[Review] Alwa’s Legacy – Nintendo Switch

Written by Shehan Amarasekera
  • Developers: Elden Pixels
  • Publishers: Elden Pixels
  • Release Date: 29/09/2020
  • Price: £13.99 / $17.99
  • Review code provided by Elden Pixels

Introducing Alwa’s Legacy Switch Review

Alwa’s Awakening – the 8-bit predecessor to Alwa’s Legacy – has been on my Steam wishlist for, no joke, nearly 4 years. That’s right, I’ve had it there since before it even came out, I just never pulled the trigger. So, upon seeing there was a full-fledged 32-bit(?) sequel that was Kickstarted, I had to finally try it out. So, does Alwa’s Legacy make me regret not biting the bullet all those years ago? Or would it lead to me removing Awakening from my wishlist?

Zoe’s Awakening

I’m not sure how this game’s story ties into the original, (though I can hazard a guess judging by certain dialogue). It’s not the most earth-shattering story, but it’s interesting enough so that you don’t just skip all the dialogue. The game also does a good enough job reminding you about it at certain intervals.

You play as someone named Zoe, who has washed up at Alwa. (I must admit, I thought the protagonist was called Alwa until I started playing…) Unfortunately, Zoe has amnesia. But before even getting a chance to try and remember, a kid tells her to visit a nearby library. Apparently, he was told to tell anybody who arrived and was wearing a purple cloak to go there.

On the way, you encounter the main villain of the game, Vicar. He recognises you, and as such, immediately gets rid of your staff. Upon making it to the library, you meet an old woman named Saga. She tells you to stop the Vicar’s plan, and to take this special book that gets filled in as you progress.

Not Just Another Metroidvania…

So yes, a somewhat generic story, but the interactions you have with random NPC’s – while not exactly the most memorable – is entertaining enough. And even then, this is all here just to set up the gameplay: Alwa’s Legacy is a retro metroidvania. So yes, a somewhat generic premise… I think I’m noticing a pattern. However, the pattern stops here, as I can say right off the bat that this game is remarkably fun.

The main hook is that you have a magic system – you can switch between creating cubes, bubbles, and lightning. You also have 4 abilities on top of this, but the magic is the main star of the show. There’s two ways to gain skills in this game, and it’s very much designed around that fact. By exploring, you find various orbs which you can use to upgrade your magic. For instance letting your cube float in water, making your lightning home in on enemies, etc. However, apart from gaining extra collectibles, none of these upgrades are necessary to beat the game. (Though they certainly make things easier!)

Instead, the abilities you find hidden in the world – such as the ability to light torches, or the ability to break down certain walls, are what’s required. Combine this with the fact that you can switch out upgrades any time by fast travelling back to the upgrade Wizard, and it means you can choose to upgrade Zoe the way you want to play, while the abilities to make actual progress in the game’s various dungeons do not force you to spend points on something you don’t want.

A Magical Experience

That fast travel system is also pretty well designed. Apart from the occasional ones in dungeons, every save point can be used for fast travel. You just need to collect tears to unlock a particular point for fast travel, which is a great way of incentivising exploration. Zoe’s not exactly the most versatile of characters at the start, but by the final dungeon you’ll feel that sense of mastery with the controls and abilities that only the best of metroidvanias provide.

Sure, magic can be used for some (really fun!) puzzles, but you can also use it to make your life a little easier in combat or exploration. And that exploration? It’s simply fantastic. It’s no secret that retro metroidvanias are a dime a dozen, but Alwa’s Legacy is one of the better designed and engaging ones. And there’s no better example of this than the dungeons.

They all have their own unique gimmicks, like switching gravity, alternating between the past and the future, and raising/lowering the water level. (On that note, water is actually fun in this game!) These all lead to both creative platforming sections and enjoyable puzzles. The difficulty is no slouch either. I died just over 100 times in my run (though literally 25 of those – yes I counted – were wasted trying to get one devilishly placed collectible).

A Challenge Awaits

But Alwa’s Legacy never gets frustrating, because it’s always clear what you need to do, or when you need to come back if you don’t have the required item. The bosses are also pretty great. They can get pretty challenging as well, and that feeling of finally memorising a bosses’ pattern and nailing it all is oh-so satisfying. The designs for the bosses… actually, scratch that, the presentation in general is also stunning.

This game skipped right over 16-bit after Alwa’s Awakening, and it’s immediately obvious with its glorious backgrounds and charming sprite work. The music too has some bonafide jams in there. It’s not the sort of thing I’d find myself listening to on a bus journey per se, but it certainly augments the experience.

It’s honestly a shame this game is rather short. I found 90% of the game’s secrets and clocked in at just under 6 hours. However, it’s worth mentioning that it doesn’t feel incomplete either. The game has a very clear three act structure, and so I knew the journey was coming to a close when I was in the final dungeon, I just wanted more!

A 32-Bit Throwback

The technical side of things is another facet of the game I have to praise. I guess there’s occasional skipped frames, the most minor of glitches and typos, and some slightly long load screens in between sections of the world, but apart from that this is an extremely well built game. And I have to applaud the developers for going above and beyond with the port in numerous aspects.

Firstly, there’s a full on achievement system built in, so you’re not missing anything in comparison to the Steam version. You can also fully remap the controls – and I mean fully. Want to press right on the d-pad to run left? Go right ahead (though bear in mind, this also affects menus!). The accessibility options are also neat, with the ability to instantly respawn, and a toggle to show all the items on the map. These options are things I rarely see in many games so it’s wonderful they’re in this.

I have a couple of criticisms with Alwa’s Legacy, but I had to try hard to think of any. There’s one dungeon where spikes instantly kill you, whereas everywhere else in the game they don’t, so it’s a tad inconsistent, even if the game does give them a different design to distinguish them. There are also some moves which feel as though they arbitrarily gate progress. For example, the ability to destroy walls with your basic attack adds nothing to regular gameplay, it just means you couldn’t collect certain things until you got it. But again, these are just really minor nitpicks.

Conclusion

So, do I regret not picking up the original Alwa’s Awakening? Well, you probably don’t need me to answer that. While it’s hard to recommend yet another indie retro metroidvania, I can’t deny that this has a level of polish that makes it stick out. It’s certainly not the most unique or memorable game I’ve played – hence why I hesitate to give it our top score – but for a well-rounded, carefully crafted and very polished experience, you can’t go wrong with Alwa’s Legacy.

Pros

  • Exceptionally polished
  • Gorgeous artwork
  • Creative puzzles
  • Great boss fights

Cons

  • Somewhat generic
  • A couple of useless abilities

Verdict
While retro metroidvanias are a dime a dozen, Alwa’s Legacy is such a polished and fun game that it’s absolutely worth your time

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