When Reykjavik, Iceland-based Lumenox Games revealed Aaru's Awakening last year, its hand-drawn aesthetic was its most defining feature.
Aaru's Awakening had graphical creativity on lock from the moment its developers started showing it off. At PAX East 2014, we had the opportunity to see if the gameplay could live up to the high bar its designers set.
You play as Aaru, a mythical creature that looks like a hybrid between a human crawling on all four limbs, a long-haired savannah cat and an anteater. In the PC version we played, Aaru moves with standard WASD controls. The mouse serves multiple purposes, the most significant of which is Aaru's teleportation ability.
Aaru's Awakening is a side-scrolling platformer with a twist: You're often forced to traverse terrain that you can't reach of your own accord. Level design forces you to alternate between to jumping and sliding over bottomless pits and thorny death traps, making split-second decisions in rapid succession. But when the scrolling stops, you're forced to stop and contemplate where to go next and how to get there.
As you examine the landscapes, pathways become clear. It's your job to hold down your mouse button to charge and fire a glowing orb toward a platform that's out of reach. As the dawn-themed level I played progressed, so did its challenges. It soon became not about simply teleporting but about getting more creative. In one section, I had to stop, analyze and experiment to discover that bouncing the orb like a pingpong ball through a serpentine series of stalactites and stalagmites and then click to teleport to the other side.
We played it on PC, and the developers were also showcasing a port running on the Nvidia shield. Lumenox Games' marketing director Jóhann Ingi Guðjónsson told us that, although they have nothing to announce yet, the developer is acquiring development kits for all current-gen consoles.
I've never believed that graphics could make a bad game good, but I've always believed that visual creativity is a component that can make a game better at the margins. Based on the time we spent with it, Aaru's Awakening is proof of the theory. It looks great, but it provides more than graphical beauty. Aaru's Awakening offers a unique take on both aesthetics and platforming.
You can see Aaru's Awakening in motion in the trailer above and its dawn, dusk and night-themed levels in still form in the gallery below. You can also vote for it on Steam Greenlight.