Aaru’s Awakening Review- A Journey from Dawn till Dusk
1. Aaru – from the Egyptian meaning ‘reeds’; the Fields of Aaru, an Egyptian heavenly paradise where Osiris ruled
2. Awakening – an act of waking from sleep; an act or moment of becoming suddenly aware of something
You are a servant. A secret weapon that exists only to serve your master’s whims. You are the champion of Dawn, one of the four bickering brothers that each seek to govern the flow of light and darkness. They are Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night, and only recently did they reach a reluctant standstill, an agreement where one brother would rule while the others lay dormant, suppressing their insatiable appetite for control. The humans don’t know this. But you do. You are Aaru, servant of Dawn, and the time for your awakening has come.
This is the mesmerizing tale of Aaru’s Awakening, a 2D action platformer where you must guide a strangely amphibious creature called Aaru through a cavernous, dreamlike landscape. After almost three years of development, Lumenox Games are proud to finally announce its release-and I can definitely see why. The game begins, and you can’t help but pay attention. A child-like voice narrates the story of the four brothers with a fatalistic tone, highlighting Aaru’s predicament: Enslaved to his master, Aaru must fulfill his desire to travel to Night’s domain, and eliminate a dark menace that is rapidly approaching. And what a journey it is.
Aesthetically, Aaru’s Awakening excels with its utterly gorgeous backgrounds and a soft, ambient soundtrack that feels like whispers, warning you of the dangers that lie ahead. As you play, the hand-drawn earthy 2D landscapes that are suffused with pale yellow light will transport you to a peaceful spiritual realm. Aaru’s animations are smooth and effortless, and his movement, unique; players use a combination of the WASD keys and the mouse, the position of the cursor determining which direction Aaru will jump in. This takes some getting used to, as does one of the key abilities in the game: Teleportation.
Through a couple of basic tutorials, Aaru learns how to barrage through walls (spacebar), and how to teleport. You do this by shooting orbs toward his target destination (left-click), and then as soon as the orb has reached the correct spot, you click the right mouse button. I was very excited at seeing this feature being used in a game, but the tutorial needs to be more clearly explained, as it is something you will be using throughout Aaru’s adventure. Furthermore, teleportation is not only a means for Aaru to slither his way through narrow, miniscule gaps; it is also the only way to kill the bizarre, often insectoid enemies, which you must teleport into in order to seal the deal. This mechanic differs from a large majority of platformers that tend to adopt a more ‘direct’ approach of attack, where the ability to ‘slash’ or ‘strike’ is confined to a single button on the keyboard or controller. It also requires a lot of accuracy, which can prove to be very challenging within the parameters of complex level design and a sharp difficulty curve that I feel will test even seasoned platform gamers.
This is especially true for the beginning of many stages, which are usually populated with traps or spikes that make it extremely easy to die, and hence require a lot of repetition given the one-hit-kill rule. At first, I found this frustrating and rather unforgiving, but as I kept plugging away I became acclimated to the difficulty, and began to appreciate its brutal beauty. Aaru’s Awakening definitely fits into the ‘hard fun’ category, so I was naturally very grateful for the checkpoints, and I applaud the decision to make all four levels of each world accessible at the same time. But as somebody who found a game like Shovel Knight rather difficult, I would ask readers to take this advice with a grain of salt.
Before reaching Night’s domain, Aaru must first battle his way through Day’s and Dusk’s realms, which become progressively darker in appearance, and more challenging in terms of gameplay. Each level manages to sustain you without any collectibles of any kind, instead relying on the riveting tension inspired by falling platforms, breaking bridges, poisonous monsters, sulfuric quicksand pits, and of course, the final boss battle with one of the brothers. These battles are about as tricky as the levels in each brother’s respective domain, but require you to destroy a temple and activate a portal as your main task.
As you conquer each domain, the sombre voiceover returns, narrating your journey against the backdrop of detailed illustrations. Without the constant reassurance of his master, Aaru begins to feel increasingly doubtful of his actions; the hostile welcome he receives in each of Dawn’s brothers’ domains starts to make him anxious. Each of the brothers ask Aaru what it was exactly that they did wrong to Dawn in order to make him unleash his wrath in such a manner-but you cannot answer. You are Aaru, champion of Dawn, and you are not one to question his authority. This chilling development of the game’s narrative is absolutely marvelous, and it had me itching to find out what happens at the end the whole way through. But in the spirit of not giving anything away, let me tell you this-it is epic.
The journey of Aaru’s Awakening is an enchanting one. It is filled with challenging platforming and a beautiful and timeless story that is haunted by danger. If there is one thing that Aaru’s Awakening does well, it is its ability to immerse you within a bizarre and fantastical world in which you can lose yourself time and time again. You can walk in Aaru’s footsteps today by purchasing the game from Steam, where it is currently available for $12.74 USD until March 2 (normally $14.99 USD) for PC, Mac, and Linux. Follow Lumenox Games on Twitter and like the official Aaru’s Awakening Facebook page for more information on the game.