‘Aaru’ should have never been awakened

By Austin Miller, @AMiller_DE

Sleeping is one of the highlights of my day. The first thought in my head upon waking up is “When do I get to do that again?”

It would have been best to let “Aaru’s Awakening” stay asleep.

The game is a 2D platformer where Aaru, some kind of mythical beast, is tasked to destroy the temples of other nature-based gods. The story brings up topics of questioning authority and faith, but is as forgettable as Cuba Gooding Jr.’s acting career. 

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For a platformer, controls have to be smooth. Only two dimensions are visible, so a human’s three dimensional mind must work in the space. “Aaru” has some of the wonkiest controls I have ever played in a game of this type.

On PlayStation, the left bumper makes Aaru jump and use his charge ability and the right bumper shoots out a little orb that teleports him upon hitting the right trigger. The triggers and bumpers on a controller are usually reserved for easier functions like shooting and accelerating in a car. Important tasks are usually bound to the primary buttons because thumbs are the dominant digits on the controller. It just feels so unnatural to use those buttons in that way. It is like eating pudding with chop sticks, it is just not right.

“Aaru” is difficult enough without blaming your hands for not comprehending. It relies too heavily on trial and error for me to keep playing. You can only fall down a hole and unknowingly land on spikes to your death so many times. Trial and error can be an effective mechanic for games, but the error rests entirely with this game.

Even though the game is almost unbearable to play, it at least looks nice.

Each level is drawn by hand and is reminiscent of a motion comic book, without text bubbles. Each dash and jump sends little cartoon clouds of dust, and the background vistas alternate between neon colors and rustic rocks. The visuals of the game are a lone highlight in a relatively boring game.

Yet, even those highlights have flaws. Often, there is no visual difference between the background and playing area. There are strange waterfalls of green goo with little rock islands floating in-front. But the platforms look like they should be sitting in the liquid. The perception just seems off.

This game’s developers could not even snag a consolation medal in a society that rewards people solely for participation.

It is not like “Aaru” could not have been good. “Ori and the Blind Forest” was a very similar game that nailed every area “Aaru” failed in. Both games were developed and released at similar times, so I do not want to accuse any studio of plagiarizing, but they are like twins, with “Aaru” being the evil twin.

This is a usual phenomenon for films. “Bug’s Life” and “Antz” were both bug-based animated movies released in 1998, but everyone remembers the superior “Bug’s Life.”

Both games deal with elemental deities, spike-filled environments and charge-based attacks. Both are also platformers with impressive visuals. But “Ori” blows “Aaru” out of the water. It is not even close, like a Camaro racing a Hot Wheels toy car.

“Aaru” should return to its slumber and never be awakened. I’m sure he was having a pretty interesting dream before he was woken up, so someone needs to grab his blanket and pillow and let him rest. Forever.

2 stars out of 5

Austin Miller can be reached at [email protected]

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