Port roundup: Alwa’s Awakening, In My Shadow & The Humans

The retro vibes are strong with today’s port roundup, which features the 8-bit NES-inspired Alwa’s Awakening and the classic puzzle platformer The Humans, as well as a port of a more recent title called In My Shadow.

Alwa’s Awakening (PS4)

Strictly speaking, this one isn’t exactly a new port, as Alwa’s Awakening has been available on the PlayStation 4 for a while now – but it was recently re-released as part of the Alwa Collection that also includes Alwa’s Legacy, which we recently reviewed. Because we enjoyed Alwa’s Legacy so much, we also wanted to check out the previous game to see if you should check out this new collection.

Where Alwa’s Legacy is an homage to the 16-bit era, Alwa’s Awakening feels firmly rooted in the 8-bit NES area with its visuals, with side-scrolling metroidvania gameplay with tons of platforming, exploration and combat, harkening back to the old NES Zelda games (the second one, at least). The metroidvania influences can be seen in the power-ups you acquire through orbs you find along the way, letting you jump further and reach new places. As protagonist Zoe uses a magic wand, other abilities include a spell that lets you create blocks that can be used as stepping stones as well, so it pays to hunt for these gems.

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Alwa’s Awakening can be challenging, especially when it comes to sudden deaths right before you hit a save point, but luckily you don’t lose your keys and orbs upon death. Jumping can feel a bit floaty, so that’ll take some getting used to. There are also times where you’ll miss modern conveniences like wayfinding, as the NES-style presentation also extends to the map – which can be challenging to read.

It’s clear that Alwa’s Awakening came before Alwa’s Legacy, as the latter is generally a more polished game, but with a lengthy campaign and a lovingly crafted 8-bit homage this is an extremely worthwhile game nonetheless. Fans of the NES-era will find a ton of fun little nods in the game’s visuals, level designs and gameplay structure, and if you enjoyed the follow-up then you owe it to yourself to play this one as well.

In My Shadow (PS4)

Playbae’s puzzle adventure In My Shadow launched on Steam last year, but has now made it to PlayStation as well. Its shadow-based gameplay reminded us of games like Contract and Tandem: A Tale of Shadows, so we were curious to see what new elements this one would bring to the table.

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If you enjoyed Tandem, this one will be right up your alley, as there are quite a few similarities between the two games. For one, both are presented as narrative-driven puzzle adventures – this one about the relationship between our protagonist and her parents. But just like the story in Tandem, the delivery falls a bit short and the potential for a strong story is never fully realized. Few puzzle games succeed at blending a narrative with their puzzle mechanics though, and as long as the puzzle gameplay is up to scratch it’s something that’s easily overlooked.

And, just like Tandem, In My Shadow has a nice little gameplay hook that involves switching perspectives to play around with shadows, and luckily it’s just different enough to feel fresh. There’s a platforming element that takes place on each level/room’s walls, but in order to complete a platforming level you first have to shape the level by placing shadows upon the walls while in “room decorating” mode, as we like to call it.

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This involves placing and turning objects so they cast the right shadows for you, making them smaller or larger when needed by moving them further away or closer to the wall. It’s fun to play around with this, and even things can get rather finicky in certain levels it’s always rewarding when you pull off a successful run in and on the shadows you’ve cast.

With over fifty levels to complete, In My Shadow offers a decent amount of value for money for a puzzle game, though replay value is limited due to small frustrations that are easy enough to deal with during an initial playthrough but will start to grate over time. Examples of these include the aforementioned finicky placement of objects, as well as seemingly arbitrary limitations on what you can and cannot do with certain objects. Still, this is another puzzler that successfully lets you get creative with shadows, and if you enjoyed the titles mentioned earlier you should definitely give this one a look as well.

The Humans (PS4)

Most of the ports we discuss are for games that were only released on their primary platform months ago, and sometimes a title makes it over after a year or two. The Human is in another league though, as it’s almost thirty years old now, having originally launched on platforms like the Atari Lynx, Commodore Amiga and Nintendo Game Boy. As a puzzle platformer, it’s a bit of a cross between Lemmings and The Lost Vikings, but much more of a niche game than those classics – probably because it can be a bit rough around the edges. With the newly released PlayStation 4 version that we tested, you get both the original home computer/console version and the Game Boy version too, so it’s a bit of a collection as well. QUByte is releasing it under their new classics label, which previously gave us The Immortal.

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The idea behind The Humans is great – you guide humankind through its early stages and basic objects represent not only new abilities but also steps forward in human evolution. It makes for some new diversity in the levels and puzzles, even though the original developers at Imagitec Design took some creative liberties by adding dinosaurs into the mix as well. What’s admirable is that they try to introduce some narrative elements too, for example by having a rival tribe cause trouble in some levels or by having one of your women kidnapped.

The actual puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag, in that they work great when they do but frustrate when they don’t. In every puzzle you have five lives, which allows for a few mistakes, but when you run out you have to start all over again. That would be okay, were it not for the fact that sometimes you’ll realize you made a mistake near the end and have to start back over anyway – or you’ll lose lives in a cheap way when one of your tribesmen plummets off a platform. The platforming is rather stiff, so this’ll happen more often than you’d like.

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You’ll see elements of Lemmings in how you have access to and unlock different abilities throughout the campaign, and just as in The Lost Vikings you have to switch between characters to cooperate – dropping down a key for a buddy or even stacking tribesmen to make a ladder. When you do this and reach a level’s objective (usually a hut) it’s exciting, but too often it’s a bumpy road to get there. There are plenty of levels to tackle though, with about 80 of them, and none of them are short. That means that, if you have the perseverance to stick with it, you’re getting plenty of value for money here – especially when you consider that you get three different versions of the game for one bargain price. The home computer and console versions are fairly similar, but seeing a Game Boy title on the big screen is certainly an interesting sight. A flawed but nice little slice of retro gaming history here.

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