Grab your magic staff and set out to save the world in Elden Pixels' Metroidvania puzzle-platformer.
In Alwa's Awakening, a mystic named Vicar has enslaved the people of Alwa village. You play as Zoe, a heroine brought to this world by a sage to help the people of Alwa fight back. Equipped with a magic staff, Zoe starts on her journey to save Alwa from the powerful sorcerers and recapture the magic ornaments. At the start of the campaign, Zoe's staff is only good for whacking enemies but as you progress, you'll unlock magic abilities that improve both her mobility and combat powers. The gameplay blends platforming, puzzles, and combat with varying degrees of success. Combat is the least exciting as it features relatively bland and easy enemies that don't do much more than get in the way. Some of them will launch projectiles at you but they all have easy patterns to detect and really don't offer much of a challenge. Meanwhile, the bosses provide a bit more variety but even they are forgettable at best.
Fortunately, the platforming and puzzles are far better. Many of the magical abilities that Zoe learns enable her to jump higher and access previously unreachable areas. You'll regularly need to combine two of her abilities to solve puzzles and progress. In fact, Alwa's Awakening has an interesting sense of verticality to it. Accessing platforms and ledges that you can't reach on your own is important but you'll also want to regularly explore downward. Most empty pits won't kill you but instead, just take you to the screen below. Many times, you'll have to fall from above to access a specific door-opening switch or secret.
The challenge in Alwa's Awakening comes from being able to complete extended sections of platforming and puzzles with your reward being access to the next save room. If you die, you're warped back to your previous save room and need to try again. This can lead to some frustration, especially if there's one tough room that you're stuck on as it can result in you having to play several other rooms over and over again. That being said, this also provides a sense of satisfaction once you finally make progress.
Backtracking and having to replay sections over and over also becomes burdensome due to Zoe's slow movement and sluggish controls. Jumping and attacking is precise but they feel slower than they need to be so when you're trudging through the same rooms repeatedly, it's hard not to feel at least a little annoyed. This frustration is alleviated somewhat by Assist Mode which allows you to respawn in the same room that you died in instead of whisking you back to the previous save room. Assist Mode may be a nice accessibility option for those struggling with the game but it also removes virtually all of the challenge. I'd only recommend it for younger players and those who want to complete the game but find themselves befuddled by the difficulty.
The highlight of Alwa's Awakening is its exploration. As a Metroidvania, it regularly grants you access to large map sections. NPCs will sometimes offer hints as to where to go but you're also encouraged to explore to your heart's content. You can usually determine if you don't have the proper ability to progress in a certain direction so you may want to turn around and head another way. A robust and useful map is available early on which will help keep track of where you've been and where you can go but there is no actual handholding which allows for a solid sense of exploration. There are more than a dozen areas to explore in the world and they're smartly woven together. You'll discover how interconnected everything is as you start unlocking shortcuts that make traversal easier.
Alwa's Awakening offers a solid challenge and a great sense of exploration which makes it a satisfying experience. However, it's unfortunately dulled by mundane combat and an overall feeling of sluggishness when it comes to movement and platforming.
- + Smartly crafted interconnected world
- + Encourages you to explore without holding your hand
- + Surprisingly challenging
- - Overall bland combat
- - Slow movement speed makes backtracking a tedious chore
- - Uninteresting and uninspired story