Alwa’s Legacy is the sequel to a game we reviewed in 2018, Alwa’s Awakening. The original was a fun, 8-bit styled adventure that stayed true to the era it was emulating. Alwa’s Legacy evolves and makes steps into the 16-bit era, but does not fully advance in the ways I was anticipating.
The adventure begins with credits rolling and Saga, an aged elder, arriving in the library to grab an ancient book for our hero Zoe. Negligible details are spent on recapping the previous game, but we learn Zoe is waking up soon and she needs the book to fulfill a prophecy. A young girl named Mary is sent to meet Zoe and direct her to the library: she also lets us know there are monsters about and to use our staff to defeat them. This is a good tip, until a few minutes later the staff is knocked out of Zoe’s hands by a powerful wizard named Vicar.
If you haven’t played Alwa’s Awakening, you’ll have no idea who Vicar is. Alwa’s Legacy does not do a great job of telling its story, or explaining its past. Regardless, with your staff thrown from your hands you are tasked with the amazing undertaking of… walking thirty seconds to the right to recover it. You may wander in other directions, but getting the staff back is nearly effortless and does little to teach the player about the game aside from presenting a few new ways to die when without a staff.
After retrieving your trusty staff, you’ll battle a few monsters and make your way to town where you finally meet Saga in person. She explains that you need to defeat four demons around the land to fill in the book’s pages, which are all currently blank. Once the book’s pages are filled, Zoe is told she will have an idea on how to return home. It is at this point where you are free to explore, gain abilities, find collectables, and defeat demons. Let’s talk about each of those.
There are many beautiful sights in the world of Alwa’s Legacy. Areas have awesome pixelated panoramas, with great music to match. Exploration in Alwa’s is assisted by the in-game map. It shows where you’ve been, where some bosses are located, and what percentage of items you’ve found in each section. Even with this handy tool, exploring feels strangely aimless. While you may start off with only the staff, navigating into any boss’s room requires finding your magical abilities. This involves travelling through many biomes without fully exploring them in order to find your spells. This left me feeling like I was breaking the proper sequence of the game. My playthrough did not have a good flow of map reveal, storytelling, or ability acquisition.
Much like the previous game in the series there are three main spells to unlock. Zoe learns to cast a green block which can be stood on or used as a weight, a bubble that floats upwards and can be stood on to reach new heights, and a fireball that can hit enemies and switches. The general controls in Alwa’s Legacy are smooth (like jumping and attacking), but ability use is still awkward and clumsily implemented. Only one spell can be selected to cast at a time. Many puzzles require you to cast a spell, quickly swap between which spell is active, then cast a different spell. This makes the main challenge in some puzzles the control scheme itself. This was fine in the first game, which was emulating an 8-bit adventure. I find it much less charming in the sequel. It leaves Alwa’s Legacy looking 16-bit, with great animations on characters and backgrounds, but feeling 8-bit in terms of gameplay. Allowing the use of more buttons on the controller would have been totally acceptable; as your mana bar slowly recovers after casting spells and does not allow you to spam your abilities. It is worth mentioning that spells can be upgraded and changed using your collected blue gemstones to give a sense of Zoe’s growth throughout the adventure.
There are a few types of collectables strewn throughout the land in Alwa’s Legacy. Some upgrade your health, others make new checkpoints… but the blue gemstones upgrade your spells. Each spell can be upgraded using the stones, and it changes them considerably. Your bubble can explode when it pops, doing damage to enemies. The green stone can be hit across the room, doing damage to enemies and sticking to walls. The fireball can cause increased chances of health drops from defeated enemies or even have bouncing fireballs be cast alongside it. Talking to the wizard in town, upgrades can be made and reset at any time. There are 99 blue gemstone orbs hidden around the map. Full 100% collection would require a lot of non-intuitive backtracking, with only a percentage of secrets found in each area to help you find everything. Needless to say, my experience with this game did not encourage me to go on that kind of a treasure hunt. The demons died without me needing to scour the land for treasure.
Speaking of the demon boss battles, they are some of the best moments in this game. They are a test of skill, and usually require a few attempts in order to get the patterns of their attacks memorized. Your approach to fighting them is your own choice. Depending on how you’ve upgraded your spells, your approach to the fight and how you do damage may entirely change. I had a lot of fun with each of these encounters, but felt like they were spread out too thin across my playthrough. More unique boss encounters would have made for a better paced adventure.
Ultimately, I was disappointed in this game in general, and as a sequel. The beautiful background artwork couldn’t distract me from the directionless feeling while exploring. And while the soundtrack kept me humming along, I did not find the story overly compelling or interesting. Even the great boss fights were held back by the archaic choices with the control scheme. I imagine this game may be a hit with some, but for me personally it simply didn’t stick the landing.