How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. Much of the content centers around four Dungeon-like areas, but the order you go in is your choice and the overworld is full of optionals
Primary Challenge: Spatial-Reasoning Puzzles
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Alwa's Awakening was provided by the Developer.
Buy Alwa's Legacy if you like…
- Zelda-like Spatial Reasoning Puzzles and Dungeons
- Nostalgic SNES style presentation
- Catchy 8-Bit Style tunes
- Secret Hunting
- Skill Trees and Player Choice
▼ Review continues below ▼
Zoe is back in another Zelda-Like puzzle platformer, this time with SNES style graphics and even more caked-on layers of nostalgia. Moving from Alwa’s Awakening to Alwa’s Legacy is perhaps the best recreation of moving from the NES to the SNES that I’ve experienced since Indie gaming has started making homages to that retro era. Everything from the sound effects, to the backgrounds, and especially the mechanics hearken back to that time of drastic improvement. Controlling the main character is faster and more fluid, and level design is more clever than ever. For any fans of the first game, picking up this sequel is completely a no-brainer. Alwa’s Legacy has its imperfections, but from a gameplay standpoint it’s very close to achieving its most ideal design.
The first hour or so of the game is sort of like a mini Alwa’s Awakening. The three core powers that carried the puzzles of the first game are introduced quickly. They’re given just enough time to tutorialize their use, and thus the rest of the game is designed as a true evolution of what the original had to offer. You can summon green blocks to reach platforms just out of your reach, or to hold down buttons required to open doors. You can create bubbles that give you even more upward movement than the green blocks, and combining the two together achieves maximum height. You can summon lightning bolts that light things on fire and is generally the most useful spell during combat. Just like before the three powers operate on a shared cooldown timer to balance their use, with the lightning spell incurring the longest wait time.
Once you complete the early game recap, you’re turned loose on the world with little direction. You’re told roughly where the game’s three other dungeons are but it’s up to you to figure out how to get to them. As it turns out, to finish each of the dungeons the three core spells are all you really need, so you can tackle them in any order you want. There is an “Optimal” order to things and a helpful NPC in the center of the map that will kindly suggest that order to you if you ask him, but if you just like forging your own path you can do as you please. The game even has a new flexible fast-travel system to support this autonomy, with every save point being convertible into a warp point by spending precious collectable tears. Every dungeon is filled with orbs, tears, and health-upgrading flower petals you can collect, and with other dungeon’s powers many of them are easier to get if they’re not outright impossible without them.
The main course of each dungeon is more than just finding new ways to use your existing powers. Each dungeon has some kind of exclusive mechanic that sets them apart from the others. Without spoiling too much, the delightful concept of thinking of a dungeon as a whole location rather than solving puzzles on a room-by-room basis is used well and used often. Occasionally the design leads to unnecessary repetition, such as toggling a switch back and forth in a busy-work style of progression, but for the most part the level design is on par with some of the best dungeons in the genre. Even if the core spells were removed from the game, these dungeons would be fun all by themselves based on their concepts alone.
I keep mentioning “dungeons” which I know for some people sets off alarms that Alwa’s Legacy might not actually be Metroidvania. Rest assured, even though I keep calling this game a “Zelda-like” (because it is), there are plenty of mechanics aside from just being a 2D platformer that give this game a strong Metroidvania feel. You do get ability upgrades in some of the dungeons, including spells that use a new separate recharge system, but the most important upgrades are found just by exploring the game’s overworld. While the dungeons can be consumed as individual levels, that general feeling of discovery is strong. Player choice and potential sequence breaking is very much an appealing feature of Alwa’s Legacy.
A driving force in player choice is the new skill tree system, which you use the collectable orbs to purchase powers from. The three core powers have their own upgrade path, and you decide which powers take priority on any new play through. It should go without saying that none of these powers are actually required to get to the game’s ending credits, but they either make boss and enemy encounters easier, or they even make it easier to reach other collectables. Some destructible walls, out-of-reach precipices, or button puzzles outright require some of these upgrades to obtain. Besides the optional use cases though, the movement upgrades hidden within the skill tree system can also help you subvert challenges that might otherwise have you frustratingly scratching your head. Some upgrades have very specific use cases, but a lot of them are much more powerful than they would initially appear. The best example of this is the ability that lets you whack your green blocks so that they fly across the screen and damage enemies. This might seem redundant when you already have a lightning bolt that already provides a ranged attack, but the green block was able to one-shot most of the regular enemies that I encountered, and it quickly ended up being a staple in my repertoire. The skill tree makes finding the orbs extra rewarding, and in fact I’d argue that finding orbs is the best part of the game.
It is a little annoying how you’re not told what is available in a given upgrade path until you buy into the previous item. So rather than making an informed decision on how to spend your precious orbs, you sort of have to gamble that you’re not losing out on a movement upgrade that will let you collect more orbs if you had bought them in a more optimal order. I understand that hiding future upgrades might help with preventing the player from feeling overwhelmed by analysis paralysis, but I do feel maybe just a little salty that I couldn’t get a really good movement upgrade a little earlier if I was able to plan it out. As soon as this game has been out a little longer inevitably someone will post the skill tree to a guide somewhere on the internet, and of course playing the game multiple times will let you memorize what’s available. Replayability is after all what the skill tree enables best.
One other downside to the skill tree is that it can trivialize some of the boss encounters if you happened to buy the right things. The hardest bosses for me were the first two, and after that it was almost like I had purchased their “robot master” weakness for how quickly they fell to my onslaught. In general the bosses are a low point for the game anyway, with them ranging from okay to just disappointing. They’re all competent, with well-telegraphed attacks that allow for no-damage completion, but not all of them are interesting. Even without some of the more powerful combat upgrades I would have been able to find a blind-spot to their patterns and doing less damage would have just extended the inevitable victory. Some of the bosses also lack polish from a presentation standpoint, where they can jank around after you’ve hit them, or just disappear unceremoniously once you’ve defeated them. When the rest of the game’s presentation is so top notch, the animation oddities that currently exist in some of the game’s encounters sticks out pretty harshly. Like anything I’m reviewing at this date though, it’s all prime real estate for future patches to change.
The most disappointing aspect of Alwa’s Legacy for me is its story and narrative, which is the one thing that hasn’t really improved since the first game. Zoe can talk this time around, and as you collect gemstones your journal is filled out as you play, but it doesn’t go anywhere that you wouldn’t expect from the tired old cliches that it uses. The whole land of Alwa and Zoe herself is built up as this big mystery, but there’s no actual payoff. To make matters worse, the NPCs feel even less real than they did in Alwa’s Awakening. Almost every one of them feels like a reference to some other game that I have not played, or like a self-insert of one of the developers, or perhaps an insert based on a crowdfunding reward. Perusing the game’s Steam forums seems to confirm that this suspicion is the actual case, and I found it to be somewhat distracting. I generally say that story doesn’t matter too much in any Metroidvania game as long as it motivates the player to move forward, but in this case the payoff was that I felt a little empty by the time the credits were rolling.
In spite of complaints about some of the game’s combat and the story in general, Alwa’s Legacy is very much the display of mastery over game design that I had hoped for after having played Alwa’s Awakening. The dungeons are memorable, and if you just enjoy a challenge, collecting orbs and discovering entire optional dungeons will surely be a treat for you. If you haven’t played the original, there isn’t anything from a story perspective preventing you from jumping straight into this game. I thought it was a lot of fun re-experiencing my childhood memories of getting that SNES after owning an NES for so many years, but my generation is getting older and my nostalgia less relevant. Alwa’s Legacy’s primary goal was to be everything that was good about the first game, but better, and in my opinion for everything that matters the most they accomplished that completely.
General combat is fluid and feels good, however it's definitely not the main highlight, and bosses can be hit or miss.
Platforming isn't as much a dexterous challenge as it is a puzzle challenge, and that is reflected in our puzzle score
Figuring out where all of the hidden orbs are is incredibly fun, and the powers you gain from doing so are just as rewarding
While not always terribly difficult, the spatial reasoning puzzles are great, with some dungeons becoming entire puzzle boxes to solve especially if you want all the orbs
Being a sequel game this was the biggest missed opportunity. The narrative is bogged down by referential inserts and tired cliches.
The SNES presentation is absolutely gorgeous, especially the backgrounds.
The music is excellent, but it's closer to an 8-bit soundtrack, making it slightly incongruous with the rest of the game's SNES style.
There's a pacifist mode you can unlock, but the biggest replayability factor is the skill tree and the level of autonomy you have on choosing your dungeon order..
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