Monday 20 June 2022

Alwa's Awakening Review (NES)

So here we are in 2022 and a new NES game has just been released. Truly it is a time of wonder. Alwa’s Awakening has been around for a fair while now and we’ve covered the Switch version of the sequel Alwa’s Legacy, which we really enjoyed. When it was announced that the first game was getting the NES ‘demake’ treatment it had us interested. What we weren’t expecting was the NES version of the game would actually be bigger than the original and end up being the definitive way to play it.

Alwa’s Awakening is basically a 2D Metroidvania adventure spread over a single interconnecting world. Our hero, Zoe, explores the region picking up spells and other magical objects which in turn then let’s her have access to more areas to explore. Zoe must enter dungeons, defeat boss monsters and then, of course, take on the big bad to save the land. You know how it goes.

It’s helpful then that the game is incredibly vibrant, imaginative and designed beautifully. We came away thinking we had never really had an adventure quite like this and if you go back to the NES days there would indeed be very little to compare it to. Battle for Olympus, Faxanda possibly or the 2D Zelda but this is undoubtedly better than both of those games.

Each region and area are easily identified and different looking and how the game has managed to be squeezed down into the limitations of a NES cartridge is absolutely astounding. Even walls of bricks or different woodland areas are distinctive from one another which really helps to keep the player engaged - and also works as a handy navigational aid.

All this would mean nothing though if the game didn’t handle well and we are happy to say that it plays like a dream. Zoe, is perfect to control. There’s no sluggishness or lose feeling that some NES games have. There is also a distinct lack of all those NES tropes such as slowdown and flickering, and Alwa can get pretty busy at times. It’s remarkable.

Zoe has a handful of things to help her along the way which act as puzzle solving tools and weapons. As well as her standard staff which she can use to just bash things with there are three spells available which can be upgraded as you go. The first one you will find is the magic block which you can conjure to use to activate switches or give yourself a boost for jumping. Later you can also make it waterproof so that it can be used to travel across rivers.

Next is the bubble which allows Zoe to float upwards for a while and can later be upgraded to last for much longer. Last is the lighting bolt which is a more offensive based spell but can also be used to open certain doors. There are other objects as well such as your handy map and upgrades to your magic but for the most part it’s using the three core spells that will progress you through the game and some of the puzzle rooms require all three to be used in quick succession.

We found progress to be fairly steady as well. There are plenty of save points and the general difficult is challenging without be completely hardcore. There were certainly a few bottle neck points where we kept dying repeatedly but overall there shouldn’t be much here that overly frustrates you – especially if you are used to NES games. Obviously, if you are playing digitally you also have the save state option and the game holds up well enough if you are playing this way to still be challenging and enjoyable.

Overall, Alwa’s Awakening is both a wonderful game and a wonderful achievement. It fits perfectly on the NES while also being modern and forward thinking in its design and play mechanics. There’s little doubt that if this had been released in the days of Nintendo’s flagship system then it would be sitting easily in the all the top 10 NES games lists across the internet. But it’s not just living off a nostalgic kick either as it can also go toe to toe with the many other Metroidvania titles out there and stand above most of them. It could turn out that turning Alwa’s Awakening into a NES game is the best thing that ever happened to it as it really seems to have found its home now. But no matter what format you can find it on you should be playing it as it’s pretty much flawless.

Overall 10/10

We were lucky enough to play the game both on the original NES cartridge as well as digitally thanks to Elden Pixels and Retro Bit.  

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