I love 2D platforming games. I love challenging 2D platforming games. I did not love Aaru’s Awakening, which purports to be a title which belongs in this genre. This is a game that should have been great fun and one that had the ingredients to be remembered as a classic. Instead, this game mixes those ingredients together and adds an incredibly high difficulty, to its detriment.
One thing that really stands out as you play are the game’s visuals. Every bit of scenery and villain design looks beautiful, with each area really holding its own distinct identity. The artwork of the story screens between areas also look really well drawn, and make you hopeful for what you are to experience.
There’s also some great potential within a story which sees the four brothers of Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night all controlling their own portions of time after a long fought war. Aaru is Dawn’s champion and he is tasked with reigniting the war by invading the other domains. The underlying themes in Aaru’s Awakening, like the power of authority, also add to the narrative. The narrator brings this to life, by way of expressing Aaru’s thoughts. It is all there for a brilliant tale to be told, coupled with great looks and sound.
That potential is dashed when you soon realise that each level is designed to punish even the smallest of mistakes or slow reactions. There are certain stages where it seems like you are required to have the reaction time of The Flash, and even then you may not succeed. Platforms are missed because you didn’t dash quickly enough, or maybe you jumped a little too late and fell into a pit of spikes instead of the head of a creature. This doesn’t feel like a game that is a legitimate challenge, but instead feels like bad design disguised as challenging gameplay.
There is no forgiveness here. There were a lot of times where I knew what the solution was and I knew exactly how to execute it, but because I pressed a button a fraction of a second too early or too late, it’d usually ended up with Aaru dying. I’ve probably seen the death screen at least 1000 times after playing. Sometimes the deaths were my fault but others it feels like the controls didn’t always match up to the action on screen. For example, I would jump towards an area only to find myself going in the wrong direction.
This would hurt any platformer, but it hurts Aaru’s Awakening doubly so because of the fact the game is trying to couple difficult puzzle platforming with time attack. Each stage is designed to keep you moving as fast as possible, be it due to a hazard chasing you or platforms crumbling away underfoot. You are expected to maintain a flow to get past each section, but the slower movement of Aaru and slight input lag make such a task all but impossible.
Before the beginning of each stage you are shown the top times on a global leaderboard, and after completing a level your own standing is shown. This design makes you want to go as fast as possible and be placed high up, but the clunky controls and poor level design – which includes areas where you have to make jumps from exactly the right angle, with any deviation seeing Aaru die – really do make it so the top tier is out of reach for the vast majority of players.
One of the main gameplay focuses of Aaru’s Awakening is teleporting. Aaru can fire a glowing orb in a direction and teleport to wherever the orb is, be it while it is still floating in the air or having landed on a platform. The teleportation aspect of the game is executed incredibly well and it is one of the things that really shines in the game, but it is a central mechanic that feels wasted within the style of Aaru’s difficulty.
The most frustrating thing about Aaru’s Awakening is the fact the developers wasted its potential. If instead of trying to make a game that punished a player for every misstep they had made a game that focused on its interesting premise, then no doubt Aaru’s Awakening would receive a lot more praise. Instead you’re presented with a beautifully designed game you have no time to admire as you’re constantly pushed to move forward, being killed over and over due to latency issues between control and screen action.
I loved the art style of Aaru’s Awakening, I loved the story premise it had, and I loved teleporting. I did not love the rest of the gameplay decisions along the way.
Version tested: PC