The 8-bit era of video games isn’t one I had much personal experience with in its heyday, but Alwa’s Awakening certainly pays it loving homage. Designed as a direct inspiration and in a sense even a love letter to a wonderful era of video games, it’s a direct throwback to the glory days of the NES (and, no doubt, the wild success of games like Shovel Knight). When taking on the retro-pixel genre, I usually go in with a big bag of salt to reign in my expectations.
Coming from Swedish developers – and appropriately named – Elden Pixels, Alwa’s Awakening really ended up surprising me, much like fellow pixel-made OneShot, as it wasn’t just a joy to play, but a challenge to experience. The pure essence of what truly makes a good time and just bringing back that nostalgia of those older titles I used to play back in my teenage years.
The storyline is probably one many have heard before. Under the backdrop of an evil overlord who has taken over the land of Alwa, an unnamed hero is destined to rise up and save the entire realm and vanquish the overlord. Our unnamed hero is tasked with taking down this evil overlord and gaining the powers and tools necessary to win the battle, encountering a variety of monsters, environments, and challenges to overcome along the way. Forces of good and evil are strong contenders here and the fate of Alwa hangs in the balance.
Alwa’s Awakening’s controls remind me of the old Gameboy Zelda games I used to play back in high school, only side-scrolling. The mechanics are similar with the usual jump, slash, and ducking combinations needed to get through each area. There wasn’t a control guide on the menu stating which buttons did what on the gamepad, but after just a few minutes of experimentation I was good to go.
Timing and strategy play a big role here, so just charging in, magic staff a’ blazin’, isn’t always a sound plan of attack. There are separate platforms to navigate and jump across that can hold one or more monsters walking back and forth. Stopping for a minute to determine the timing of when a monster has its back turned and it’s safe to jump is the best strategy I found for getting through these segments…followed up with a quick slash the moment I landed to finish the job, of course. Rinse and repeat several times, and I’m too focused to notice an hour has gone by just navigating through one section.
Puzzles are hit-and-miss in difficulty, but for the most part they take a few minutes at most to solve. They usually involved moving a block to open up a locked doorway or to gain access to treasure. My favorite are the jumping puzzles, having to navigate from one block to the next to reach the next stable platform. Not jumping fast enough meant plummeting to my death and having to repeat the process all over again. The variety and frequency of the puzzles offer a nice break from the repetitive combat and meshed in well in this small, 8-bit world.
Abilities can be upgraded over time too, giving the unsung hero new and interesting ways to get through environments and to defeat enemies. A few examples are the ability to create a bubble to get across water or generating a green block to get to higher ground. There are plenty of times where these abilities have to be used in tangent with one another to progress that require precision and timing. This keeps Alwa’s Awakening from growing stale and constantly presents a new challenge to work through, while also being a welcoming break from sections that can feel tedious or closed in after a few hours.
The saving system is pretty forgiving too, but I’ve never been a fan of save points. However, the save points employed here are highly stylized with a bright blue flame going up to indicate progress has been saved and the hero simply continues on their journey. This goes hand in hand with player ‘death’ having consequences by losing progress or having to navigate to the same area for a second or third time. To be fair, however, the most progress I lost at any given time was probably ten minutes. While it’s not an ideal system, it encourages the notion of playing smarter, not harder.
As far as 8-bit pixel graphics go, Alwa’s Awakening is gorgeous and brings its own charm in terms of bright colors and detail to the environments. While the levels can feel repetitive at times, they’re varied enough to keep people engaged. The enemies are well thought out, too, ranging from simple slimes sliding along to skeletons who are guarding their platforms by marching back and forth.
The soundtrack is one to be remembered, truly capturing spirit of the simple yet elegant style presented. The music brought back memories of booting up my old Gameboy to play Zelda, except with color. They tune are simple, light, and to the point with working that old magic of making me feel like a little kid again.
Alwa’s Awakening brings its own charm to the table with a hint of nostalgia thrown in for fans of the 8-bit pixel graphics era. The gameplay itself is pretty basic, but offers a fun challenge for all ages. Adults and kids can enjoy playing together since there’s the perfect balance of timing, storytelling, and puzzle solving to keep everyone engaged. I have to say, this has probably been one of most enjoyable experiences I’ve had to date with this genre, especially for the old memories it brought back of playing on my Gameboy for the first time.