It’s no secret to our Warp Zone audience that the NES is my favorite system of all time. Hence the majority of the newer games I play are often indie games that follow the classic gaming formulas that I fell in love with as a child. One of my favorite games this year is Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, as I adored its 8-bit controls, graphics, and sound. I chose to review Alwa’s Awakening solely on the similar art style. Doing no advance research I didn’t have any expectations one way or the other on this game. Little did I know that I’d be consumed by this incredible title, spending nearly every waking minute of the last week glued to my Switch.
Alwa is a kingdom that has been taken over and cursed for centuries by an evil figure known as Vicar. You play as Zoe, a heroine from another world, who sets out to restore peace to Alwa and vanquish Vicar and his four protectors. The intro sequence sets up the game beautifully. Throughout your quest you do encounter a handful of people that offer simple clues or those who are looking for special items. There are a few villages to explore, but much like those classic NES games, dialogue is minimal and nearly all of the focus is on the action and adventure. I would describe this as a perfect blend of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Solomon’s Key, and Mega Man. Many may classify this game as an 8-Bit Metroidvania title, due to the enormity of the map, the focus on exploration, and a requirement to obtain power-ups to reach certain areas and items.
Zoe is armed with a magical staff that can be used to hit enemies, most of which are skeletons, witches, and other monsters fitting the theme of the cursed land. Defeating enemies is rarely difficult with most of them placed more as obstacles – little focus is put into the combat. The challenge lies in the puzzle solving, classic platform jumping, and figuring out where to go to next. At the beginning of the game you’ll run into many ledges and areas you can’t jump high enough to reach, as well as some locked doors. As you explore, you’ll eventually find 3 magical enhancements for your staff. The first allows you to create one block at a time, which will give you access to jump to those previously unreachable areas. Additionally, keys are scattered around the kingdom, which of course are required to open locked doors, but are good for only one use. You’ll need to solve special puzzles in the corresponding dungeons to gain access to the 4 boss rooms. Adding to the fun, there are 99 blue orbs to collect, many of which are fairly difficult to reach.
Most of the rooms have little puzzles to navigate through. Many require block creation and eventually your two other magical attributes. You’ll need to avoid deadly spikes, pitfalls, and enemies to reach the required levers, items, or simply to progress to the next room. You’ll come across many moving and falling platforms, so be prepared to spend a lot of time dying. After completion of the game, you should be an expert at perfectly timed jumps for the rest of your life. As hard as this game is, luckily we do get 3 hearts, which serve as hit points so you usually won’t instantly die from enemies. Similar to Super Metroid, there are save rooms that also restore your health. After a death you’ll regenerate at the save room. Backtracking to previous areas is a huge part of the game, so there are warp zones that make this a lot more convenient. You do have the option to use the “Assist Mode” which has you respawn at your point of death, rather than the save room. Also in this mode, items show up on the map, making it a bit easier to complete the game. On the map screen you can check your game stats, which notes the completion percentage, number of deaths, and time played.
This game looks, feels, and sounds like it could have been released on the Nintendo towards the end of its lifespan. From Gloom Lake to the Amber Sacellum, I love the entire world of Alwa and all of its settings. It features many creepy environments, including lakes, caverns, villages, towers, and forests. The backgrounds and landscapes have incredible detail. The enemies and characters are large and look terrific. The classic chiptune music is already legendary and has been stuck in my head all week. Each area has a distinct theme, all of which should be added to your video game playlist. What you’ll likely hear the most is the death theme and continue screen though.
This game truly mixes everything I love about gaming together as one. Symphony of the Night and Hollow Knight are my two favorite adventure games – and Alwa’s Awakening is the 8-Bit counterpart of those masterpieces. This game really does get everything right. It is challenging, but not overly frustrating and certainly never unfair. The theme, art style, and soundtrack are wonderful. You do not want to miss out on the opportunity to explore the land of Alwa. I only wish I could own this on an NES cartridge!
Alwa's Awakening Review
Final Thoughts: EXCELLENT
This is a game I can see myself replaying over and over again. The price is outstanding at only $9.99, and every single Switch owner should buy this. Elden Pixels has created a timeless classic with Alwa’s Awakening and I hope to see many more games from them.
Alwa’s Awakening was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.