Aaru’s Awakening has a wonderfully nostalgic aesthetic. Its subtle music and sound effects, the hand-drawn, 70s inspired visuals, and the lonely, highly dangerous platforming and exploration; it all feels very reminiscent of Another World. Even protagonist, Aaru, resembled the hulking, four-legged beasts from Another World, as he trots, leaps, charges and teleports between the realms of Dawn, Day, Dusk and Night.
Aaru has been charged by his master, the deity Dawn, to travel into the realms of the other gods and upset the balance, giving Dawn dominance over the world. Devilish platforming stands in Aaru’s way, before battling each god in a multi-stage battle that turns platforming into combat. It’s a superficial but intriguing tale, with narrated static images punctuating the platforming to deliver it, however, it touches on concepts of loyalty, following orders, and loneliness in an effective way. As Aaru ventures further from Dawn’s domain he becomes less sure of the objective and more isolated. It all fits in very well with the level design, which becomes increasingly complex and alien, as well as dangerous.
Almost anything can kill Aaru, from rays of sunlight in Day’s domain, to the grey sludge in the pits of Dusk’s domain, as well as the odd beast that inhabits each area. As mighty as you appear, resembling an eagle crossed with a lion and a bear, you don’t have any traditional attacks, instead you can use one of your platforming abilities to teleport inside an enemy and tear them apart from the inside. However, that’s easier said than done, as moving anywhere is a risk, with each level packed with deadly environmental hazards. Additionally, you can’t take more than a hit from an enemy before you perish, so if you miss your target and materialise above them when teleporting, touching them on the way down is enough to kill you.
Indeed then, surviving this harsh and unusual world is hard, platforming through it is harder. The aforementioned teleportation sees you throw out an orb of light with control over its velocity. This orb then acts as a physical object in the world, bouncing off ledges, or through small gaps. At the press of a button you teleport to where the orb is. Meanwhile, the ability to leap as well as a charge ability that grants temporary flight and destroys weak environmental barriers, rounds out your skills beyond moving right or left. Getting the timing right and using your abilities in tandem quickly is the key to completing levels, and it can be a struggle bringing them all together.
The controls are mapped so that you use the shoulder buttons to platform, allowing you to keep both thumbs on the analogue sticks to ensure you’re ready to launch an orb and teleport at a moment’s notice. It’s a control scheme that makes sense, especially in the later levels where your reactions and mastery of the controls truly come into play, but training yourself not to use the face buttons takes a bit of effort, and leads to some frustration when you do use them and Aaru plummets to his death. Additionally, the level of precision the title demanded is very high, and getting the orb to go exactly where you want it to is a chore.
When it all clicks – or perhaps if it all clicks – the speed and grace you can achieve as you elegantly teleport, charge and leap your way through a level, is highly satisfying, and with online leaderboards tracking completion times, the reward for a smooth run is enhanced further through bragging rights, but make no mistake, this is one for the platforming elite. Despite generous checkpoints throughout, including some within boss fights, Aaru’s Awakening puts up a challenge that seldom few other titles do, and it will frustrate the majority of players.
Aaru’s Awakening is a masochistically designed platformer, with a thoughtful narrative and beautiful art style that hides its perils. The occasional foreground and background confusion can lead to a bad platforming decision on your part and there’s a bit too much trial and error in figuring out the layout of each level, and what can kill you and when, but if you’re looking for a challenge – or an excuse to break a controller – then you’ve come to the right place.
Thanks to Lumenox for supplying TiX with a promotional copy
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