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Cathedral and Alwa’s Awakening are unlikely killer apps for Evercade

Mike Diver

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Cathedral and Alwa’s Awakening are unlikely killer apps for Evercade

Featured Image Credit: Blaze Entertainment

Since the Evercade family of consoles debuted in 2020, its emphasis has largely been on bringing games of the 1980s and ‘90s - typically 8- or 16-bit, with the odd flash of coin-op quality and 32-bit flair - together on convenient compilation cartridges to enjoy either at home (through the four-player-ready VS system) or on the move with the OG handheld or its imminent successor, the TATE-mode-ready EXP. But in between its assortments of Atari, Namco, Codemasters and Capcom classics have landed curious comings together of modern-made but retro-styled delights, such as sets featuring releases by Morphcat Games and Mega Cat Studios, and a double-header of 21st century Mega Drive productions Xeno Crisis and Tanglewood. And its new two-pack might be the best of the contemporary bunch so far.

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Check out a trailer for this two pack below…

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Cartridge number 27 of Evercade’s original catalogue - the ones in the red boxes, rather than the arcade purple and home computer games blue - includes a pair of 8-bit bangers that don’t date from the decade of Reagan and Thatcher and all that Special Relationship nonsense, but from 2017 and 2019. The former, Alwa’s Awakening by Elden Pixels, appears here in an “enhanced 8-bit console version” with new levels and music, following its Steam debut of five years ago; while the latter, Decemberborn Interactive’s Cathedral, is also a brand-new port especially produced for Evercade, “the perfect platform for our pixelated adventure,” in the words of its designer Eric Lavesson.

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The two games share characteristics: you’re a lone hero fighting to save a land from some evil or other, and 2D exploration is a vital component of progress as you seek out keys and other magical items to get ahead in your quest. But there are differences enough for there to be no distracting déjà vu as you switch from one to the other without removing the cart.

Alwa’s Awakening / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Elden Pixels
Alwa’s Awakening / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Elden Pixels

Alwa’s Awakening casts you as Zoe, a spell-caster summoned to chase away the wickedness of a being named Vicar (evidently, more tea was not offered, else they’d be in a better mood). Originally designed to evoke the NES era, its sharp sprites and generous checkpointing (you have to light flames as continue points - not sure where we’ve seen that before) are modern luxuries in an experience that otherwise hews close to the feel and form of something that’d have been delivered on a chunky grey cart in an immediately crushed-under-the-sofa cardboard sleeve. A platformer with a few puzzle elements, Alwa’s Awakening doesn’t simply plop you down to the left and ask that you jump and dash to your right until the level’s over, but is spread out Metroidvania-style across a sprawling pixel-art environment of several different locations, which can be warped between once such fast-travel points are unlocked.

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Alwa’s Awakening / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Elden Pixels
Alwa’s Awakening / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Elden Pixels

Throughout her journey, Zoe fills in a map of this vast play area, and unlocks new abilities - such as being able to float to previously unreachable platforms and fire projectiles at distant enemies - as is the norm for games of this niche. There are plenty of NPCs to speak to and get hints from, and secrets aplenty to seek out. And all of this applies fairly evenly to Cathedral, too, which plays distinctly enough to feel like a worthwhile experience beside its cart-sharing bedfellow while featuring enough familiar beats that anyone bouncing between the two for an hour each time won’t feel hopelessly lost when it comes to what to do.

Cathedral begins in a cathedral, actually - but its Shovel Knight-like protagonist (unnamed and not exactly big on banter) doesn’t hang around the spooky maze-like halls for too long, ultimately suffering a fairly epic fall and being nursed back to health in a nearby village. From there, they can explore myriad areas, all of which are connected in a fantastical yet logical Dark Souls fashion - or, to be more era accurate, in a way that recalls Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Trap and its own Metroidvania mechanics. Which is not to say our hero shape-shifts, but they - like Zoe - will need to discover certain items to unlock the way forward to all-new locations, upgrading equipment as they go. You know this dance by now, and Cathedral and Alwa’s Awakening both perform it exceptionally well.

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Cathedral / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Decemberborn Interactive
Cathedral / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Decemberborn Interactive

Unlike Zoe, our nameless silent-type with a penchant for swinging a ruddy great sword about isn’t wholly flying solo, as Cathedral (eventually) pairs our hero with a mischievous ‘Soul’, who ultimately aids us in a manner not dissimilar to Murfy in the Rayman series, hovering around the screen and flipping switches that we couldn’t otherwise reach. Handy - even if he doesn’t appear to actually have hands. Much like Alwa’s Awakening, Cathedral is generously proportioned, surprising the player with the number of new directions it presents for one’s delectation, but its map is more detailed than the other game here, telltale gaps in walls indicating there’s a hidden passage yet to be perused. On the same pause menu as the map you’ll find your list of quests to track, the status of your armour and equipped charms, and much more - for a game that initially appears fairly simple, Cathedral gets deep, fast.

Cathedral / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Decemberborn Interactive
Cathedral / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Decemberborn Interactive
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But these games’ success comes down to both being so effortless to pick up and play, put 20 or 30 minutes into and then put down again, and feel like you really achieved something in that brief session. They’re terrific handheld titles that go big on fun and fulfilment and nail the tight controls necessary for precision platforming and boss battling (the D-pad gets a workout, and passes with flying colours again), even if Cathedral can’t be quick-saved in the usual Evercade way, which is a bit of a downer, restarts linked to the last checkpoint statue you passed. They’re compelling throwback-styled affairs which can hold a substantial candle to the best of the current crop of 2D action-adventure releases comfortably categorising themselves under that already overused M-word, and in their own little way both are killer apps for a platform that’s about to undergo an upgrade with the portable EXP. Modern-retro releases might not be the basic bread and butter of the Evercade, but in these two examples they sure make for moreish desserts that anyone invested in this particular ecosystem should sample.

The Alwa’s Awakening/Cathedral cartridge is released on November 4 2022, and is compatible with all Evercade platforms. Also available at the same time is Evercade’s first home computer collection, The C64 Collection 1, which features 14 Commodore 64 titles including Impossible Mission, Stormlord, Marauder, Summer and Winter Games, Subterranea and Battle Valley. More information can be found at the official Evercade website. Carts for this coverage provided by the publisher.

Topics: Evercade, Indie Games

Mike Diver
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