Alwa’s Awakening is gaming comfort food.
Proverbially speaking, it doesn’t deviate from the recipe, it measures each ingredient carefully and everything is cooked exactly as it should be. Now aside from the fact that I am obviously hungry, the metaphor fits perfectly. Alwa is a game that you have played before but never ceases to be fun, enjoyable, and addictive as hell. While Alwa doesn’t re-invent the wheel, and some may question its innovation; what it does bring to the table is exactly what you want from these types of games.
Alwa’s Awakening is a side-scrolling, 8bit, Action/Adventure, Metroidvania. That sentence is gaming yum. The story of Alwa is rather simple, four mystical gems that kept everything harmonious and all around good were stolen and now its up to you to make it right again. To be honest, the story is super light with some dialogue interspersed enough to keep you moving forward through the game. The real highlight is the gameplay, retro-atmosphere and its enough to make the story not really matter.
Now I hate to compare games but Shovel Knight came to mind quite frequently when playing Alwa’s Awakaneing. I mean that in all good ways too. The game has very few buttons and controls are simple and precise. One thing that I definitely felt was that Alwa is a game far more about platforming and defense than attacking and boss fights. There is an attack button and one offensive spell but you spend a great majority of time playing defensively and chipping away at your enemies or avoiding death traps. Enemy AI is rather predictable and easy to overcome.
Speaking of death, you have three hitpoints at start with the ability to get a potion later for more. As you traverse the game, you quickly find yourself in situations where you’re constantly hoping for the next save point, which also function as healing/spawning nodes. Reason being, Alwa is an unforgiving game and dying is easy. Three hit points don’t go very far and there are SO MANY instant death spikes/water that it made me rage quit a few times. Matter of fact, instant death scenarios are the bread and butter of this game, if you don’t like that kinda of thing, think twice.
Standard Metroidvania conventions apply, you gather upgrades, fight bosses, and are building yourself up more and more to the end of the game. There is a large map for you to explore with so many nooks and crannies its boggling. Parts of that map are dungeon areas, that usually involve a theme to a particular spell/upgrade you acquire from that dungeon. Each dungeon usually has a boss. These are all a joy to play and I never got tired of seeing what was next.
Bosses feel very overwhelming at first, but all have that one weakness that nullifies them. That’s one thing I found slightly unbalanced, you will find the bosses either stupidly easy or die fifteen times in a row. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. I think that plays back to the game being more about defense. Once you have that boss strategy down, you are going to win every time. One thing that I absolutely loved was that collectibles in the game served a purpose beyond buying upgrades or what not. As you collect blue gems they help you lower the bosses health down, making bosses easier to fight and looking for them gives you a reason to explore. It felt very rewarding beyond the same old health upgrades or standard collectibles.
I love the 8bit graphics of Alwa’s Awakening. There are some palette swaps when it comes to brick work but every area is given a distinct feeling, color, and enemy design. Certain areas have some bright colors that really make the game just pop. I also appreciated the way the camera would flow from area to area. There are no load screens except when you die. This is all enhanced even more by the OST which is underlined on the Steam page for good reason. It’s very well done and while I don’t consider myself a music savant, I enjoyed the soundtrack quite a bit.
Mixing the sound effects, seamless gameplay, and great aesthetic you will have a tough time finding fault with Alwa in the visuals department, if you love retro games. I had a hard time putting down this game from the moment I started it up. I wanted to keep going and see what new spell I might get or what challenge awaited me. Alwa is an extremely addictive game and has a great pace. The only problem I ran into, is that the game hides a pivotal item behind a hidden door two thirds of the way through the game. I spent a good three hours searching for this item and no hint in the game is ever given to its location.
While future players and guides will alleviate this frustration, my first initial run of the game was soured slightly by this damn door. Despite that hiccup, you are looking at a initial run of four to six hours of gameplay or less depending on your skill/lust for collectibles.
Alwa’s Awakaneing does have some replay value to it, as certain challenges are more likely to be completed in a second playthrough than in the first. Such as dying less then five times, and beating the game in less than two hours. This sounds freaking impossible given how many instant death scenarios there are. I had a personal gripe with the game over screen telling me I’ve died for the 188th time. The screen is easy to skip, but does twist the dagger a bit. Best of luck to you achievement hunters out there! Steam Achievements/Cards are also available for you collectors out there.
Thankfully Alwa’s controls are very tight and the game does feature full controller support with rebindable keys. Always an appreciated feature no matter what game. Given the fact I died stupidly many times, I never felt cheated in the game and knew that it was my mistake. There is no delay from the controls or any bugs to speak of. Depending on which save node used, retreading of areas is something that is going to happen often and will become frustrating. Retreading of rooms is something that becomes less a hassle as your powers become enhanced. Besides the game is packed full of little secrets everywhere so it always isn’t a bad thing.
If you are looking for a game that is a good solid challenge then Alwa is very well balanced, it ups the ante at a good pace. Just expect by the time you reach the last dungeon everything is going to kill you in one shot.
To wrap this up, I loved Alwa’s Awakening, I raged, I laughed, I won battles, I died, a lot. This is a great comfortable game that will feel familiar from the beginning all the way to the end. You can tell this game was a labor of love and it shows. I highly recommend Alwa’s Awakening to any lover of retro games or Metroidvanias as I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.