Sometimes a game comes along that feels determined to create an unenjoyable and frustrating experience. So damned determined that, at every point, seems like it’s working against you in every way possible. Aaru’s Awakening is such a game.
Aaru is a furry bullfrog looking creature who represents the domain of Dawn – a place that exists in the world of Lumenox. Dawn, alongside Day, Dusk and Night, is being threatened by a “dark presence” that is coming from Night. It is Aaru’s job to traipse through these different domains and conquer whatever this “dark presence” is.
If the plot for Aaru’s Awakening sounds convoluted it’s because… well… it is. One of the first things you’re presented with is some of the most over the top and pretentious narration I’ve seen in quite a while. The narration feels as though someone received a thesaurus for Christmas and decided to put it to good use telling a story about the day night cycle. The dialogue is narrated by someone who sounds like they’re auditioning for the role of a somnambulist – Sorry, scratch that – a sleepwalker. I’ve been using my thesaurus too much to decipher what the plot of this game is. There is no conviction or excitement with the line delivery, making the bland plot scenes in between chapters a chore to get through.
Before I get too negative, let’s take a look at one of the positive things within Aaru’s Awakening. This is a beautiful looking game with some lovely hand drawn environments. The detail is just wonderful with intricate landscapes blending in to one another to create unique and immersive environments. Beautiful pastel colours that look like they’re pulled straight from a water colour painting help make this a visually enticing game. The downside of this is that, all too often, the foreground and the background blend in together. There were times that I was navigating through a level thinking that I would be able to jump or land on a certain area or platform, only to find that this was in fact part of the background meaning an instant death.
You navigate levels by two methods; using the L1 button to jump and dash, or by shooting out an orb with the R2 button and then transporting to that orb with R1. These are used alongside the right thumb stick for directing the orb, and the left thumb stick for moving Aaru. Instead of being helpful to the player, this odd navigation scheme works against the player at every point making any progression tiresome and tedious. Besides having the obligatory “get to the end of the level” goal, Aaru’s Awakening also encourages speed running through levels. This is a near impossible task to complete with the navigation tools provided.
The orb can bounce off some surfaces, occasionally into small crevices which open up to the next area for your teleport. The longer you hold the trigger for the orb, the slower it shoots out yet the floaty nature of the orb creates an inaccuracy that makes traversing tights areas a frustrating endeavour. At times I would be aiming to shoot the orb through the tiniest of cracks only to have it bounce right off and into a surface that would destroy the orb.
Jumping and dashing is another fruitless task. Here, the jump and dash takes place of the double jump from every other platformer out there. However, often I would jump and then aim to dash only to find myself moving in a completely different direction, often leading to certain death. As this is one of the staples of a platformer, it’s frustrating to see it implemented so poorly here, and turns the mechanic into just another thing that works against the player.
Combine both the orb and the jump dash together and you have some of the worst gaming mechanics I’ve seen in a while. During one of the exhausting boss fights, the level requires you to dodge a moving laser whilst manoeuvring to a higher platform. Logically this means shooting out an orb, transporting to the orb and then dash jumping up to the next platform. It’s a move that genre classics like Rayman Origins or Guacamelee! do so perfectly, yet here it’s implemented in such a haphazard way that it’s a slap in the face.
The cumbersome and slow nature of Aaru works against the speed of the orb that he shoots out whilst also working against the inaccurate jump dash. Combine all three together and you have a short segment which took me at least half an hour to get through. Add the fact that segments like this are littered throughout the game and it’s a good thing I’m stubborn, else I would have turned off the game sooner.
There are checkpoints galore littered throughout the levels, appearing at such frequency that it’s as if the developers were knowingly trying to compensate for the difficulty. I personally love it when a platformer is difficult and challenging – there is a reason I’ve completed Guacamelee! four times over – but it needs to have a difficulty where every mistake you make is your own, not the games. The deaths and failures in Aaru’s Awakening are not the players, but are all at the fault of game mechanics.
On top of all of this, there is one of the saddest scores to a game I’ve ever heard. Coming across like an attempt at an orchestral tribal theme, the score here is bland and unexciting. Whilst I’m not saying that every game needs an invigorating soundtrack, it certainly does go a long way to helping the flow of the game and stopping the player from falling asleep halfway through. Boss fights are scored with music that has no idea of the risk and danger that Aaru is in.
Overall, this boils down to being simply a very poor game. Visually, it is beautiful, but I wonder if it would have worked better as a children’s book rather than as a game. If you haven’t downloaded this as part of Playstation Plus already, then save yourself the bandwith and avoid.