God-based games are on a bit of a high(er power) at the moment. We’ve had the excellent Hades, the so-so Immortal: Fenyx Rising and of course, God of War: Ragnarok will continue its Norse theme. Now, it’s Aluna: Sentinel of the Shard’s turn.
But rather than the played out Greeks and Vikings mythology, Aluna goes for something a bit lesser known. The Incan god Pachamama, of all the deities, was up for grabs in this one.
Built around a top-down, Diablo-style dungeon/loot game, Aluna certainly is a bright and different type of dungeon crawler. However, is it any good? Let us pray that we’ll make it through the review and find out.
All Your Faith Are Belong To Us
The Incan faith around Pachamama is a bit of an odd one. Like a precursor to Captain Planet, Pachamama is the origin of the four elemental principles. Oh, and the mother of both the sun and moon gods… as well as the wife to her own son. And as an offering, guinea pigs and small children are sacrificed to her. Which is nice.
Thankfully, Aluna takes a happier, more pleasant approach to it all. The titular Aluna is the daughter of Pachamama and a Spanish conquistador, inheriting some of her mother’s powers. As a child, Aluna saw Pachamama save the Earth from a comet, which exploded the god into several shards. This being folklore and whatnot, I’m sure that was definitely the most prudent course of action.
As such Aluna wears one of these around her neck on her mission to find the other pieces, but it’s not that straightforward. In sheer Saturday morning cartoon villainy, there are also nefarious forces that want to use Pachamama’s powers for evil. Probably involving a lot more sacrificed guinea pigs.
Where In The World…
In contrast to many actual-dungeon crawlers, the tale of Aluna and her shard-hunting takes her to many bright places. Which, if I’m honest, is a nice change of scenery from brown, linear dank caves.
Whilst they are still linear environments, Aluna makes her way through lush 16th century South American jungles, ancient Incan ruins and, when needed, the occasional ship. However, not completely without trappings, there is the odd dungeon/ancient ruin too. Can’t win them all.
These are all played down in a somewhat isometric, fixed camera affair reminiscent of Diablo or Gauntlet, which is a nice touch. Occasionally I’d try and rotate the camera, because of modern sensibilities, but after a time I’d resist the urge to.
On the Switch (specifically the Lite), whilst colourful some environments do look pretty basic and flat. Conversely, the PC version looks much nicer, so if that option is available then I’d say plump for that one.
Holding It Down
Of the two analogies I made before, the combat in Aluna definitely alludes to a more Diablo-like bent. Or, if you’re more familiar with it, World of Warcraft.
Depending on what you’re equipped with (which we’ll look at shortly), combat largely boils down to holding A [on the Switch] and not letting it go until your enemies are dead. There are unlockable skills that can be mapped to the other face keys as time and levels go on, but that’s the main tenet.
Whilst you can equip shields when found, players can also dodge-roll with the right analogue stick. However, the response time is a fickle beast and more often than not, it’s easier to go tête-à-tête until one falls. Whilst this sounds hardcore, unless you’re playing on harder difficulties, it’s how to finish a good 90% of battles.
Personally, I’ve not played a lot of dungeon/looters over the years. To some that have, this might be normal. Whereas me, I was expecting a bit more hack and slash to it. A bit more tactic than grind, if you will. But then, as I say, if this is emulating its betters in a similar style then I can’t fault it.
With These Powers Combined…
What I will say as a positive, though, is that Aluna does at least offer a variety when it comes to the brawling. Being a looter-adventure, enemies and chests hold a veritable, inexplicable arsenal as you progress. Staffs, clubs, bows, spears and a wide range in between are enough to keep any stat-hungry player intriqued.
Weapons and armour offer buffs, allowing each “build” to be different. Do you want to be an avenging demi-god, laying waste in spectacular fashion, or be the more conservative archer who picks off foes from afar? Thankfully, you can play as either, or both, as time goes on. This is all down to a somewhat standard progression tree.
Split over ranged, melee and magic, players can channel points how they see fit. Some are passive, allowing higher chances at critical hits and the like. Others are actual, mappable skills that can turn the tide in battle. Barrages, area of effect spells and more are available to Aluna as she becomes stronger.
Armour, too, allows a bit of creativity. Early on, whether random or not, I found a piece that allowed health retrieval on enemy death. So naturally, I felt confident slaying foes as my health was restored each time. Did I get lucky, or is that just one of the early presented options? Guess you’ll have to find out…
South American Artistry
The thing is, you will want to find out. Aluna’s story may not be original in the grand scheme of things, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. A large part of this is the presentation of its cutscenes. The above is just one example, which reminded me heavily of Comix Zone.
Well, without the panel hopping that Sketch does, but a very similar style. It’s one of those “real time comic” presentations, where panels pop in and move off when they’re done, rather than the static, already-framed style used in Max Payne. It’s engaging enough and adds a bit of life to what essentially boils to down to “keep pressing forward and holding attack” gameplay.
Aluna isn’t alone on her journey, occasionally joined in battle by people she either knows, rescues or shares a similar goal with. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s cooperative multiplayer frolics to be had here. It’s purely single player, with AI teammates breaking up the monotony of Aluna constantly chatting shite all the way through the action.
And no, that isn’t my only complaint.
Put A Sock In It, Woman
It is, though, my biggest complaint. Not from a sexist point of view, before anyone jumps up my butt about it. This isn’t a rant on “female protagonists should be quiet” or anything, so please don’t think that. It’s just that Aluna just does not stop quipping. At anyone, anything, and I swear it’s even to herself out of some kind of jungle fever.
I’m fairly sure monkeys, mutant plants and the like don’t care for her witticisms, but she’s gonna do them constantly regardless. At one time, I was trying to roll mid-combat, mid-quip. But Aluna, determined that she is, kept restarting the snark every time. So I was stuck in this combat-evasive loop of crappy one-liner that did my head in.
Our heroine isn’t alone when it comes to audio issues, by the way. The voice acting outside of our protagonist is shocking, borderline pantomime. I had an hilarious bug with one villager who, on repeated interaction, cycled through about ten different responses in ten different voices. As in, something was causing her to say every other line of dialogue saved for the surrounding villagers.
My other, less ranty complaint was mentioned earlier: the presentation. Unfortunately, my Switch wasn’t allowing to screen-grab my pictures, so the above are a mix of PC and Switch. As also mentioned earlier, the PC version looks nice and smooth, if not particular processor-punishing. By contrast, the Switch looks choppy and PS1-like, complete with lagging and screen-tearing in more than abundance.
Goddess, Give Me Strength…
In summary then (or you’ve just skipped to this bit), is Aluna going to get a positive review from me? Well, in a roundabout, evasive way… kind of.
What I have played of it, and it was a good ten hour chunk, I did enjoy. I’m no stranger to action RPG’s, so the nature of skills and equipment progression does hold some appeal to me. Clearing out areas with nifty looking attacks and status-afflicting weaponry can be fun, when you get into it. The story, whilst not massively complex, is still fun to play out against a backdrop of 16th century folklore based on South American religions.
But the caveat, the counterpoint, to that enjoyment is the technical issues and earache-inducing dialogue. The former may get patched down the line, but that’s not something we should allow to pass muster nowadays. I’m playing on a Lite and I found it hard to play when the action would grind to a halt. Imagine if you had a swanky 55″ TV to play this on and the screen kept tearing. You’d be fuming, naturally.
As for the latter, you could say, “Well just turn the voice volume down” like someone who doesn’t understand how narrative adventures work. When the dialogue is integral to the story, it shouldn’t annoy you with such bad voice acting that even Dora the Explorer would turn her nose up at.
Aluna is not a terrible game, with some elements of fun dungeon crawler/action RPG elements in there. It’s just marred by technical issues and dodgy voice acting. The former will obviously fare better if you opt for the PC version, but nothing can save the awful voice acting short of a full rerecording session. Which I can’t see happening.
A fun and simple affair, Aluna harkens back to classics like Gauntlet and Diablo, but in a much brighter setting. However, any fun in this action RPG is stifled by technical issues on the Switch and just some simply terrible voice acting outside of the main cast.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is available now on Nintendo Switch (reviewed on Switch Lite), PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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