Looks aren’t everything.
I enjoy a good platformer. Seeing my character coordinate a series of jumps and actions, all the while trying to avoid hazards and enemies is both exhilarating and fun – when it’s executed correctly. Games like Super Meat Boy and Dustforce are some of those games that handle quick thinking combos and acrobatic moves well. Aaru’s Awakening, unfortunately, does not.
Players take control of Aaru, a bear-like creature that serves as Dawn’s champion. A long time ago, there existed four entities that ruled over the Earth: Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day. They were in a constant struggle with each other over who would rule. Dawn has decided to send Aaru to infiltrate each entity’s land and extinguish an evil force. It is an interesting tale that has its moments.
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS3
Price I’d Pay: $5 if that.
Multiplayer: Online learderboards
Players move Aaru throughout a level while avoiding hazards and enemies. It is very much a speed trial game. Trying to make it to the end in the fastest time and sharing said time to the online leaderboards is really the draw to the levels. Unfortunately, trying to control Aaru is where the real difficulty lies.
Jumpman Aaru is not.
Utilizing a jump, a quick boost attack that can propel Aaru in a direction, and a charge orb that can be fired across the screen that Aaru can then teleport to are the simplistic outset of the controls. Everything revolves around these mechanics. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, let’s start off by talking about the controls. I used an Xbox 360 controller to begin the game. Having the standard jump mapped to up on the left stick is not ideal at all on a twitch platformer. I would end up jumping when I didn’t want to, and trying to correct it in split second was difficult to do. On top of all this, I still had to be quick with my movements, and many stages are set up to not have much breathing room, since this is supposed to be a fluid moving game.
Many times I would end up getting killed via falling onto spikes or fountains of black goo that would appear through the ground while I was just trying to readjust to what I had just done. I then thought maybe it was just not optimized as well as it could have been with a controller, so I switched to the mouse and keyboard. It didn’t help. In fact, I did worse using the mouse and keyboard controls.
The game has one beautiful art style. The hand-drawn look of both the characters and the environments are really a spectacle to see. The game looks and animates amazingly.. Go watch a game play video. The backgrounds sometimes get in the way, or rather, I had a difficult time in some spots determining what was in the background and what was something I could hit while moving around. This became apparent in the first area, when I would find myself getting burned by rays of light that I thought were part of the colorful background. I started to train myself to watch for them. Then came the parts where I had to move quickly, and split second decisions are hard to do when having to keep up with what could harm Aaru and what couldn’t.
You want me to do what, now?
I’m all for difficult levels. I’m a big Super Meat Boy fan, but when I’m struggling more with the controls than the level itself, it becomes a frustrating task. Asking me to dodge attacks from enemies, make a series of jumps with platforms that crumble away to a spike pit, then asking me to fire a teleport orb while in mid-air and hit a small corridor, then teleport to that orb before falling into the spike trap while I’m already fumbling with my controller is not ideal.
There’s a fine line for trial and errors games like this. That line is balanced on challenging/rewarding game play and frustrating difficulty that becomes a chore. Unfortunately, Aaru’s awakening crosses that line into the frustrating territory. I really wanted to like this game. It was right up my alley for its type and style, but when it came down to it, instead of wanting to try a level or section over again like I do in Dustforce, Trials and Super Meat Boy, I didn’t want to. It all revolves around the controls and the loose feeling they have. Of course, many could say I just suck at the game, and I would agree with you, but I know my way around a platformer, and Aaru’s Awakening has the makings of a good one, but is bogged down by poorly implemented controls and some choice level design. Only the hardcore of players will get into it, and even then they will have controller breaking thoughts while playing it.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.