A great Metroidvania with clever puzzles and maybe just a little bit too much obtuseness.
The leap from developer Elden Pixels’ first game Alwa’s Awakening to its sequel Alwa’s Legacy is impressive. While I enjoyed Awakening, part of the charm was its mild slavishness to NES-style gameplay, some of which doesn’t totally age in the modern era despite the developer’s best efforts to polish it up. Their second game, Alwa’s Legacy, takes a lot of the charm and spirit of the first game but makes the graphics a generation fresher and mostly brings the gameplay up to modern standards. Alwa’s Legacy is generally an enjoyable Metroid-inspired adventure game with a great labyrinthine map, a slew of secrets, and a collection of creative puzzles. Some obtuse items and power-ups drag it down, but not enough to spoil the fun.
Players take control of heroine Zoe fresh off of losing her memory and waking up in the world of Alwa. A few power-ups and some NPC chats later, she’s off to best four boss demons and save the land. It does tie into the first game, but no worries if you missed out on it. While an overarching story is referenced, most of the writing is more focused on coloring the larger-than-life characters you come across on your journey. The map is sprawling, but also very approachable. An interesting warp system allows you to transform any save point into a warp point with a tear, an item that is limited but generally easy to find. However, that warp system reveals some of the issues of Alwa’s Legacy. It’s neat that you can make your own warp points, but also maybe just defining your own sensible warp points would make for a smoother experience. Part of the apparent mantra of the game is customization. You can focus on exploration or combat. You can toggle on and off numerous assists. It’s nice to have that flexibility, but in moments like with the warp points, it stumbles, especially since you can acquire tears before you’re even told what they do.
A variety of items can be found in the overworld, ranging from useful tools, like Zoe’s core trio of gemstones, to collectibles such as orbs, which can be used to power up those gems. You get the gems relatively early and they represent the foundation of your puzzle-solving gear. The green gem creates blocks, the blue gem creates rising bubbles, and the yellow fires off lightning. Using the orbs, you can also upgrade their abilities. For example, you mostly use the green gem’s blocks for simple platforming and puzzle solving, but you can also make it so the blocks sprout spikes that can hurt enemies. The many uses of these items make the puzzles and combat customizable and interesting, but some of the explanation leaves much to be desired. There’s an upgrade for the bubbles that involves dropping through the bubbles to change your character’s color, which took me researching online to realize what it even did. The gemstones are overall quite flexible, but weird limitations were more confusing. The yellow gem fires off lightning, which can be used to burn wooden barriers. However, an area you can discover very early in the game makes reference to needing a light source to be able to go through. Somehow, the item that literally lights another object on fire doesn’t work for that. Instead, you need to find another item: a necklace that lights torches. This feels nitpicky, but when so much of your time in Alwa is spent trying to figure out creative solutions to exploring dungeons and fighting enemies, not having items work logically sucks the fun out of it.
In addition to that torch-lighting necklace, numerous other items continue to round out Zoe’s arsenal. Nothing is ever as fundamental as the gemstones, but it’s a nice assortment that deepens your ability to explore as you go through the world and discover the five dungeons. While the map can be overwhelming at first, something that worked well over the course of the 8-10 hour adventure is how your new abilities made getting around easier. It also helps that revisiting past areas is almost always worthwhile because secrets are everywhere. A lot of games talk up their non-linear design, but Alwa’s Legacy actually nails that wandering feeling. There is a critical path and you mostly have to do the dungeons in a specific order, but with some gumption, sequence breaking is possible and you can always explore to the limits of your current gear. As a matter of fact, you’re rewarded when you do.
One aspect that I love about Alwa’s Legacy is something that I wish wasn’t so hidden. An alternate Pacifist Mode is unlockable (by collecting petals in the game), which challenges you to beat the game without killing any enemies. It’s fascinating, because the game is mostly insanely playable by just avoiding combat. In the few spots where you absolutely have to kill enemies, you actually have to seek specific switches to remove certain enemies. Pacifist Mode is essentially a new game plus of sorts, but I almost wish I could have just played it from the start.
When everything clicks into place, Alwa’s Legacy soars. The exploration is filled with brain-teasing challenges backed by a great chiptune soundtrack. Hiccups along the way, mostly due to some obtuse item uses, can bring the experience back to Earth, but thankfully, more often than not, this is a super fun game to make your way through.