Elden Pixels has just released their first project, Alwa's Awakening, on the PC, and you don't have to look for more than a few seconds before you realise what they are trying to do. The Swedish team are emulating the nostalgic feel of NES-era platformers, including the 8-bit graphics, catchy soundtrack, and challenging gameplay, the kind that would have you pulling your hair out for hours in the days before internet guides and forums.
To sum up the plot of Alwa's Awakening, which is outlined pretty well in the story trailer below, you play as Zoe, a seemingly normal girl who has to save the land of Alwa, which has been taken over by evil forces. You therefore have to scour the land and use your magic staff to find out what's happened and unlock the items you need to progress. Throughout the game, you'll have to talk with Alwa's residents so they can assist you too, and there are plenty of enemies unleashed upon the land for you to defeat as well.
Although this is harking back to an era where games had less graphical capabilities, you'd be mistaken if you thought this was a small and simple experience. The map itself is huge, something we were surprised by (we were lured into thinking it might be a linear game), and layers of it unfurl as you progress, especially since you may need a key item from one area in the North East to progress to an area in the South West, for example. This means, as expected, there's a lot of travelling, but there are six warp points throughout the game to save time.
Sometimes, however, knowing what to do or where to go can be tricky, and even when you do know where to go you can find yourself unsure as to how to get there. The map system helps with this, but there's still a lot to try and figure out. This is that classic NES challenge that Elden Pixels is trying to nail, and they do it pretty well. We've seen in forums people relishing the puzzles and not knowing where to go, but at the same time there's plenty of people giving tips, tricks, and guides for those who don't fancy wandering in circles for hours. How much you like this feature really depends on your approach to being lost: if you see it as a challenge, this is great, but if you get miffed pretty easily, you might get annoyed if you're not resorting to guides.
That said, there are some extra-obstinate parts of the game that grated on us. For instance, some respawn points were far enough away from their nearest boss that it was a frustrating slog to try and navigate our way through it time and time again just to get to the fight itself (much like Dark Souls), and the boss fight was challenging enough to justify a respawn point a bit closer.
Staying on the topic of boss fights, there were only a handful of them in Alwa's Awakening, but these were all firm and fair. They weren't easy by any means, but once you got the hang of their patterns and how they attacked, defeating them was all a matter of patience and waiting for your moment. The feeling of learning and outmanoeuvring an opponent really made these boss fights feel rewarding, especially the last one, and they all require you to call upon all the powers at your disposal to defeat them.