Developer: Lumenox ehf
Release Date: February 23rd, 2015
Available On: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation 4. There may be differences between versions.
As I mentioned in my review of Betrayer, an art style can go a long way to making a game worth a second or third look. Aaru’s Awakening is absolutely gorgeous with its hand drawn art and animations. Unfortunately Aaru’s Awakening is a terrible game with far too much going wrong with it for me to even recommend grabbing the free PlayStation Plus version. It’s just not worth the waste of time.
Four godly brothers, named Day, Dawn, Dusk, and Night, are currently at an uneasy peace after decades of war. Yet when Dawn believes Night is preparing his creatures to attack he revives Aaru, an old champion from the original war, and charges him with going to Night’s realm and stopping Night. Along the way Aaru discovers that things aren’t quite what they seem. Narrated by what I can only imagine is a child trying to sound serious, Aaru’s Awakening’s simple plot is enough to excuse the various scenarios but was nothing that could actually get me to care. The narrator is really the weak point here, as whoever is doing so is clearly not experienced enough for the role and they just come off as trying way too hard.
A 2D platformer, you play as Aaru as he has to travel across the four realms to complete his task. Each of the game’s four realms offer four stages and a boss fight that Aaru has to jump and teleport across. The first real problem of the game came from the awkward controls: I had to use the left bumper to jump, and again in the air to dash, and the right to launch an orb that would determine where Aaru teleports to. The right trigger would then make Aaru teleport to wherever the orb’s current location is. There’s a learning curve in trying to juggle Aaru’s couple of abilities to get through the various challenges, and trying to remember to hit the correct buttons which I actually found to be the more difficult task.
I died a lot in Aaru’s Awakening, and a lot of the times it didn’t really feel like my fault. As I slid down a slope I would reach the bottom and be impaled by spikes, something that I would have no way of knowing until it happened. A lot of the time the game basically asked me to trust it and make a blind teleport or dash in a direction. I feel betrayed, as nearly every time this led to my death. Each frustrating level became a hill of corpses as I continued to repeat segments over and over again in the hopes of getting it this time. Worse, Aaru himself is sluggish. He moves slowly, barely adjusts his direction in the air, clips on the tiniest objects, and the amount of times I missed or overshot platforms due to his weirdly imprecise jumps was scream inducing. The game requires the precision of Super Meat Boy, but doesn’t have the controls or movement to make it so.
There’s no real combat in Aaru’s Awakening, though I could kill enemies by teleporting inside of them. It’s not a bad idea, but most of the time trying to kill an enemy would lead to me falling outside of the spot they just occupied and into a death trap so it was easier to just try and ignore them. For boss fights this means teleporting inside several colored orbs, which will then spawn a bigger colored orb to teleport inside of, which then means going through a short platforming challenge to take out one more colored orb. Rinse and repeat several times, and die several hundred, and I was able to defeat the bosses. If it weren’t for the checkpoints after every orb I probably would have thrown my PlayStation out the window, but this little convenience doesn’t make the game fun. Just less painful.
Aaru’s Awakening’s beautiful graphics is about all the game has going for it. Every environment and design is a treat to observe and the only real reason I was able to continue through and finish the game. Yet when nearly every other aspect fails as hard as it did I can in no way recommend Aaru’s Awakening for anybody at any price.