Pushing Puzzles
- Difficult-to-execute challenges
▼ Review continues below ▼
It’s easy to be charmed by Alwa’s Awakening’s 8-bit aesthetic, music and all – at least if you’re old enough to get nostalgia from that era. Putting that aside though, it’s a very good puzzle platformer Metroidvania centered around three mechanics that require some outside-the-box thinking. The game is well-built around its more cerebral mechanics, taking things a bit slower than your typical Metroidvania fare. However its pacing can at times be its downfall. Some of its problems are mitigated by some optional settings, but nevertheless it causes the game to be just a few steps away from greatness.
Instead of being about getting new guns and making enemies go boom, Alwa’s Awakening gives you a precarious close ranged attack, so you need to use your three spell options to gain the advantage. You gain the ability to create a green-colored block, which is useful for jumping off of to reachi cliffs that you couldn’t otherwise jump to. This leg-up function is superseded by the bubble spell, but from the beginning of the game until the end it’s still useful as a cover option, protecting your measly 3 HP from attacks. The bubble spell is your primary means of vertical transportation. As a break from the normal Metroidvania pattern you never get a double jump in this game, but must instead manage the floating platforms that you create for yourself. The third spell you get is a ranged attack via a Lightning Spell – which is especially useful given your basic attack’s inherent weaknesses. Each of these spells use the same cooldown pool, so casting a block makes you wait before you can cast a bubble, but the Lightning Spell in particular causes a long pause before you can cast anything again. It creates an interesting dynamic that is utilized decently throughout the game for some interesting challenges. One or two of the late game bosses especially made me feel clever when I figured out how to combine the spells and be successful. In general, I was completely engaged by the clever level design and figuring out how I could use my new powers to get around.
The less direct nature of your abilities gives the game a sort of Zelda-like quality. However, unlike the faster-paced 2D platforming sections of the Game Boy Zelda games, or other Zelda-like Metroidvanias such as Aggelos, Alwa’s Awakening moves very slowly. This isn’t so bad when you’re doing well – in fact I really like the change of pace. But, any time you’re forced to backtrack or have to replay a section of the map again it starts to feel a little sluggish. Thankfully the game offers a few “cheats” to mitigate this problem.
The first of these “cheats” is that when you die, there are no consequences other than going back to the last checkpoint that you used. What I mean by this is that you get to keep any items you found and any map exploration you’ve done – it even saves switches you’ve flipped. This did however lead me to intentionally killing myself just to warp back to the checkpoint and skip sections of the level geography. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I’ll let you be the judge – though I do think it would be better if a less drastic warp option was available by default.
The second “cheat” is that the game has an “Assist Mode”, which you access in the menu before you load your game, and it includes an option which lets you respawn at the start of the screen where you died. I almost recommend changing to this mode by default, even if it makes the game a little easier than I’d like. It’s a little bit frustrating to have to perform the same puzzle solutions as you slowly make your way back to where you died at times – and this is entirely owed to the game’s slower pace. The designers would have done well to include more checkpoints, especially in its overly long final dungeon full of instant death traps. The instant death also feels a bit unnecessary overall considering your character only ever gets three hit points before she dies. There is a potion bottle that doubles this amount, but to refill it you have to slog back through long areas of the game to find a well, and if you die it saves that you lost your potion, forcing you to do spend that extra time to refill it if you want it while learning a boss’ pattern. I don’t think Alwa’s Awakening is a game that benefits from this overly punishing difficulty, but again, you can always use the assist mode if you need to. (Turning it on does prevent you from killing yourself to warp back to checkpoints though.)
Besides the intense difficulty of the final dungeon, I was also left a little bit disappointed by the game’s story. It has a great setup with its intro, the kind of thing that could really have turned into something worthwhile. I kept waiting for a layered payoff, but in the end the game finishes with an inconclusive cliffhanger. Because of the difficulty in creating and releasing games, especially ones with the generally high quality of Alwa’s Awakening, I think it’s especially important to make your game a standalone title as much as possible – leaving the possibility of a sequel, but not necessarily requiring it for story satisfaction. With that said, I really look forward to the next game.
Games like Alwa’s Awakening are the hardest to review, because I love so many things about them, but there are just a few elements that leave me sitting on the fence as to whether it should be included in the same group as some of the other greats. Ultimately this boils down to scoring system semantics though. Since Alwa’s Awakening offers some fairly unique gameplay that you’re not going to find anywhere else, if it appeals to you then don’t let my more negative remarks deter you. It is a very good game that could be great with just a few changes. I think as the developer learns from this one its sequel could easily shine with the best games available.
You move a bit slow and combat is more about avoiding things with your puzzle objects. By necessity patterns must be basic
Some excellent chalenges that are somewhat marred by your slow movement
While moving from place to place could be a little more snappy, you're well-rewarded for checking everywhere
While a major focus of the game, figuring out what to do isn't too challenging. It's actually executing it that makes it satisfying
I wanted to see how the story of the opening cutscene would unfold, unfortunately you never get to
Very nostaligic 8-Bit graphics feels straight from the era
Incredibly catchy tunes
You can speedrun the game and there are some sequence breaking achievements
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