By Phil Schipper / February 26th, 2015
|Release Date||February 24, 2015|
|Platform||PC, Mac, Linux|
When I first saw the trailer for Aaru’s Awakening, I was confused. What was this about teleportation? In a platformer, such an ability would break the game, unless it was so limited as to become useless most of the time. Even if that was the way I thought, though, I went into the game ready to be proven wrong.
Let me back up a bit. Aaru’s Awakening is about the titular character getting a message from the spirit Dawn. Dawn says that Night is planning to take over the cycle of the world, and sends Aaru through the lands of Day and Dusk in order to stop Night.
Now, this game does have all the features of a normal sidescrolling platformer. There are jumps to make, traps and enemies to avoid and a goal to reach. However, early on, you’ll get access to the ball of light, a projectile that you can aim and charge with the mouse and throw into the world. It has no effect on its own — simply bouncing off surfaces — but at any time you can right-click to teleport to its position.
This method has a few interesting implications. First, of course, it opens itself to sending the ball through all sorts of tight passages or long bounces to get where you want to go. More importantly, it’s impractical to try to spam it — you need time to charge the throw and let it fly a fair distance before it makes sense to teleport. This also means that, if you’re falling, you’ll probably hit whatever is below you long before you can send a shot upward to save you, unless you prepared it ahead of time.
The latter is possibly what makes this game so intense and fun. Combined with Aaru’s second jump — which also always points towards the mouse — you sort of have a set amount of power you can use to get past any particular obstacle before you need some significant air time or a place to land. I found that, early in the game, I began instinctively using the second jump to buy time or save myself quickly from bad situations. Later on, though, that second jump had to be timed very carefully, and my survival instinct actually got in my way.
If you’re anything like me, this is probably one of the reasons you’ll die so much in the crazy, rapidly-moving domains of the spirits. I felt like I was playing against myself at times — trying not to hurry too much or panic lest I teleport myself directly into a very deadly place.
What’s even better is that this internal conflict lines up perfectly with the unfolding story. Aaru is forced to defeat Day and Dusk to get through their lands, and each of them tells him that what he is doing is wrong. I don’t want to spoil too much, but, essentially, Aaru begins to question Dawn’s authority and why he is even here in the first place.
In each realm, you must go through four temples, which comprise the normal levels, before defeating the spirits in charge of them. These boss battles require you to break a certain number of floating orbs of power by teleporting into them. Each one usually triggers a powerful reaction by the boss, which you’ll have to struggle just to avoid before moving on to the next. They tend to bring together a lot of the challenges from their temples into a fast-paced, almost bullet hell-like format.
All of this is presented entirely by hand-drawn art in masterful animation. The graphics stick to colors that represent the nature of things — yellow and orange for light, purple and blue for darkness — but still makes them just diverse enough that all important objects stand out. It’s a beautiful stylized look.
The music and sound effects tie it together with a visceral sound. Combined with the child’s voice narrating the entire story, you really get the sense that you’re experiencing some kind of tribal legend.
Altogether, Aaru’s Awakening is around 10 hours of an extremely fun challenge, and much more if you care to try for gold or leaderboard times on the levels. It’s been a while since one of these small Steam titles really thrilled me, but this one absolutely nailed it across the board. I cannot say enough good things about it. Definitely go get it on Steam for $15 USD–or, better yet, hurry and grab the 15% discount for its first week of release.
Review Copy Provided by Developer
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