Saturday, October 27

Review: Alwa's Awakening [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When you see retro-styled 8-bit games on the Switch eShop there’s always a question around them of whether the approach was to adopt just the art style and then pair that with more modern sensibilities or to go for a more authentic feel through and through. Depending on tastes there may be a preference to either side but it’s the latter choices that are at least a bit more interesting when they nail the authentic “feel” of the era. For better or worse Alwa’s Awakening is obviously aimed at creating a new experience that feels pulled from that era, though there’s one particular accomodation it makes that I very much appreciate as an option.

In the game you’ll play as Zoe, a young girl who has been summoned to another world to save the land of Alwa. Zoe, even as she gains more abilities through the course of the adventure, is a relatively humble hero, which makes her a bit more endearing but also keeps things challenging. Her floaty jump and melee attack with a pretty limited reach take some getting used to. Rather than gaining powerful new abilities for combat they tend to be more utilitarian, allowing you to get to new areas or to get items. Along your way you’ll see blue orbs laying about and these can be tricky to grab but they’re worth your while since they’ll help you with the tough battles down the stretch the more you’re able to collect.

You do acquire a map early on that will give you a general idea of where you may want to go but finding your way can be a tricky business. There’s no explicit direction given for the most part, and this will lead to some aimless meandering at times as you try to figure out where you should go, a staple of classic games that I could have done without. That said, on the flip side I’m a big fan of the inclusion of an assist mode as an option that doesn’t make you go all the way back to your last checkpoint. While some will, no doubt, want to hard core it up and get through the game the old school way I’m a big believer that there are plenty of games out there I want to play so wasting time to repeat the same areas just to get back to where I was is an annoyance. Very glad this accommodation was put in place so people could choose to go either way.

If you’re looking for an experience that in almost all regards feels like it’s a lost NES title, some warts and all (I’m looking at you, fake walls) Alwa’s Awakening does an almost disturbingly good job of it. Though the pacing may be a bit on the slower side there’s a solid adventure to be had with your humble hero Zoe, and the option to reduce downtime retracing your steps is a modern convenience I can really get behind. It may not be for everyone, but it should check pretty well every box for its intended retro-loving audience.

Score: 8

  • An almost eerily authentic 8-bit experience
  • Challenging gameplay
  • The inclusion of assist mode as an option is very much appreciated

  • A fair amount of aimless meandering is involved
  • Zoe’s floaty jump can be aggravating