Mar 27, 2017 Last Updated 11:41 AM, Mar 27, 2017
Good Franchise, Bad Story

Good Franchise, Bad Story

If you’re going to keep going with a franchise, if you’re going to be ...

The ABC Murderer Forgot To Kill Off Agatha Christie

The ABC Murderer Forgot To Kill Off Agatha Christie

It takes a special game developer to create a title that has an awesom...

The Point-and-Click: An Adventure in Endurance

The Point-and-Click: An Adventure in Endurance

Yes, the point-and-click adventure: the natural progression of the tex...

Alwa's Awakening Review

Published in Adventure
Read 634 times
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Nostalgia has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of things we loved, and that’s certainly true of retro gaming. Those games could be brutally difficult, with iffy controls, indecipherable graphics, and a complete lack of direction as to what the player was supposed to do. Even some of the best 8-bit games have issues like that. It’s incredibly unfair that when you lose your last life in World 8 of Super Mario Bros., you have to start over at the first level. You could spend hours wandering around in The Legend of Zelda without knowing you needed to find a dungeon. Castlevania made you write down passwords, for cryin’ out loud. A lot of core features that make up retro games feel like vestigial tails when compared to today’s games. The technology got better. We moved past those problems.

So how, in this age of immediate respawns and autosaves, tutorials and on-screen objectives, do we go back to the 8-bit world? And why would we want to?

Alwa’s Awakening might hold some answers.

A 2-D adventure platformer from Elden Pixels, Alwa’s Awakening is a purposeful hearkening back the glory days of the NES in both graphics and gameplay. The game it most immediately brought to mind was Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, particularly in the town sections, but you can find bits of Castlevania and Metroid and a whole host of other classics in its DNA. It’s bound together by a light story about a girl summoned to a faraway land (Alwa) to fight evil, collect magical objects, and solve environmental puzzles so specific to her skills that it’s a wonder any of the NPCs manage to get around in Alwa at all.

I started Alwa’s Awakening feeling ambivalent, although there were a lot of positives right off the bat. The 8-bit graphics are masterful, gorgeously giving each area in Alwa a strong sense of place. The chiptune score adds to the mood and is a perfect salute to the beloved NES soundtracks of yore. The controls aren’t as tight as they’d be in a modern platformer, but they’re pleasantly floaty and work well with the tasks required of you. (When I died, it was never because of the controls). It doesn’t feel like it moves as fast as a lot of other retro-inspired modern titles, like Shovel Knight, but that’s a good thing. It’s more focused on the adventure/puzzle aspect than it is on super-quick, rock ‘em sock ‘em action, so the slower pace lends itself well to pondering what to do in a room before you do it.

Here’s where we get to the negative I encountered early on

I am so, so bad at this game. I’ve grown soft playing games with detailed maps and an ever-present guide giving you hints. The areas in Alma flow directly into one another, which could make it hard to get my bearings. Characters don’t give you clear directions to your next location; instead, it’s a vague “east of here.” And not, like, two screens east. Many, many screens East. Where you sometimes have to double back to reach previously unreachable areas. I spent a lot of time cluelessly wandering around.

My other major source of frustration was that Alwa’s Awakening relies on save points. Interestingly, you keep items that you got after you last saved when you respawn, which led to me occasionally kamikaze-ing myself at an item even when I knew I was going to get killed by the enemy guarding it. But that one helpful feature doesn’t make up for the seemingly endless treks from the save point through three other rooms before getting to the room where I misjudged my jump and got hit with a fireball again.

As I said, I was getting frustrated, and it was not making me feel fondly about the game.

Slowly, though, something started happening.

I sat back and took a deep breath before I entered a difficult room, no matter how many times I had already tried it. I felt a tremendous sense of joy when I finally got through a room I had died in seven times before. I upgraded my magic staff to create items that helped me solve puzzles, and I became giddy at my own cleverness for solving them. I started to enjoy exploring the world with no particular goal in mind, just wondering what might be over this next bridge. Times when I would have tilted out for dying instead became experiments from which I learned more about how the world of Alwa works.

It was . . . freeing. I didn’t know all the answers, and it didn’t matter because of the fun and sense of accomplishment I felt as I was bungling along.

Perhaps the biggest difference between gaming now and gaming then is the time crunch we all live in. There is always so much to do, and never enough time to do it in. You will never get to see every great movie you want to see, read every good book you’re sure you would like, play every awesome video game, especially when they’re spread across at six-ish current-gen platforms.

I think that’s what was bothering me about playing Alwa’s Awakening. I didn’t have time to redo that jumping sequence ten times. I didn’t want to waste time walking around that could have been spent advancing in the game. But what I came to realize was that I wasn’t wasting time. There was value in the moments I was confused. There was value in taking my time to soak in the atmosphere of the game. There was value in trying and failing and trying again.

I had known that when I was a little kid watching my sisters play The Legend of Zelda. I’d forgotten it along the way.

The OPN Interview with Robert Kreese and Alex Berggren

9

The Verdict

So that’s the importance of a retro game, and Alwa’s Awakening demonstrates it beautifully. With a few tweaks to make it a little more palatable to the modern gamer, Alwa’s Awakening captures the joy that can come from conquering a difficult experience. It doesn’t do anything new, but in bringing back the old, it shows how fun finding your own way can be.

Samantha Bister

Samantha Bister is a writer and editor from Wisconsin. Her earliest gaming memories are of playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with her mom, who did the boring stuff like collecting heart pieces while Sam beat the bosses. In addition to games, she also enjoys reading, making fun of terrible movies, and watching videos of cats and dogs running into things or falling over.

Related items

  • River City Ransom: Underground Review

    River City Ransom: Underground is fantastic in how it truly captures the feel of retro games, and it’s clear from the experience that Conatus Creative provides the desire and requisite talent. On top of the original beat-em-up feel, additional features round out the title quite nicely, such as RPG leveling aspects and a fighting engine that packs a punch.

  • The Final Specimen: Arrival Review

    Final Specimen: Arrival does not take any risks with plot. It is, mechanically, a platformer, reminiscent of the 90s, but nothing new or special is presented. The protagonist, for his part, promises to repeatedly die in every funny way imaginable, and that is exactly what you will get from this game - a lightly filling experience.

  • Streets of Rogue Early Access Review

    Without a doubt, few things are more appealing than a good excuse to log online and murder random opponents with my friends – and, typically, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) variety is preferable to salty, overly-competitive strangers. Streets of Rogue is a refreshing, action-RPG-adventure-stealth-shooter conglomeration developed by Matt Dabrowski, and it's a title that promises to be an excellent addition to the line-up of hits from tinyBuild Games. Released on March 10th, 2017, this Early Access title stresses that it is all about choices – but will gamers choose it, when there are so many other chaotic, anarchic alternatives?

More in this category: We Are Chicago Review »

Latest Shows

Alwa's Awakening Interview

Alwa's Awakening…

Use your magic staff and progress through a large interconnected world where you'll solve puzzles, fight enemies and defeat bosses in order to help free the land of Alwa. Explore a...

For Honor - AAA Anonymous Epi. 11

For Honor - AAA …

With AAA Anonymous, we discuss our latest AAA game addiction, until the next one replaces it. This episode covers Ubisoft's PC release of the much anticipated medieval multiplayer...

Out Soon

PC Gaming Incoming

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee is an all-new open-world platformer from genre veterans Playtonic! Explore huge, beauti...

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3

Sniper: Ghost Wa…

Go behind enemy lines with the ultimate modern military shooter. Play as an American sniper dropped ...

STRAFE

STRAFE

STRAFE® is the fastest, bloodiest, deadliest, most adjective-abusing, action-packed first-person sho...

For The King Early Access Review

For The King Ear…

For the King is a strategic RPG that features procedurally generated maps, so each playthrough is palpably different from the last. However, the randomness dampens appeal as the re...

Open Sorcery Review

Open Sorcery Rev…

Open Sorcery present fresh ideas and a great premise. The gameplay is fleshed out, and each character adds to the enjoyment of the story. There are even thought-provoking concepts ...

Asura Review

Asura Review

Although the concept of a procedurally-generated skill tree is unique and broadly appealing, Asura's roguelike genre, where nothing carries over from one run to the next, does not ...

Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy Review

Operation Abyss:…

Although it succeeds in both maintaining familiarity for fans of the genre and introducing novelty, Operation Abyss: New Tokyo Legacy fails to deliver engaging combat or efficientl...

Bad Dream: Coma Review

Bad Dream: Coma …

Whether you are new to the series, or just looking for a creepy game to mess with your perception of reality, Bad Dream: Coma is not one to miss. The atmosphere is dark and gritty...

Blink Review

Blink Review

With bursts of pressure, ethereal atmosphere, and engaging soundtrack, Blink brings style and originality to your standard design in puzzle-platforming. If you’re a fan of the genr...