Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: N-Fusion Interactive | Digiart Interactive LLC
  • Publisher: Digiart Interactive LLC
  • Release Date: 26/05/2021
  • Price: £13.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by Digiart Interactive LLC

Introducing Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards Nintendo Switch Review

I love a good action RPG, and indie ones have a tendency to be hidden gems. Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards completely slipped under my radar to start with, which is surprising considering its skin-deep similarity to my favourite ARPG of all time (no points for guessing that title!), but that similarity had me excited to dive in – I think we’ve all played that particular loot-focused game to death! So join me as I review Aluna for the Nintendo Switch.

Goddess Power!

Our titular heroine, Aluna, has the distinctly backhanded honour of being a demi-goddess, the daughter of Earth goddess Pachamama and the human that once saved her from an evil sorcerer. When her new daughter is attacked, by a meteor no less, Pachamama merges her body with the meteor to protect her family. The danger to Aluna passes, but unfortunately, her mother’s body was sacrificed in the process. Each shard of the goddess-meteor holds immense power, making them a tempting target for evil forces.

Aluna’s village is attacked one day by the cult of the evil sorcerer. She comes to realise that her shard, the one containing her mother’s heart, is now being actively targeted. And so, in a very logical move, she decides to take down the cult before they can steal her shard and burn her villages all to the ground. With great power comes great responsibility, and all that jazz. Companions come and go, making the journey thankfully less solitary but still leaving Aluna to rely on her own strength.

There’s a lot of female power evident in Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards, and I found it a breath of fresh air. Women are depicted not only as housewives, but also as warriors and shamans that hold immense physical and mystical power. While there’s no shortage of heroines as protagonists in video games nowadays, to see even the background characters shuffled around in such a way made me, as a female gamer, smile.

While progression is somewhat linear, there are a lot of nooks and crannies to poke your nose into on the way to a quest location. You can simply run the shortest route, taking out only the necessary enemies on the way, but there’s a lot of mileage in wandering off of the beaten path – whether it’s chests and shrines loaded with loot, or powerful enemies that give a nice EXP reward, there’s always something to find. I do however wish there had been some lore hidden away in these forgotten corners, to add to the story and give a sense of accomplishment.

Even a Monkey Could Do It

The controls in Aluna are almost painfully simple. Attacks and skills are mapped to the face and right shoulder buttons. The left stick is movement, right stick is a roll. And – launches the menu. Unfortunately, this simplicity means that the control clunkiness stands out a mile. My biggest problem was the auto-targeting during battle. I would frequently be trying to attack an enemy directly in front of me but my target had locked to a different enemy or piece of the environment, making fighting a real chore at times.

Other than the target-lock issue, combat was relatively… well, simple. It’s just a case of pointing Aluna towards the intended enemy and button-mashing away. Real-time and fast-paced, it’s impossible not to draw similarities to a certain popular ARPG of the more demonic nature. The skill tree does allow for a more tactical approach to combat, with separate trees for melee, ranged, and magic. It’s both well-thought-out and refreshingly small. It includes a combination of passive skills, active skills, and permanent boosts.

2010 Called, They Want Their Graphics Back

The graphics in Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards are, unfortunately, nothing particularly special. The comic-style intro scene got my hopes up, but soon gave way to somewhat basic graphics as soon as I entered gameplay. If you’d told me this was a ported Xbox 360 game, I wouldn’t have even questioned it from a graphical standpoint. They aren’t bad, just basic. Locations are nicely designed, always very vibrant and distinct. However, both NPCs and environmental objects were so obviously and frequently copy-pasted that it made things feel a little boring.

The main sound design was, again, basic. A host of repetitive environmental sounds follow Aluna’s journey through various regions, and while they are preferable to silence they aren’t particularly outstanding. One thing that was a lovely surprise was the voice acting. Cutscenes are fully voice-acted, and (to my ears) seem to be at least somewhat culturally relevant, which was a really nice consideration to encounter.

The performance of Aluna is a bit up-and-down. For example, once I had more than 5 or 6 combatants on screen there was a lot of chugging and stalling that made getting into a flow of combat difficult. Though it stayed pretty smooth otherwise. I didn’t encounter any problems with non-combat movement, outside of the sometimes clunky direction snapping. And I can’t say I’m impressed with the loading screens and initial menu delay. Thankfully, there aren’t too many loading screens to be had, because they really do break up the game as I had some last up to a minute. The first couple of times opening the menu during each play session, there was a major delay with tab switching, though after a few times it became much smoother and less frustrating.

A Shining Shard

One thing Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards did very well was the difficulty system. With a selection of 4 difficulties – ranging from Story to Hard Mode – there’s something for everyone. And if you want the extra challenge of the harder modes, potions are bottomless! Rather than a potion count, its usage is on a timeout, so there’s no concern about getting caught under-stocked and off-guard.

As the difficulty goes up, there’s a much higher focus on gear loadouts. For anything above Easy Mode you’ll really need to keep upping that equipment. Which isn’t the easiest thing considering the randomness of both loot drops and the forging system. However, there are gear upgrade options available if you’ve got the coin to spare.

A Fragment of What It Could Have Been

I didn’t go into Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards expecting it to live up to Diablo III (yes, I finally said it!), but considering how well this style of game tends to land I was still excited. Unfortunately, I really don’t think it came out as well as it could have. Everything just felt a little basic, with an uninspiring story that consistently failed to reel me back in. 

However, for its very modest price, Aluna has a good amount of hours to give and would probably be very enjoyable for a younger audience with lower expectations. I would’ve expected more from a game released in 2021, but overall it isn’t a bad game – just a very basic one. 

Pros

  • Variable difficulty means there’s something for everyone
  • Simple mechanics makes it easy to pick up
  • Good playtime/price point balance

Cons

  • Very basic
  • Numerous performance issues
  • Looks like an older port

Verdict
For a game with so much potential, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards just failed to deliver. It isn’t a bad game, just a bit basic for 2021.

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