Can a game still be considered good if it’s core mechanic doesn’t work, even if it does most other stuff right? Aaru’s Awakening is a beautiful game with an interesting twist on platforming, which is good, but it’s all let down by one major flaw, a fairly major issue for a platformer; the jumping isn’t fun.
Aaru is a creature created to be the champion of a deity representing Dawn, which has been sent to eliminate the three other parts of the day (Dusk etc.) to allow Dawn to control all time. Aaru, initially a mindless drone, begins to ‘awaken’ and realise that what he is doing is wrong. It’s quite a nice idea, but Aaru’s Awakening subscribes firmly to the ‘tell don’t show’ school of storytelling, with too long passages of narration between worlds filling in the story. Aaru’s personal journey is potentially interesting, but frankly isn’t as told here.
Aaru’s Awakening is a challenging platformer with one key mechanic; Aaru’s teleporting ability. Aaru can send out a little ball of light with one button press and then teleport to wherever that ball has got to with another. Aim and timing are crucial and the game can get very challenging when it gets going. You can also teleport into enemies to destroy them and this is used to good effect in some interesting boss encounters. This mechanic works well, with the ability of the teleport ball to bounce around forcing you to re-evaluate your platforming instinct. All of this good stuff is let down in one terrible flaw however; the dreadful jumping.
The true joy of a good platformer lies in the satisfaction of the jump; it’s the main reason that Mario remains King. Aaru’s jump is awkward, stiff and difficult to maneuver and resulted in the majority of my deaths. Not the challenging level design or the interesting mechanic, the bloody jump. There’s the kernel of such a great game here but that damn jump pretty much ruined the experience for me.
The game looks lovely, with an impressive hand drawn art style. The character animations are a little stiff and the overall visual design is kind of lackluster but the art style does carry it through. The music and sound design is entirely forgettable, with the voice acting narrating the story being very earnest if not particularly engaging.
Aaru’s Awakening has some good ideas but falls at the first hurdle. If you’re going to make a platformer, make damn well sure that jumping isn’t irritating because, if you fail at that, nothing else really matters.