While indie developers are often quick to cite that their games are ‘retro’ and ‘8-bit’, it often just means they’re repurposing classic elements into their design with a dash of pixelated visuals. What happens, then, when a developer says they’re going 8-bit and means just that – when every element from the presentation to the flow is meant to elicit the feeling of playing old NES games? You get Alwa’s Awakening.
Alwa’s Awakening clearly calls back to an older generation of games; I spotted elements taken from beloved but fairly obscure classics like Faxanadu, Legacy of the Wizard and Solstice, warts and all. Alwa’s Awakening feels intentionally simple, to go along with this theme of pegging it into a specific time in gaming.
The game begins with a girl named Zoe, who finds herself stranded in the land of Alwa and given the quest of saving it from the four Protectors, a gaggle of be-robed oppressors. The game is in essence a Metroidvania, but one that feels natural and uncomplicated. There’s a nice sense of flow when moving to new areas, with an interconnectedness that brought me joy in not only exploring, but also in figuring out the lay of the land and understanding it. It has this lovely sense of place, and after a while I didn’t need the wonderful map to find my way around, it just became intuitive.
Alwa’s Awakening also doesn’t saddle you with a large inventory to figure out, which might be a drag for some, but for me it kept the game brisk and interesting. You begin by nabbing a wand that you can later supplement with powers such as the ability to conjure blocks to guard yourself or to summon bubbles to float you to out-of-reach places. These are found in the four corners of Alwa in obvious places such as temples, but the game isn’t without its secrets, too. Foremost among them are little blue orbs that always sit out of reach until you figure out which power you need to use to get to them – in turn, the orbs will help take a chunk of health from a boss for every ten you secure.
For the most part I enjoyed the straightforwardness of Alwa’s Awakening. But there were times when I had hoped for more goodies and hidden trinkets to discover. The solutions to most puzzles are readily apparent – they often just require a bit of backtracking when you get the right power-up for the job. Boss battles are tried-and-true in that they each have very clear patterns that will fluster you at first, but once you suss out what you’re supposed to do, they become something of a cakewalk. Still, the game does a good job of toeing the line between being challenging yet accessible, which isn’t something developers are often successful with.
I usually can’t resist a good pixelated game, let alone one in the vein of Metroid, but even then Alwa’s Awakening stands out in its genre – it’s a breath of fresh air in an overcrowded field. Not only is it inviting in its design and engaging in its gameplay loops, it also manages to satisfy nostalgic cravings for the 8-bit adventures of old.
Alwa’s Awakening was developed by Elden Pixels and is available on PC, Switch and PS4. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Alwa’s Awakening was provided by Elden Pixels. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.