Now, I'm pretty sure we're all aware of the huge expansion the Indie scene has undergone this gen, especially on the Switch, a system that has become the goto console platform for many Indie developers. We've seen some genres explode in popularity and availability, with some seemingly getting new additions on an almost weekly basis. One of the genres that have done extremely well out of this influx of new devs, a type that's always been a favourite of mine, is the Metroidvania class of games. The gameplay progression of exploring, becoming more powerful with new abilities, which then grants you access to new unreachable areas is a rewarding experience and one that has attracted many fans to this style of game. I've reviewed a few for the site and bought even more to play in my own time, so when the chance to review a new one came along I just had to jump at it.
For those who don't know (because I didn't), this is Alwa’s Legacy is a follow up to the 2018 release, Alwa's Awakening. You don't need to have played it to understand the story of this newest release though, they're pretty standalone, so don't worry on that account. The original title sought to emulate the style of the NES, using 8bit sprites to create a Metroidvania game that felt like it belonged in that era. For the sequel though, Elden Pixels have decided to go to the follow-up to that generation of Nintendo technology for their inspiration and have created a game with 16bit SNES style aesthetics. It has beautiful large sprites, with the protagonist and NPCs having plenty of character and charm. The whole aesthetic should appeal to fans of the SNES but newcomers too will get a kick out of the colourful, well-drawn sprites that make up the entire world. Every aspect, the characters, enemies, and backgrounds all look great with each area having a distinctive feel and look of its own.
But while the art is lovely, the story is a little more middling. Not bad by any means, it's just that it's the usual sort of "Prophesied Hero must rid the realm of the Evil Demons and save the World" type story that we've seen a million times before. As a framing device, a reason to have you heading here and there across the map, it works, but wanting to know what happens with the narrative probably won't be the reason you continue through the game. Just to set the scene, however, it goes like this...
You play as a young sorceress, by the name of Rose, who wakes up in a strange land with no memory of the past. She has no knowledge of where she came from, where she is now, or her purpose for being here.
Luckily though, her coming was foretold, and the wise woman who runs the Great Library has made arrangements. As you awake you find a messenger that has been sent to fetch you, and who tells you to head straight to the Library, where the Librarian will explain your reason for being here. This section serves as an introduction and although you're only given vague directions, and while the path isn't exactly direct, you'll find the only real route you can take will eventually lead to the games hub town. And here, in the town's centre, is where the Great Library is located.
After entering it and speaking with the Librarian, you'll be given a book which is supposed to explain to you exactly what you must do to save the world. But upon opening the book, you discover that it's blank...
To fill in its pages, to find why you're here, AND to recover your lost memories you must travel the land and seek out all the shrines hidden across many of its available locations. That's not all however, at the centre of each of these corrupted shrines is a demon of immense power, a being whose destruction will fill in a page of the blank book, and ultimately give Rose the knowledge she needs to save the land of Alwa.
So, like I said earlier, it's really just an excuse to have you travel the world and to explore each of the games many areas but, in true Metroidvania fashion, that isn't as easy as it might appear.
I'm pretty sure most, if not all, of you will be familiar with exactly how the genre works already but just in case, I'll explain it. You'll be moving through a world made up of a load of interconnected areas with various paths you'll be able to choose from. Each route will lead to different areas, sometimes with shortcuts leading back to earlier sections, and there will be a variety of secrets and collectibles to acquire along the way. The catch though is that many areas and collectibles won't be accessible the first time you come across them. Instead, you'll need to come back later when you've gained new abilities that allow you to overcome the obstacle blocking your path or reach an area you previously couldn't get to. This layout and way of progression can lead to a real sense of progress and accomplishment as you slowly gain access to more areas, and as you backtrack to collect the things you had to leave behind when you first came across them.
And this is exactly how Alwa’s Legacy plays out too but one thing it does different, and something I particularly enjoyed, was to give you powers and abilities that differ from those that have started to show up in almost every Metroidvania now.
You see along with the explosion of games of this type has come certain staples that have also started to repeat across these games. Many of these have, in my opinion, become a bit tired and predictable when they show up in every Metroidvania you play. I'm talking about things like the double jump, the wall bounce, the ledge climb, and so on. While these powers are all useful in exploring, when it feels like every game seems to include them as abilities you start to get a little fed up with it.
Which was a major reason I enjoyed the powers, abilities, and items that Rose acquires as she continues her adventure. You see she IS a sorceress after all so, of course, she's given 3 magic spells as she continues through the early stages of her quest. Firstly she gets the power to summon a block of green slime that can be used in different ways. It has weight and can be used to hold down pressure-sensitive switches, it can block projectiles fired by traps and enemies, can be used to block the advance of opponents, and can even be used as a little stepping stone allowing you to reach areas that were slightly out of reach of your normal jumping range. Secondly, you get a power that summons a bubble that begins to float upwards when it appears. You can use this to hit switches located on the ceiling. Its primary use though is to stand upon. It won't last long, bursting after a few seconds, but by jumping onto it you can travel upwards and make the leap to much higher areas. The third power is electricity. This spell allows you to shoot a bolt of lightning that, like the other 2 abilities, can be used to hit distance switches. It can also be used to burn away wooden blockades that barred your path. Most usefully though, it's a powerful ranged weapon that allows you a way to attack from afar. All your magic abilities are powered by a magic bar and it refills quickly but it does mean you can't spam the abilities nonstop, a split second is required to allow it to recharge. This is used in certain puzzles where you'll need to time spells to hit switches at the same time but mostly they'll be used like in any other Metroidvania, to allow you to reach new areas and get the collectibles you couldn't reach before.
There is another little twist though. Each spell has a number of upgrades that are powered by magic orbs spread throughout the world. There are around 100 in all and, when you've got enough, there's a friendly wizard in the village that you can trade them too. You can add spikes to your summoned green blocks to damage enemies, make it so these spike blocks will stick to walls creating platforms, add a homing effect to your lightning, fuse blocks and bubbles together creating a floating block, plus a few more I'll let you discover on your own! Some do admittedly have limited use, they seem to be available only to solve a couple of puzzles and that's it. Others like the homing lightning bolt are WAY more useful and one, the ability to change your clothing colour by falling through a bubble, even seems useless but ultimately it was nice to see these and it gave a different feel to a genre I'd grown very used to. These magic spells aren't the only abilities you'll gain though, you get the ability to walk on harmful surfaces like spikes and thorns, the ability to last longer underwater, and amongst others, even the ability to pass through solid walls! It gives plenty of reason to backtrack, especially as it's how you'll find orbs to upgrade your magic, and there's a good few hidden locations to seek out with each new addition.
But not everything about the game is as positive. There are some real difficult spikes, especially around the boss fights. Most of the bosses are all about pattern recognition, learn the attack order, and how to avoid them until you have a chance to hit them. Repeat this, watching out for the new attacks they'll use as they take damage, and you'll be victorious. Eventually. You see, where things get difficult is that Rose can only take 3 hits before she dies. You don't get more hearts, you don't get armour and you don't even get healing items. Instead, death will send you back to the last savepoint and, while these are quite regular, it does mean you might find yourself repeating boss fights over and over. I found the boss of the 2nd Temple, the Sylvan Temple, particularly frustrating with attacks that are fast and hard to avoid. I don't usually rage quit games much but this boss had me coming close, and I still think I beat it through getting lucky with its attack patterns rather than through skill. There are also quite a few instant death situations that can make certain areas a bit of a chore. Again the Sylvan Temple stood out here, it has underwater sections where drowning was a constant annoyance and certain other areas had "one slip and you're dead" platforming sections that, when combined with enemies, could have you sent back to the last save quite a few times.
Another irritation was a bit of a lack of direction. I don't want to be waypointed from A to B but I did find just knowing where to go next a little bit confusing. Heading to the Librarian after each boss did provide a little "go this direction next" message but actually getting there could be a chore. Like many Metroidvania games though, you'll find your path blocked eventually and will know to turn around but it started to eat up the playtime. Lastly, there was also a little pet peeve of mine. The fact that many collectibles, and I really mean the spell upgrading orbs here, aren't marked on the map when you discover them but can't reach them. This made backtracking to find them a real annoyance, I much prefer when these are marked on the map for collection later as there are just too many to remember off the top of your head. Some are hidden and require you actually finding them by discovering them behind walls you can walk through and so on. Not marking these ones would have been fine but I'd really have liked the obvious ones to get a marker when you've come across them but couldn't reach them. Now there is an option in the menu to turn on item location but this only shows where important story items are, not the less important ones like upgrade orbs and so on. Adding an option for the discovered but uncollected items like this would have been welcome to me, making backtracking across the map less bothersome, but I understand that others may disagree. Not making it standard but including it as an option, like the story item toggle in the menu, would have been a middle ground that would have kept everyone happy.
In the end Alwa’s Legacy is a good but rather challenging addition to the Metroidvania genre. The 16bit SNES styling and cutesy sprites look great and have plenty of charm. The individual areas all have their own distinctiveness and are easily told apart, with plenty of secrets areas and puzzles that reward exploration. The powers and abilities were great in my opinion, being different from any I've seen in other titles, it was fun to discover what ability I'd get next. Upgrades were, for the most part, really good too and provided plenty of incentive to backtrack to discover orbs to upgrade them further. Even though some had seemingly very few, or even no uses, the others were very advantageous and worth getting. Some challenging sections and some really annoying and frustrating difficulty spikes around boss battles do mark it down a little. As does some lack of direction with where to go next. If you can live with these problems though, you'll find a good addition to any Metroidvania collection. Fans of the genre should check it out and see if it's for them!
Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 8/10
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