Wednesday 23 November 2022

Alwa's Awakening and Cathedral Cart Review (Evercade)

This is the second two cartridge game to come to the Evercade after the mix of Xenocrisis and Tanglewood. Considering that one worked out well it shows that with the right games the Evercade fan base are more than willing to buy in to carts with fewer games on. It certainly helps that both these games are published by Elden Pixels, purveyor of some of the finest retro themed fun out there.

The first title, 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. Turning Alwa’s Awakening into a NES game was the best thing that ever happened to it as it really seems to have found its home now and having it accessible via the Evercade is a perfect match.

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.

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.

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.

Cathedral has the honour of being the first native Evercade game. This is a real milestone as it opens the door for other indie games and even exclusives to make their way to the system. It’s a magically realised adventure game filled with a feeling of mystery, joy and the urge to push ever onward that many players may not have felt for a very long time. It encapsulates what made 8-bit adventure games so good while also ironing out many of the issues that they were often hindered with. There’s also no noticeable difference between this and other versions of the game that we could see.

We love a good romp through titles like Wizards and Warriors and Battle of Olympus but Cathedral does it better. There may be hundreds of Metroidvania games out there but hardly any of them can hope to be as accomplished as this. It’s a classic and the new indie standard in the genre. It also manages to rocket to the top of the Evercade best games list effortlessly.

You start the game inside the mysterious old Cathedral of the games title with little understanding of what’s going on or what your mission is. Shortly after this you will escape and head to a nearby town. The town’s folk will help to fill you in on the games law and from there you undertake a vast adventure to defeat a particularly big bad in the best traditions of magic and fantasy.

The game throws you early on in terms of how it plays. Initially, we were pretty convinced what we had unearthed was effectively Shovel Knight the Metroidvania. The art style is similar and our hero knight can even do the Duck Tales bounce with his sword. The longer we played though the more we realised the game was very much its own beast and one that seems more influenced by Rare’s Wizards and Warriors trilogy on the NES (but much smoother in terms of how it plays).

It’s also fair to say that it took a few hours to get into. To begin with we found it difficult to judge the edges of platforms and the general inertia of the knight which had us falling to our death over and over. There are also some pretty heavy colour blind issues surrounding health bars and some on screen objects. But after finding a few items and giving the game some time everything simply clicked into place and all our initial problems just faded away.

Overall, these two games are more than worthy of sharing a cart together. If the system can keep putting out quality titles like this and making them more accessible then it might have really found a niche it can mine for years to come.

Game Rankings - 

Alwa’s Awakening 5/5

Cathedral 5/5

No comments:

Post a Comment