[Cade’s Arcade Reviews] Alwa’s Awakening – A Modern NES Throwback
Hello, and welcome back to Galaxy of Geek for a review from Cade’s Arcade, I’m Cade! Today I’m going to be reviewing Alwa’s Awakening on the Nintendo Switch.
Alwa’s Awakening is a modern day throw back to the good old NES era of games. Originally released on February 2nd, 2017 by Elden Pixels, this game has since received many positive reviews, so the general consensus on this title seems to be very positive. I myself have never heard of this title prior to doing this review, so I knew nothing about it beyond it’s positive review scores.
With knowing as little as I did, I was super eager to jump right in. There are many things that can make a game great, but there’s only one that truly matters to me, and that is a game’s replayability. So, is Alwa’s Awakening… replayable? Let’s find out!
A darkness has fallen upon the land of Alwa, and it’s up to our main protagonist Zoe to save everyone. With an unknown past, our hero wakes up at the entrance of a castle where we’re greeted by an old woman who sends us on our adventure. Zoe must travel and defeat the 4 Protectors and take down the main baddy Vicar before darkness reigns supreme. Once she accomplishes this, she must light the eternal flame.
The basic story is very straight forward. You go to each of the bosses, obtain every MacGuffin the game requires you to collect before you can encounter the final boss. When you finally catch up to and defeat him, you then head to light the eternal flame.
That is… until a warp knocks you out (somehow) and teleports you back to the beginning of the game implying that this adventure is just one giant loop, all while giving you a 32 bit graphical upgrade (neat).
Right off the bat, the ending doesn’t make sense at all to me, nor is it satisfying. I just don’t understand how the ending looping back to the beginning fits into the narrative of the story. If there were themes present of deja vu, or if characters you meet hint at our main characters repeating fate then I think that would have been subtle and ultimately way more interesting.
But nope, it’s just a thing that happens. And the worst part about it is when it starts to get interesting, the game just ends abruptly leaving you with a big “wtf did I just watch?” moment, and not in a good way.
When I initially saw this, I thought “oh cool, there’s a new game plus and it turns the game into an SNES style throw back, that’s an awesome twist!”. But like I said, that’s where the game got interesting for me, and that’s where it ended. It also doesn’t help that run time is super short. To clarify, there are games out there that I adore that are super short. But with this game, the length of the adventure is a tad underwhelming. Honestly, you could beat this game in about 6 hours without trying on your first playthrough. Or at least that’s what I assume, because I’ve got to be honest here… I didn’t beat this game. But wait don’t click away! I do have a valid reason for this, and I will explain why at the end.
Now the music is actually quite good, and was one of my favorite parts about this game. Anybody who knows me personally can tell you that I have a huge appreciation for music, more specifically the creativity that goes into making music. I have a particular soft spot for video game remixes as well. Personally, I would love to hear someone do a series of remixes based on the music from this game. One thing that’s cool that the developers did was if you go to their official website, you can download the whole soundtrack for free.
Why is this cool? Well besides getting the music for free, they made it available to listen on an NES emulator. It’s completely unnecessary, but I absolutely love it when developers do little stuff like that. You can check out their official website here.
Gameplay & Design
So what do you do during your adventure?
Your list of available moves consist of beating enemies into submission with your staff, or utilizing magical gems. These gems allow you to cast magic in order to solve puzzles, fight enemies, or traverse throughout the land. The game also features backtracking segments giving it a Metroidvania sense of exploration. For those of you that aren’t familiar, a Metroidvania is a name given to a game that features backtracking based on ability progression. The name is a combination of Metroid and Castlevania.
Because of how well the backtracking was done in both of those titles is the reason why we call games like Alwa’s Awakening Metroidvanias. If you ask anyone who knows me, they’d tell you that Super Metroid is my favorite stand alone game of all time. And by all time, I mean if I were to put it on a top 10 list, it would be #1.
Super Metroid’s backtracking is why it’s my favorite game. This is also why I am a sucker of Metroidvanias in general, when they’re good. So when I realized Alwa’s Awakening was a Metroidvania, I was immediately on board. And over all, I enjoyed revisiting areas when I was able to access a new place. That was until I noticed how sluggish the controls were.
Before I get into this, I want to clarify something.
Just because I say a game has restrictive controls does not mean I think the game is bad. Take Resident Evil for example. While I’ve never played a Resident Evil game, based on what I’ve seen and researched, the restriction in controls are partly what made the games good. Limiting your movement when a zombie is creeping toward you gives the player a sense of urgency that makes them fear that they will die in the moment. And isn’t making the player fear for their life the point of a horror game?
Why I bring this up is because Alwa’s Awakening features some limitations in the character’s movement options. While sluggish and restrictive controls work in favor of a horror game like Resident Evil, it doesn’t quite work in a precision 2D platformer like Alwa’s Awakening. So much so that there were times I swear the controls were fighting against me, which lead to some frustrating deaths during my playthrough. There were instances when the character wouldn’t even respond when I’d press a button. Then there were other moments when the character would keep moving just a little too far on either side, leading to a death I could have avoided normally. It was as if the game didn’t realized I stopped pressing the button.
Now I am playing on the Switch and I thought maybe it was my controller not sending a proper signal to the console. I have had some issues in the past with my controller not responding right when I’m too far away from the Switch when in docked mode. However, that can’t be the issue here because I’m right next to both the Switch and my TV when I record. Also, when I tested my controller with other games, my controller responded just fine like it normally did. Which leads me to believe that the issues I was having has to do with the game itself. But all of this is when the controls didn’t work. There were issues I had when they did work.
Sometimes you could be pressing the buttons in the wrong way, causing you to restart a segment all over again multiple times until the game feels like working in your favor. For example, you can either jump higher or short hop depending on how long you press the jump button. This is a basic mechanic featured in a lot of games. However, during one particular segment in my Let’s Play, I was in a room that required you to short hop across. If you jump too high, you’d hit some spikes which would instantly kill you.
What made this part frustrating is I felt like no matter how light I tap the button, it felt random how short my character would jump. At no point did I actually feel like I was in control. It makes me sad to say that the truly hard part the game is the controls and not the game itself.
Moving on, the boss battles are your run of the mill boss encounters, which takes a lot of inspiration from games like classic Mega Man. And just like Mega Man, once you learn their patterns, they’re all pushovers. However, learning their patterns is a bit of a nightmare when you combine the issues with the controls I mentioned. I’m gonna use Mega Man as an example again for a second. The original Mega Man is a tough but fair game. It was the kind of game that when you died, you felt like it was your fault. Why did you feel like it was your fault? Because the controls were tight and precise. You were able to make split decisions at a moments notice if the boss decided to change it’s pattern on you.
In Alwa’s Awakening, they try to imitate this, but they also incorporate a momentum mechanic that forces you to commit to any move you make. It’s infuriating when you jump over to a ledge only to see a lightning bolt fired at you after you’ve jumped and knowing there’s nothing you can do to avoid it. On top of that, the character is super floaty. So when you combine the character’s floatiness with having to commit to a jump, since it takes forever to get to the ground, the game is basically forcing you to take the hit in that moment. So many frustrations could have been avoided if the player had more control in the character’s movement.
But I don’t want to leave this section off on a sour note. I did find the art direction to be quite charming. Another aspect to video games that hits me right where I live is when I see a developer utilizes pixelated graphics. Of course with Alwa’s Awakening being an homage to classic games, it makes sense for them to go with a more timeless look.
Alwa’s Awakening is a game that had great potential in that so many things about it speaks to me directly as a gamer. It’s a Metroidvania, it utilizes a pixelated art style, the music is fantastic, and it’s a throwback to classic games while keeping it fresh with modern mechanics. There’s so many things about this title that feels tailor made for me.
Which is why it’s so sad to me that the negatives I’ve experience about this game outweigh the positives. I said at the beginning I’d explain why I didn’t finish this game.
If you couldn’t tell where I’m going with this, it was the controls that killed it for me. A game needs to have solid and intuitive controls mainly because that’s about 80% of what a player will be (or should be) doing in a game. Bad controls in a game would be like you ordering a pizza, but the bread came out soggy. Now the toppings are good and the sauce is excellent, but the bread just doesn’t have the stability to support the weight of everything else that was made right.
Gameplay is the very foundation of what makes a video game a video game. To me if the gameplay isn’t fun or rewarding, then the game isn’t fun. Elden Pixels is a talented team of developers that made a game that had so much potential but the whole experience ultimately fell flat for me. And that’s why I rate Alwa’s Awakening’s replayability as…
Now remember, reviews are just opinions that should never be taken your own. As always, keep it right here on Galaxy of Geek, and don’t forget to check out Cade’s Arcade for more reviews and videos on all things video game related. Take care, and I will see you next time!
GoG Break Down
Console: Nintendo Switch
Time upon completion: Just under 5 hours prior to quitting
Price: $9.99 digital/Review code was provided
Why you should buy it: To support the developer so they can make future titles that improve upon this game
Why you shouldn’t buy it: The game is frustrating in all the wrong ways
Who is this game for: Fans of classic style games