There are so many games that are proof enough of the old maxim that we should never judge a book by its cover, and Lumenox’s Aaaru’s Awakening is arguably the finest example of this seen to date. In a world brought to life with beautiful hand drawn imagery, Aaru torments its players with some of the most stressful, pad smashingly frustrating gameplay ever conceived, and to release it on a consoles blessed with some truly outstanding puzzle-platformers in the shape of Limbo, New ‘N’ Tasty, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood and Moon Studios’ brilliant, Ori and the Blind Forest, you have to ask yourself, why did they even bother?
I have to start with the positives though, or rather positive, as there isn’t really very much to admire about Aaru’s Awakening aside from its sumptuous, hand drawn visuals. Every locale feels otherworldly, sketched in soft tones and subdued colours, and all housed beneath an unnatural looking, entirely alien sky. The subtle ripples and movement of its dense lava flows, along with every other aspect of animation found within its world, all appear to have been drawn frame by frame to give it a beauty seldom seen in a videogame. It’s rather saddening then that it seems to usher the player along to keep the pace up, instead of letting them take the time to admire each backdrop’s subtle details, after all, this was clearly where the bulk of the development time has been spent, yet strangely enough, it is actually here that the first of its glaring problems begin to assert themselves.
In the majority of platform games, the objects that make up the playable area, and what is intended to be background art are clearly defined, each fully discernible from one another, yet in Aaru’s Awakening, players must constantly question themselves as to which is which, and in a game that forces its player to think fast, this poses a real challenge. As, it is to be expected, do the various puzzles that are encountered across the adventure from start to finish.
Even the trials at the start of the game may prove enough to put off a great many gamers, yet for those feeling up to the challenge, these intensify greatly as the difficulty spikes to quite ridiculous levels, leaving players to tackle them with a combination of some skill and a hell of a lot of luck. In essence, each level is a bite sized piece of puzzle solving action, a course across which the player must strive to abscond in ever reducing times, so the name of the game is to attempt to memorise each one, avoiding the puzzles that, rather annoyingly, are mostly unavoidable on the first play. Personally, I detest trial and error in any game, particularly when they purely ask the player to continuously make blind leaps of faith to simply discover what is to happen next, inevitably throwing up obstacles, and providing so little time to react that they become entirely impossible to avoid.
The character of Aaru himself is something a clumsy, and rather bizarre looking creature whose movements have also been hand drawn, yet he is rather oafish, moving about as gracefully as an elephant on ice skates, and whilst this may not be a major drawback, it is rather off-putting. In terms of his abilities, however, the game is essentially built around two moves, a dash manoeuvre and a teleportation skill. The former sees the hulking beast dash in a specified direction, breaking down barriers in the process, whilst the latter sees him fire out an orb to which he can jump to instantaneously, allowing Aaru to reach areas that would have otherwise been inaccessible. Whilst not wholly original concepts, when combined, these moves do allow for some rather interesting puzzle designs, conundrums which seem to work a tad better than on the earlier PC release which suffered from some truly excruciating control issues, confounding matters even further.
Of course, even without these problems, Aaru’s Awakening is still an intolerably frustrating experience, the difficulty, which as I said starts off bad enough, grows to frankly obscene levels by the end of the game, and arguably the worst part of it, is that there’s no real incentive to continue playing it at all. There’s only a semblance of a story for a start, expanded upon all too briefly by some thoroughly middle of the road cut scenes, with a world this unique in terms of its aesthetics, you’d think that the designers would have had an interesting story to tell about it, yet sadly this is not the case, and frankly, this saddens me greatly. It’s creators, Lumenox, have surely missed out on a golden opportunity, and in general, that pretty much surmises the game as a whole.
Aaru’s Awakening isn’t entirely devoid of fun, but on those all too brief occasions when it actually becomes interesting, it finds some way to shatter the illusion once again, and I suppose it is this that pains me the most. With a level of polish to rival its clearly thought out, unique visual design, Aaru’s Awakening probably could have been a very good game indeed, but as it stands it is the weakest example of the genre to be found on both the PS4 and Xbox One today, which makes it entirely impossible to recommend. Ultimately then, it is simply a laborious experience, and in truth, something of a nightmare, so perhaps it would have been best if Aaru hadn’t woken up at all?