Today we’re diving into the 8-Bit Edition of Alwa’s Awakening from Elden Pixels. Everyone is already aware that Alwa’s Awakening exists on other consoles as digital and physical releases. Not too many people are talking about the NES version of the game. Today, I have a review of the game (not the hardware) running on my NES Everdrive N8. This review hopefully inspires you to hawk up the $10 it requires for this cute game! This is for those who just want to play a fun NES title and don’t necessarily need a physical item sitting on a shelf. Let’s go!
‘Originally released in 2017, the NES version is finally here! With the same challenging and exciting gameplay, this version feels like the original but there’s also new and exclusive content added such as new levels and new music. Use your magic staff and progress through a large interconnected world where you’ll solve puzzles, fight enemies and defeat bosses in order to help free the land of Alwa. Explore and uncover the secrets by using your platforming skills in this challenging and charming 8-bit adventure game.’
An NES game with new and exclusive content: A new challenging NES game inspired by such classics as Battle of Olympus and Solstice. The original game has been completely rebuilt from scratch with new and exclusive content added, such as new levels and new music.
Use your magic staff: Equip a magic staff that holds many mysterious powers. Use it to solve puzzles and defeat enemies in over 400 unique rooms. Upgrade your staff by finding new gemstones.
You are Zoe: Play as Zoe who has been sent for to help free the land of Alwa. With easy to understand controls, you’ll jump and fight your way through the many different challenging rooms.
Explore the land of Alwa: Explore a large interconnected map in true ‘Metroidvania’ style. Play the game any way you want and find your own way through the land of Alwa.
Find new items and learn new abilities: Find and unlock a slew of different objects throughout the adventure that will both give Zoe new abilities as well as unlock new areas.
Cost. I think this is the most worthwhile positive point to mention. They had to build this game from the ground up and hire people for the NES release (more on that soon). So you would think that the cost would be something closer to $20. Instead, they have the ROM file behind just a $9.99 paywall! Again, this is for a full-fledged game, and if you want you can flash it to a ROM board and make your own custom cart. This would likely be less money than hunting down a physical copy of the game with the bells and whistles. You can also just spend the $9.99 and play it as is. I love that there is versatility here.
Gameplay. I want to start with some history of the company and the game straight from the press kit. Alwa’s Awakening was the first of the 2 games in this franchise. However, they wanted to go back to it and implement it for the NES as they had always dreamt of. “Taking what they learned from their original release, Elden Pixels teamed up with programmer Brad Smith and Retro-Bit® Publishing to ensure that their dream can finally be fulfilled! Thanks to the community for providing feedback during an open beta phase!”
So how does the gameplay work in this game? Well, this is a platformer and you play as Zoe. She is asleep at the beginning and is awoken by an elderly woman from Alwa (the town). She says there’s evil and everyone in Alwa is too exhausted to fight. Zoe heads out only armed with her tremendous jump. It’s a single jump and not a double jump but it still clears a lot of ground as it feels ever so slightly floaty. Pretty quickly on you’ll find a magic staff and this is where the game really starts. The staff can take down certain walls in a few strikes and enemies in one hit. If you get hit by them or certain environment items, you receive a “Game Over” screen keeping track of how many times you’ve perished. Just as long as you reach the rooms with stars at the entrances, you can light the fire as a checkpoint. That will be the last place you start from.
There is a map in the game. If you have unlocked the section of map for which you’re playing, then you can see it when you pause the game. The pause menu also has an “Items” and “Settings”. “Items” is easily my favorite pause screen of them. That sounds like a crazy thing to say to people, but it’s because it has a modern thought process behind it. It tells you how much of the overall map you’ve uncovered, which effectively tells you how far along you are in the game. The same goes for how many items you’ve discovered for Zoe. Both of these are done in percentages, which is the smartest method to convey to the player. I dislike when stats are shown in X out of however many. Lastly, there is also an outright gameplay timer for how long you’ve been playing. They’ve implemented it intelligently by not having the timer count while paused.
In Alwa’s Awakening, there are several major sections of the map. You can technically travel to those places by foot once you’ve done everything required of you. But that would be a lot of back and forth. You have a knight who guards warp points in the game. Simply jump in and activate the warp point and choose which area you would like to fast travel to. This works like normal fast travel where you have to have already reached the area with your character in order for it to show up as an option.
There are several items to pick up throughout the game besides the staff. I won’t go through all of them of course. Some help you solve puzzles/obstacles. Some help you transit through a level you wouldn’t normally be able to jump through. Others inhibit enemies for you in one way or another. Most of them have time limits on them, so use them wisely or risk your death counter increasing!
Extra Features. This game is the entirety of the original gameplay plus some more content. There are new things to behold this time around. ‘For fans of the series as well as retro gamers, this release of Alwa’s Awakening: The 8-Bit Edition will leave them amazed at how a 280 MB game can be formatted into a 512 KB NES cartridge’
For example. This go-around the game has three entirely new areas to explore. I’m not entirely certain if they’re in place of three levels from the full sized game. I just know that the marketing says that there are new areas in the game. I won’t be doing a side-by-side comparison so it’s up to those who care to buy both copies of the game and see if the levels match up. The same goes for certain room layouts and environmental placements. These have been updated to make more sense in this game. So some aspects are improved and give you more/new gameplay than the full sized version of the game.
Music (and Extra Music). Now, if I could, I’d like to take a moment to mention how great the music is. First off, credits to the team for making sure there are plenty of tracks. This game doesn’t suffer from repetition since there are multiple songs. In fact, this version of Alwa’s Awakening is more complete as it has two new songs. To quote the marketing point, “Listen to a completely new 8-bit soundtrack with over 25 new original tracks composed by Robert Kreese. Also features a special guest track by Prof. Sakamoto.”
Even if you die over and over again in an area, you won’t find the music annoying either. The songs themselves are very catchy and yet subtle as you’re playing. They add to the feel of the game without annoying the player and that’s a great balance. I also have to make sure I point out that the audio of this game would be outright worse if they had jumping sound effects. The “sproing” sound over and over again would kill this game. They simply found a way to keep out the small sound effects and let the music do the talking. It’s like reading a book, you get a feeling while reading, but you don’t have loads of sounds like a movie.
Compatibility. Now, this is a really vital part to consider. If you’ve bought or intend on buying the 8-Bit Edition NES ROM, then you’re in luck. You can play it a bevvy of different ways. First of all, it works perfectly on mention it works on flash carts. I was able to run this on my Krzysiocart for NES, my Krzysiocart for Famicom, and my Everdrive N8. Naturally, this works on various emulators. I only tested it on Retroarch using the first core that was installed on my SteamDeck. It doesn’t matter, it worked as a treat. On PC, you may already have your favorite emulator. For Windows and Linux users Elden Pixels recommends that you use Mesen. For Apple users, they recommend OpenEmu.
As I said before, this game could also be flashed to a ROM board. If you’re someone who likes to make homebrew carts, this is definitely one that should be set in stone. You could go with an opaque white shell like the official one or a color of your choosing. I think this is clever because you spent only $10 on the game itself but you get a better deal than those who bought the game as a physical cart. Now, they have to either buy the game for $10 too to play it in all of the ways that you can. They could go the route of only ever playing it on their NES. Or they could go through all of the money and effort of dumping the ROM themselves. It’s cool in both digital and physical, but I just feel that if you buy the ROM you’re in a better position.
Design. We’re going to round off the positives with a fun one. We’re going to talk about the design of this game because I’m flabbergasted about how good this game looks compared to other NES games, even other modern homebrews.
I find that the look of the character and villain sprites is incredibly detailed. The elements of the levels are also exceptional and are Nintendo caliber. I got butterflies in my stomach when the “Alwa’s Awakening” title card came up. I was sitting on my carpeted floor with NES controller in hand and I felt myself transported back to a place I hadn’t been in a long time. The game has fun little animations of lava and other moving elements. The baddies are adorable when they get hit and then die. Best of all, I love Zoe’s little hop she does when she reaches the top of a ladder. Every bit of the screen space is used so beautifully and not one pixel is out of place. Even the HUD is a simple row at the top of the screen that conveys everything that you need in a tidy and retro way.
The level design may feel confusing to some, but I believe the layout and locations of the levels are on purpose. You’re supposed to backtrack at certain times. That is also why it’s so important to get the map as well. Furthermore, while there are elements that are shared between screens, no two screens look alike. Furthermore, the deeper you head into Alwa’s Awakening, you’ll see so many different landscapes and weather elements. This game really has so much in it that I’m not certain how they crammed it all into a single NES cart.
Shoulder Shrug. I couldn’t really find a downside unless you’re just someone who doesn’t prefer this kind of game. Or maybe you simply prefer the larger layout that doesn’t have the 4:3 aspect ratio that this has. I think the only real downside, and it isn’t about the game, is that I would love to see the soundtrack for all 26 songs of the 8-Bit Edition be released! Give it to me Elden Pixels!
If you’re still on the fence about this game, I highly encourage that you at least play the demo. The demo can be found here and is about halfway down the page. The game itself is available through Steam as well as Itchio, so no matter where you have a login, you can get it. I think this game is baller just from the music alone. But also because the dream team of people who have worked on this from the composers to Brad Smith. Brad was the lead programmer for the NES iteration of this game. You may know his work in the NES game Lizard! See, so when I told you that this game is worth $9.99, I wasn’t fooling around!
Alwa’s Awakening 8-Bit Edition (ROM on Itchio)
Alwa’s Awakening 8-Bit Edition (ROM on Steam)
Alwa’s Awakening 8-Bit Edition (Cart)