Platformers are platformers. Whether 2D or 3D, linear or open world, they are reassuringly pure, often having an identical goal (get from here to there) and a limited set of powers to play with. Yet everyone instinctively gets it; your average 5 and 95 year old is equally likely to enjoy a Mario title, the genre’s gold standard. However, the onset of indie gaming and the raw ingenuity of smaller developers has led to the little guy increasingly shaking things up with a sort of basement-kindled revolution. Think of Jonathan Blow’s labour of love, Braid, or Super Meat Boy’s hair-tearingly and fiendishly addictive retroism. Both are arguably as good as anything released by a major studio over the past few years.

 photo aaru-01_zpsf43a7bcd.jpgAaru’s Awakening, the first title from Icelandic developers Lumenox, looks set to follow in such esteemed wakes. It introduced its take on the genre in a fairly bare bones alpha build released recently. Built with the Unity engine, it gives an insight to the eight man team’s lofty ambitions, which are distinctly, and reassuringly, old school. You play as Aaru, the designated “Champion of Dawn” - a beast that looks a bit like a cross between a budgie and a steroid-addled gorilla - on a quest to re-balance the forces of dawn, day, dusk and night as the presumably dark and sinister latter power threatens to run riot over the world of Lumenox. As is often the case, the plot is a little vague at this early stage - that actually adds to the mystique of the demo, which drops you in another world with no explanation - but it should be expanded with cutscenes set to be added to flesh out the early playable version.

Instead, it’s the levels of care and steady innovation that immediately catch the eye. An interesting control interface splits responsibilities between keyboard and mouse, allowing the player to fire Aaru’s soul - taking the form of a glimmering orb - by aiming a crosshair with the mouse and teleporting with a right click to wherever it lands, or at any point along its flight path. At the same time, the keyboard gives basic movement commands including Aaru’s other main attribute, the power charge, used to defeat enemies and break scenery. Crucially, it can also be activated in mid-air to buy some valuable time to fire off a teleportation orb.

The system is a little off putting at first, and really isn’t helped by the pretty steep learning curve in the alpha release, but it soon becomes intuitive, eventually innovative. It’s a rare example of tinkering with established control methods paying off and, given a little patience, the combination of the two powers gives Lumenox the latitude to push some boundaries in level design. These are littered with hazards, enemies and multiple routes to explore to find all the collectibles, typically located in tricky corners and requiring fluid command of Aaru’s powers - and an ability to keep panic at bay - as you perilously hover above lakes of acid, traverse crumbling walkways or teleport into recesses while falling towards a pit of spikes.

 photo aaru-02_zpse8e3ba16.jpgThe game also conjures a curious, instant nostalgia with its arresting visuals: the swirling, craggy and psychedelic landscapes of the world of Lumenox looking like a long-lost children’s picture book. Unusually, the characters and backdrops are hand drawn, all animation having originally been laboriously created, frame by frame, by artists before being coloured digitally. The developers state that, “by doing the line on paper [drawings] we are able to achieve a certain charm that is often lost when an image or animation is done entirely digital... we are approaching the entire production in a fairly old school way.” If they also harness and build on old school playability in the ways that the alpha release suggests then we could be in for a treat.

Aaru’s Awakening is pencilled in for release in Q4 of 2013, initially on PC and Mac.