Aaru's Awakening

A game by Lumenox Games for PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, and PS4, originally released in 2015.
In Aaru’s Awakening, you take on the role of the eponymous Aaru, the champion of Dawn, as he sets out to traverse Lumenox, a world governed equally between four brothers: Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night. However, it appears that Night has grown ambitious and looks to destroy the others, so Dawn sends Aaru toward Night’s domain in order to bring peace back to the land… but Aaru soon learns that his master’s intentions may not be so noble.

The quality of Aaru’s Awakening that stands out immediately is its beautiful hand-drawn artwork and animations. The world of Lumenox is filled with sharp rocks, twisting branches, glowing pools of slime, and an array of strange creatures. Each of the four areas has a different atmosphere, with new enemies and hazards in each. The detailed visuals do occasionally cause some environmental navigation issues, however, as there is not much to differentiate foreground and background layers.

Since the game generally requires quick reactions on the part of the player, this lack of distinction between the foreground and background often makes it difficult to determine the appropriate path of travel, often leading to death. The player must regularly make split-second decisions while sliding down slopes or jumping between crumbling platforms, leaving very little room for error.

Most hazards and enemies kill Aaru on contact, although checkpoints appear frequently, preventing the need to replay large sections of any given level. Still, many challenges are only won through attrition, repeatedly getting killed and respawning at a nearby checkpoint to try again.

Aaru comes equipped with two environmental navigation tools. The first is an air dash that can be executed in any direction, allowing the player to cross large gaps, or to use the move as a double jump. The dash can be initiated from a jump or a fall, but it can only be used once in midair, and it does not become active again until Aaru touches solid ground.

The second maneuver is the ability to teleport, which is more versatile but also more difficult to master. Aaru is able to launch an orb of light out of his mouth, and this orb bounces off of most surfaces, aside from liquids and spikes. The player is able to launch the ball to a distant point and immediately teleport to its location. However, the player doesn’t get long to experiment with basic teleportation, as puzzles quickly escalate in difficulty.

Players must learn to use the teleportation orb in a variety of ways, such as bouncing it off walls and around corners, shooting it through narrow openings, and firing it off while in midair, sometimes air dashing in one direction while firing the orb in another. Players may also hold the button down before firing an orb, reducing its initial velocity to allow for more precise control, although the speed of the game generally necessitates a full-force orb launch. Obs are also used as Aaru’s sole offensive ability, since orbs pass through most enemies. If Aaru teleports to the orb’s location while it is inside an enemy, the creature will explode.

At the start of the game, the player enters a trio of levels in Dawn’s domain that allow him to test out Aaru’s basic abilities as he slides down slopes, dodges spike traps, jumps between falling pillars, performs air dashes, and teleports around a spike-filled environment. From here, all future areas feature four levels which may be completed in any order, followed by a boss level, with a new area opening upon its defeat.

The second area, Day’s domain, features strong beams of light that come down and burn Aaru, requiring that he seek shelter lest he be killed in just a few seconds. There are also a number of pools of liquid that cause damage to Aaru, requiring that he get out of them as quickly as possible. Aaru has no health meter and recovers when moving away from danger for a few seconds, although most harmful objects will kill him immediately.

Even this early area requires a number of advanced techniques, with crumbling platforms hovering over pools of deadly liquid that require the player to teleport away quickly before Aaru makes contact with the substance. Players must also be mindful of how they use their air dash move, as it is possible to dash and then teleport, or to teleport and then dash, but players cannot dash-teleport-dash.

In the third area, Dusk’s domain, Aaru faces more organic hazards, including tentacle whips that knock him back, sticky sucker platforms that slow his movement, and giant shelled creatures with huge tentacles that act as moving platforms. The area is home to some fantastic animations, including the movement of slimy tentacles and some sort of light blob thing that bursts into a pool of liquid to dazzling effect.

This area introduces swinging spike traps and rolling spike balls that require Aaru to fire his orb into a sticky platform in order to keep it from bouncing, and then teleport to its location with precise timing. The player is also required to perform multiple midair teleportations in this environment, further escalating the difficulty.

The domain of Night introduces a number of electrical hazards with beams that destroy Aaru’s teleportation ball. On more than one occasion, this area requires Aaru to fall off a ledge, make a perfectly timed dash, and then shoot a ball and teleport to it before he falls to his death. The player’s skills are pushed to their limits here, requiring creative use of ricocheted shots and multiple rapid teleportations.

It is in these more challenging areas where the lack of precise control over Aaru’s movements becomes problematic. There is often a very narrow margin for error in later puzzles, which can only be successfully completed with very precise aim over a distance. These challenges often require pinpoint timing, which is difficult when the player must account for the speed and trajectory of the orb while separately manipulating Aaru and performing air dashes to keep him away from death.

As mentioned, checkpoints are placed frequently, but success would be impossible otherwise, as many complex time-based challenges may only be completed by trial and error.

Each boss encounter consists of a multi-phase trial where the boss is defeated indirectly by completing a number of challenges. In each of these fights, a series of colored lights appears, requiring that Aaru teleport into them. Teleporting into matching colored lights causes another light to appear, and teleporting into it sends Aaru into a nearby challenge area. Defeating this secondary challenge causes damage to the boss, resulting in its defeat once all challenges are complete.

Here again, a great deal of trial and error is required in order to determine what must be done and how to successfully complete the secondary challenges. However, even the boss encounters include checkpoints, with progress recorded after successful completion of each challenge. This allows players to eventually defeat any boss by attrition. However, given the precise movement and timing needed in order to complete these secondary challenges, failure is inevitable, so these checkpoints prevent the boss encounters from becoming overly frustrating... although the final six-phase affair is a bit much.

Defeating each boss opens up the next area, along with a storybook sequence accompanied by a poorly enunciated narration that details Aaru’s interactions with each of the bosses as well as his growing suspicion that his master has been dishonest. Players are awarded a medal at the end of each level based on their completion time, and may return to previously completed levels in order to best their times.

Aaru’s Awakening was developed by Lumenox Games, a studio founded in 2012 and based in Hafnafjörður, Iceland, which lies just south of Reykjavík. The game was developed by a team of eight artists and programmers, mostly hailing from Iceland, with music composed by Fridfinnur Oculus. This was the studio’s first commercial release.