What do you do with a game like Aaruís Awakening? Both the design and art direction are amazingly intricate, instantly placing it on a "Must Play" list. Yet, mechanically it is a bit of a mess. In particular the controls, a key element for any platformer, run in almost direct opposition to the experience the developers are trying to create.
Art is a real point of pride, or at least, that is my impression. Even the most awkward of screenshots looks amazing. The ink and watercolor look is instantly appealing. While certainly not a technical showpiece (at least in the high-powered, poly-pushing way), it is the sort of game where you want to stop and admire the little details. However, visuals may be lost on players given the gameplay, which wants to railroad you out of levels. It is a bit of a recurring theme with Aaruís Awakening; the pieces work, but donít support each other as well as they probably could. I would happily sacrifice some gameplay speed for more opportunities to enjoy what the artists have created.
Sound is mixed. The ambient soundtrack sets the mood perfectly, but sound effects are grating. The ambient music doesnít overpower while the sound effects are, at times, obtrusive. It never got to the point where I wanted to turn off sound entirely, but I was tempted.
You are Aaru, a sort of bear/ bird hybrid tasked with destroying temples at the behest of your master. What seems like a straightforward task is actually complicated, leading to questions about whether or not Aaruís mission is as pure as it seems.
The storybook presentation is another major feather in the gameís cap and, thanks to the in-game art style, perfectly blends into the core gameplay. Without question Aaruís Awakening is meant to be a difficult platformer. Itís more Super Meat Boy than Mario. Each stage is designed to challenge players to use precision jumps, air dashes, and Aaruís teleport ability to navigate around obstacles. Levels are designed as environmental puzzles, with your goal in each to touch a series of glowing orbs. Thereís no particular sequence you need to hit the orbs in, offering some freedom of play, though youíll need to get them all to unlock all parts of the level and, eventually, make it past the gameís five end level bosses.
On the surface Aaruís Awakening is one hell of a work of game design. This is especially true with how youíre taught the basic mechanics, only to have those basics turn into complex chain sequences. A few levels into the game, it is clear youíre dealing with well-crafted levels that demand full use of Aaruís skillset. Whatís the problem? For one, there is zero room for error. Although you have freedom in which orbs to go after, there is a methodically designed path to those orbs. In and of itself, this isnít a problem Ė it is a cornerstone of platforming games and has been for years. The reason it doesnít work here is the controls, which are clunky and donít support the type of precise play Aaruís Awakening requires.
If you can get past the control issue, you can go after the additional mission goal of clearing levels under a par time. There is a certain level of pride with beating the clock, though it is something very few players will be able to accomplish.
Just to reiterate, Aaruís Awakening is supposed to be a hard game. If youíre in the market for a nice, simple platformer, this is not one for you. Even if the art and some design elements sound interesting, expect a challenge. Basically, everything in the game wants to kill you, and usually will. Thankfully, you arenít penalized for dying, other than resetting back at a checkpoint. Aaruís Awakening is also generous with checkpoint placement, another plus considering deaths will come in the double and triple number counts.
A certain portion of deaths are attributed to basic trial-and-error gameplay as you attempt to work out sequences. Aaruís Awakening is demanding. Some solutions require speedy precision, often times chaining air dashes and teleports in tricky sequences. On the plus side, every obstacle has a solution, though you have to earn it. This will appeal to a certain type of player, and thereís a definite sense of pride that comes with completing tricky move combinations, though if youíre not incredibly patient, it can get frustrating in a hurry.
Aaruís Awakening offers support for both controllers and keyboard and mouse setups, each offering its own advantages and disadvantages. Of the two, I imagine most players will want to go with the keyboard and mouse simply because of the amount of precision the mouse offers. Though the controller is better for general platforming and movement, using the Right Stick to aim Aaruís teleport lacks the sort of precision required in later levels.
Playing with the controller presents other issues. It isnít uncommon to accidentally send Aaru flying off a ledge or into one obstacle or another, resulting in instant death. Jumping is mapped to the triggers, leading to accidental jumps, or at the very least, mistimed jumps. Neither is suited for the sort of fast-paced accuracy gameplay requires of players. Though the keyboard and mouse offer a bit more control over Aaruís movements, you need quick reflexes to bounce around the keyboard and make the setup work.
Really, controls are the biggest obstacle in the way of Aaruís Awakening. The design and presentation are there. Both are clearly labors of love for the development team. But without a solid, crunchy control setup to support the gameplay, the pieces quickly fall off, as does the enjoyment. Though not as much of an issue in early levels, they do become a major issue, placing yet another obstacle in your way.
Aaruís Awakening will have its audience, but only with the hardcore platform players who can come to terms with the controls.
OS: Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows XP; Processor: Intel Core Duo 1.8ghz+; Memory: 1 GB RAM; Graphics: Integrated chipset or video card; DirectX: Version 9.0c; Hard Drive: 2 GB available space
*Additional Notes: Less RAM required if chipset or graphics card has RAM
OS: Windows 8.1; Processor: Intel Core i7 2.2Ghz; Memory: 8GB; DirectX: 11; Hard Drive: 500 GB