There is a bit of a craze about retro-platformers going on now. Spearheaded by the release of Shovel Knight (2014) the Steam Store is starting to flood with similar titles, with the belief that 8-bit platformers are all the rage right now and will result in a quick buck.
The point that a lot of these games miss is that the 8-bit platformer, from the NES and Sega Saturn days, were intricately designed and complex. Offering a level of difficulty with a learning curve that was forgiving enough not to frustrate players into giving up. At first glance of Alwa’s Awakening (2017), I was already preparing myself for another one of these games, given that it is the first game developed by Elden Pixels.
In Alwa’s Awakening, you play as Zoe, who is tasked with saving the titular realm of Alwa from the evil which has taken over its lands. You begin the game with your trusty staff, which is only good for giving enemies a good whack at the start. As the game progresses, you unlock different powers which aid exploration and combat. This, given the Metroid-esque, inter-connected world of Alwa’s Awakening, allows the game to expand its levels at a suitable pace without you feeling too restricted.
You will first find the ability to generate blocks to push and stand on, useful for blocking enemy projectiles and jumping to hard-to-reach areas. Later down the line, you can create floating bubbles, which you can stand on to get to even harder-to-reach areas and help with some of the more complex platforming. Then, you get the lightning bolt power up, which can open some doors and blast enemies. Alwa’s Awakening feels overwhelming when you start without these powers, but as you gain them, the opportunities for exploration unfold and it makes you feel more powerful in the process.
Controlling Zoe also feels good, and has a paradoxical ‘floaty’ yet precise feel. I never over or under calculated the distance I needed to jump and I could duck and avoid enemy attacks when I wanted. Given the slow pace of Alwa’s Awakening, it is important for the controls to feel good and responsive and the only time I failed was due to my own errors.
Alwa’s Awakening ramps up the difficulty later in the game and dying, unless you’re very skilled, becomes more frequent. Game saves are triggered by a checkpoint system, but these checkpoints feel far and few between, and it made dying feel more punishing than necessary when too far from your last save point. This shouldn’t be too negative a point, given that Alwa’s Awakening is a homage to those insanely-difficult 8-bit platformers of yesteryear, but it started to frustrate at moments when I was really enjoying the game.
Elden Pixels also offer up a score that is reminiscent of 8-bit platformers, with synthesised tunes that are both catchy and fitting for which ever part of the game world you are in. It can both inspire that sense of adventure and of the unknown which Alwa’s Awakening captures so effortlessly.
Alwa’s Awakening is an excellent first effort by Elden Pixels, one that effortlessly hits on what made 8-bit platformers successful and why they are remembered so fondly. It not only takes on the formula that made these types of games great, from its mechanics to its faithful art style, but makes it feel like a game worth playing in 2017. Alwa’s Awakening is one of the best and most underrated independent titles available on the Steam Store right now.