Alwa’s Legacy (PS4) Review

Polished to predictability
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Alwa’s Legacy, developed and published by Elden Pixels, is a solid action-platformer Metroidvania. The tight controls, flexible spell system, well-paced progression, and retro-styled presentation make for a compelling package. However, it’s also yet another indie title in a packed genre – so crowded that it’s becoming increasingly hard to stand out.

First up, for those concerned, Alwa’s Legacy is a sequel to Alwa’s Awakening but it’s not essential to have played the first. Most locations and enemies are updated versions of those seen in the prior game, but the minimalist story is designed to function as a launching point for new players. If you’re looking for a slightly more complex, polished, and visually impressive experience, you can jump in here.

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The narrative is sparse but you’ll find a few other quirky adventurers in the world with some sage advice.

After a brief introduction – which hints at a cyclical prophecy – amnesiac Zoe awakens in the Kingdom of Alwa and is thrust into a sprawling and dense 2D world with little guidance. Her only motivation is to defeat several demons and gather the gems they’ve stolen, in the hope they can restore her memory. All the while, she needs to avoid a dangerous adversary, whom she has no memory of, and hopefully find a way back to her own world.

Unfortunately, those looking for a narrative hook might be disappointed. Alwa’s Legacy sticks closely to its retro inspirations, with the bare minimum of narrative to keep you pushing forward. Dialogue is limited to a few repeating lines that (might) update after you hit certain milestones or find certain objects. That’s not to say the world is empty. As your journey away from the central town of Westwood, you’ll encounter plenty of NPCs. They can offer up friendly advice about an upcoming area, provide tasks to find items or destroy monsters, and some reveal a little of their backstory each time you encounter them.

However, Alwa’s Legacy remains an exploration- and mechanics-driven game with long stretches traversing, battling, and puzzling through dungeons alone. The primary driver of this adventure is distant map markers and the lure of secrets, not frequent narrative beats.

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Alwa’s Legacy is undeniably a pretty game, with crisp pixel-art visuals and diverse environments. It makes for great exploration.

The core gameplay in Alwa’s Legacy is simultaneously simple and familiar, but also flexible and skill-driven. You can run, jump, and strike enemies with your staff, but quickly learn three spells that modify your traversal and combat options. Summing a green block, blue bubble, and yellow fireball might seem like an underwhelming repertoire, but each offers several upgrades that modify their behaviours, allowing you to access all corners of the world and the secrets they contain.

The block starts as a simple stepping stone, before gaining spikes that can be used for offence embedding it into a wall as a platform, and can eventually float on water. The bubble gives you a short-lived rising platform, but can also change your outfit colour briefly (for triggering specific switches), and eventually become permanent, allowing you to ride it as high as the map allows. The fireball spell is the most combat-oriented, gaining increased destructive power and homing abilities, but is still used to trigger distant switches. Naturally, finding secrets requires unlocking all these upgrades (from orbs scattered around the map) and using them in a precise carefully-timed order.

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Collecting blue orbs to upgrade your spells is essential for secret hunters. The rare health upgrades you’ll find are a bonus but never essential.

Now if that sounds complex, it can be. Anyone looking to 100% the game will have their work cut out for them. Some secrets – most of which allow you to upgrade your spells or health bar – are in plain sight and require finding the right path are solving a puzzle with the right abilities. Others, however, are of the invisible wall variant that feels a little random and dated. Several areas are almost 80% optional, making for plenty of exploration. Just be sure to use the rare “Tear Drop” items to convert save points into warp points, as backtracking can be difficult.

After the opening chapter eases you into the basic gameplay, unlocks each spell, and has you defeat the first demon boss, you’re free to explore the world as you see fit. Each dungeon typically has its own themed puzzles, which might require a unique skill found within (that, in turn, helps you explore further in the over-world), but you’re never required to collect optional upgrades. Great spell power and a larger health bar can make your life easier but you can always get through dungeons with basic skills, while bosses simply require observation and timing to defeat.

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It might have been my inexperience or lack of upgrades, but the first demon felt like the most demanding boss fight.

If you do find yourself losing patience in a section, Alwa’s Legacy has several assist toggles to keep you moving forward. Key items can be highlighted on the map, or you can choose to respawn on the current screen rather than back at the last save point (useful, but not as game-breaking as it might sound). For those who don’t appreciate a running tally of failures, you can even disable the death count too.

Now, for a game that requires timing, precision platforming, and some creative spell use to progress, Alwa’s Legacy looks and sounds great without impacting gameplay. The pixel art style feels closest to the 16-bit era, with lavish 2D backgrounds but simpler, visually uncluttered foregrounds, animated elements, and sprites. You can always make out ledges, enemies, projectiles, and spot hazards with ease. Admittedly, this results in the rare scripted cutscenes lacking any sort of visual flair or unique animations. General audio feels underwhelming – though perhaps stylistically appropriate – whereas the soundtrack feels authentic and catchy, with some great chiptune tracks. That said, several began to grate over time when I was backtracking to hunt down secrets.

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More than anything, I wish developers would figure out how to spruce up these identical-looking map screens you see in every indie Metroidvania.

So, looping back to my opening statement. Alwa’s Legacy is competently made and feels incredibly polished. A bit light on the story perhaps but it plays well, makes great use of its spell system, and nails the retro aesthetics. It’s just a pity the charm wore off quickly once I felt like I was going through the same motions. The screen-by-screen progress, the sprawling world map, secrets always lingering just out of reach, the simple saviour narrative… The indie Metroidvania genre feels saturated and each new game is less differentiated (and playing the prior game, Alwa’s Awakening, will only reinforce that sensation).

If you’re a fan of the genre and not yet burnt out, Alwa’s Legacy is a solid pick with tight, responsive controls and plenty of polish. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an indie Metroidvania that does something novel, Alwa’s Legacy is a much tougher sell.

Alwa’s Legacy (PS4) Review

Alwa’s Legacy (PS4) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    6/10 Normal
    Just enough to push you forward but otherwise minimal.
  • Gameplay
    8/10 Very Good
    Tight and responsive controls, a flexible spell system, and plenty of exploration and secret-hunting.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    The pixel-art visuals are gorgeous but look and never impact gameplay.
  • Audio
    6/10 Normal
    The soundtrack has some great tracks but several of them become grating when you're backtracking or returning to a hub area.

The Good

  • Tight, responsive controls
  • A flexible spell system that ties into exploration and secret-hunting
  • Gorgeous pixel-art visuals

The Bad

  • Does little to differentiate itself from other games in the genre
  • The soundtrack can grate over time
Total
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