Azkend 2: The World Beneath
Release Date: 12 January 2018
Price: $7.99 / £6.99
Reviewed by Pat Lunn
I’ll be the first to admit that puzzle games aren’t in my usual wheelhouse - I’m more of a JRPG and RTS sort of guy. The last puzzle game, apart from casual mobile fare, that I sunk time into was Peggle way back at the start of the Xbox 360’s lifespan, and I thought that had set a high bar for the genre at the time. If I’m being entirely honest, I didn’t feel there was much more to puzzle gameplay. It was with this mixture of scepticism and nostalgia that I approached Azkend 2: The World Beneath.
A Different Type Of Roleplay
Right from the offset Azkend 2 shows immense polish, the plot is delivered in a series of large interactive pictures which have a painted, textured feel to them that are a joy to look at. The narrative is one of the weaker parts of the game as it follows a passenger on a boat travelling from Liverpool to New York who is thrown off course and has to find a way home in what the developer call a ‘Jules Verne-esque’ journey. I can defiantly see the influence of Verne in the locations, which are filled with ancient temples as well as spectacular flora and fauna. However, the weakness of the story, as well as taking Verne as a sole literary role model, is that there are no characters to get attached to.
The main character is referred to as ‘you’ so there isn’t even a backstory to get to grips with, the few pieces of dialogue are just self-reflection delivered in a dull mono-tone from a blatantly bored actress. This lacklustre performance carries you through several encounters, that I’m sure are supposed to be exciting and terrifying, without the slightest waver in tone. The plot ends in an encounter with a giant squid, which looks amazing in the art style but is immediately undercut by the melancholic drone - ruining any dramatic tension. Luckily, the weak plot is saved by some simply superb gameplay.
Simple To Learn, A Lifetime To Master
The basic gameplay of Azkend 2 is a ‘match three’ game. There are a variety of puzzle items and you must string three or more together in a certain amount of times to complete the level. After the first handful of levels I felt that it probably wasn’t going to get more advanced than that. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The developers at 10tons have looked at the intricacies of their game and found several ways to, not only make it more complex but also, more tense. This could be the relatively menial task of collecting enough magic flower juice (honestly, I think that’s what it’s called) by matching up enough flower pieces before a timer runs out or, my personal favourite, matching pieces up around insects to squash them as they attempt to scale the board and defeat you.
The rest of the objectives run the gamut from trivial to tense but they always find a way to tie-in to the narrative and, at least on some level, recreate the actions you would have to perform to accomplish your objective in a real adventure. This could mean that, when you’re trying to learn how to steer a submarine, you must learn how to apply a new and more complicated technique or, when you’re trying to detonate some dynamite, you must set up a long chain reaction.
It’s well designed and with the added time element, which doesn’t always take the form of a ticking clock but instead fleeting objectives, there is always a sense of desperation and urgency to accomplish your goal. This is offset nicely by a speedy retry time, you literally must click a button to start the stage again, and the mellow tone of the narrative. I never found myself close to rage quitting but I always felt like I had something to lose. I think with all this considered, it can be conclusively said that Azkend 2 is a simple concept executed extremely well.
There are few games that I have played in both my free time or as a reviewer that had such little to work with as Azkend 2. I mean, it was the sequel to a generic app game and I strongly doubt that it had a following clamouring for it’s release. The development team could have completely phoned this in, but instead they were smart.
Effort was taken away from surface level content like plot and was instead given over to the core gameplay. Art and sound design were focused there as well, creating puzzle boards that look, and sound, way better than they have any right to. Extra modes have been added to give a consistent challenge even once the main story is complemented. The development team pushed the concept in every direction it could go and polished it till it shined like chrome. I am truly impressed by Azkend 2 and while it's not exactly the next Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey it would certainly make your next commute a little more bearable.
Pros & Cons
+ Great fundamental gameplay design
+ Superb in-game art, animation and sound design
+ Lots of replayability with various modes and challenges
- Generic story
- Lacklustre voice acting