Aaru's Awakening (that's pronounced 'er-ooh' for anyone curious) is the latest indie to launch on PlayStation as a free PlayStation Plus game, and just to be clear, it loves putting its artsy attitude front and centre. Don't get us wrong, we were entertained, if not occasionally peeved, by the challenging run and jump gameplay – but the real star here is the world that developer Lumenox Games has crafted. Hand-drawn visuals and an ambient, simplistic soundtrack are no doubt the main attraction.
The planet Lumenox is overseen by four deities: Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night. At first they all work together, ensuring that the world goes through its proper cycles – but as time goes by, Night's greed causes him to extend his control and expand his power. Dawn, in an effort to restore the balance and bring Lumenox back to its original state, releases Aaru: a hulking half-bird, half-bear creature with the ability to teleport from one place to the next.
Despite his abnormally large frame and extraordinary capabilities, Dawn's champion is rather frail; everything from Day's rays of sunlight to Dusk's waterfalls are quick to bring him to an untimely end. His only defenses, a dash move and the aforementioned ability to teleport, are just that – defenses. Aaru isn't focused on obliterating his enemies so much as he is on surviving, which is a bit ironic, seeing as he's on a seek and destroy mission.
It starts out simple: you run to the right, jump over obstacles, and use your dash to break down barriers. But things get a bit more challenging once teleportation is thrown into the mix; Aaru must use his power to solve puzzles and get past obstacles.
Even if there's more than a fair amount of puzzles to be solved, Aaru's Awakening is more of an action platformer than a puzzler. Quick reflexes and a mastery of the game's controls and mechanics are a must if you ever want to go toe-to-toe with Night. Unfortunately, while there's nothing wrong with a difficult, formidable jump-'em-up, there is something wrong with one that plays awkwardly.
Aaru himself moves smoothly, but using his special ability is almost always a hassle. Ideally, teleporting should be easy, but since this is such a fast-paced game – and making precise shots is something that takes time – it's not unusual to misfire and wind up dead. It's tragic that teleporting is the only way to take down foes, too, as it really does drag out something that should be a simple task. Not making the quick and easy dash a form of attack is a questionable move on the developer's part.
There's still some redemption in the fact that the puzzles themselves are clever without being infuriatingly mind-bending, but it didn't take long for us to grow tired of Aaru's antics.
Unexpectedly, the best part of the game is its presentation. Everything has been drawn by hand in a style that's reminiscent of animation from the '70s and early '80s. It's a style that the artists have fully embraced, as everything looks like it would fit right in with a fond-to-the-heart childhood film. When we weren't throwing our controllers out of frustration, we were admiring the beautifully crafted landscape, or the precise details in the game's enemy designs. This lovely artwork is accompanied by a great set of atmospheric tunes to boot.
There are already a ton of platformers to choose from on both of Sony's current home consoles, but the good news is that Aaru's Awakening is free to anyone with PlayStation Plus for the time being. If you fancy something artsy and with some challenging gameplay, then we think that you should consider giving it a shot. Everyone else will want to pass on this one.