Alwa’s Awakening Review
Much like the constant hype machine that is Shovel Knight, Alwa’s Awakening is a retro/NES-inspired Metroidvania that is unapologetically old school, for better or for worse.
That said, I quite like Alwa’s Awakening, even more so than Shovel Knight, which, while good, is highly overrated.
I was surprised to find out that in Alwa’s Awakening your character is named Zoe, and not Alwa. However, Zoe actually awakens at the beginning of the game in a foreign land known as Alwa where she must defeat some evil cult of sorcerers to free the land. Pretty basic story, but about on par for the 8-bit games that Alwa’s was influenced by.
Zoe has a magic staff that starts out only being able to be used as a blunt force object before quickly gaining the ability to spawn blocks, bubbles, and a projectile. The green blocks that Zoe spawns can be pushed and used to traverse the various obstacles found in Alwa including spikes that kill you in one hit. Bubbles float upwards for a few brief moments before popping and can be jumped on in that time; this will feel familiar to any Bubble Bobble fans such as me.
Thankfully traversing levels using Zoe’s abilities is easily the best thing on offer here. The game does a nice job of teaching you the basics of each ability before tasking you with combining them in smart ways to avoid sudden deaths. By the end of the game I found myself riding cubes across screens, while simultaneously spawning a bubble to ride up and shoot a door with my other ability to open it, all while surrounded by spikes and water that would instantly end my life.
That isn’t to say the game is too hard (certainly not ‘NES hard’), but it doesn’t ever seem to have a nice medium difficult phase. The first four hours or so of the game are extremely easy; the platforming requires little skill and the combat is brainless button mashing that you can just skip most of the time. Late game is far harder, there are tons of spikes and water that can one hit kill you, and the last couple of bosses are a real pain in the dick, as opposed to early game bosses that are laughably easy.
While the game does do a good job of teaching you the basics, the difficult flips like a switch instead of ramps up like most games and it is a bit jarring.
“I quite like Alwa’s Awakening, even more so than Shovel Knight”
Thankfully there is a lot of game to be had here. I went into this expecting to put in maybe four hours, as I quickly polished off the first two bosses of five in the first couple hours of gameplay. My final playtime listed on Steam is 15 hours, although my end game time listed 8 hours, so take that for what you will. The map is big and interconnected, and the flow of it all feels natural. While you can come and go as you please, you’re not required to backtrack much at all, but like most Metroidvania games you’ll be rewarded if you do. You might even find some cryptic items that thus far no one knows exactly what they do; I’m hoping for a different less abrupt ending myself.
Alwa’s Awakening would feel right at home alongside Castlevania on the NES. I’d say it were better if it weren’t for the brain-dead combat and AI, but the real star of the show here is the platforming. Oh, and the awesome proper chiptune soundtrack that has me humming along.
While this isn’t my favorite retro-inspired Metrodvainia available on Steam, it certainly deserves to be recognized alongside it and Shovel Knight. Those looking for something a bit closer to actual Castlevania should check out Odallus, a game I called the best Castlevania in years.