Azkend 2 HD Defines Polish and Elegance But Suffers from Flaws
Polish and elegance are terms often used when describing games. From the interface and controls to the graphics and animation, those characteristics are typically the foundation for success. In the case of Azkend 2: The World Beneath by 10tons, the match 3 adventure gameís issue is not lack of polish or elegance, but rather flawed substance and execution. While looks may be everything in todayís world, the guts under the hood Azkend 2 needs some fine tuning. Instead of a sequel that should have outshined the original, what you have is a mediocre game.
As a huge fan of the original, I expected a similar experience with this second installment. On the visual front, Azkend is a beautiful game with deep backgrounds and vibrant screens. The devs created semi-realistic environments using texture and shadowing techniques that make each scene vivid and deceptively charming. The animated game screens are enticing which is a significant plus since youíll spend most of the time staring at them. All of this is complemented by a whimsical soundtrack that creates an aura of wonder.
Azkendís storyline revolves around you being shipwrecked in a fantastic world with the overall goal of making it back to civilization. The story is intriguing, but of course, is innocuous and shallow. The game offers three modes of play: Adventure, Time Challenge and Medals Challenge. Adventure is the story mode that takes you through 60 levels with the overall objective of collecting pieces to form power ups. Time Challenge provides a random puzzle where the goal is to score as many points as possible within the allotted time. Medals Challenge provides puzzles based on completed levels in Adventure mode with a gold medal awarded for completing the puzzle quickly.
The game boards in Azkend 2 are well designed and vary from level to level. To clear tiles, you must make matches of 3 or more like tiles to clear them off and turn the board blue. Along the way, special pieces are acquired to complete tools and gadgets that serve as power ups. The challenge of course is these pieces donít appear until the entire board is blue, and you have a limited amount of time.
What I enjoyed about the original are the power ups, and that remains the case in this installment. Youíll come across a number of different items from binoculars and glasses to dynamite and even gears. Obstacles are part of the game, and these can range from fires and ice to locks and bugs. These obstacles must be cleared before a level can be completed, and thatís where the power ups come in.
For example, the Hammer when activated by making a match of 3 or more of its tiles will turn parts of the board blue and potentially even knock out obstacles. In other puzzles involving bugs, power ups are ultimately used to kill them. Dynamite on the other hand explodes and knocks out tiles in the area as well as turns the board blue. By completing each level in Adventure mode, you acquire a piece to form a specific power up to be used in the next chapters. And, the Inventory area is set up so that you can pick and choose which power ups to use so there is a degree of configurability.
From a concept perspective, Azkend 2 sounds like a challenging game experience which for the most part it is. Locating matching tiles, turning the board blue, and securing pieces of power ups is an engaging proposition that should appeal to many. Plus, the time element adds a nice dynamic to the game, and watching the explosive animations on screen is a treat. Where Azkend 2 suffers is in its execution with the puzzles themselves.
Too often, the randomly generated levels in Adventure mode are near impossible to clear and with the time element, you have a recipe for frustration. Part of the strategy for players is that as more matches are made, electric coils gradually charge up which when fully charged can turn isolated tiles into blue ones. Longer chains of 5+ tiles automatically generate a charge, which can be a significant strategic advantage. However, what occurs frequently in Azkend 2 is the tiles given do not offer anything more than a match 3 so you find yourself unable to create longer chains. Too many levels end unsuccessfully not because of poor strategy on the playerís part, but instead on the luck of the draw with the tiles.
What adds to the frustration is how frequent boards automatically reshuffle due to no more matches. For example, the eyeglasses power up provides hints on matches. More times than not, it will highlight a match 3 to be made, and that will turn out to be the only match available before the boards go into auto reshuffle. Iíve had levels where reshuffling has happened at least four times in a single sitting.
Also parts of the story are provided through grand and vivid scenes, and as in the original, Azkend 2 inserts a scene match puzzle. This is similar to hidden item games except the objective to find randomly selected cut scenes in the overall picture. Part of the problem is that this feels more like a tedious exercise than a fun game because most of the scenes can appear so generic youíd rather just skip it altogether.
Aside from the Time Challenge mode, there is no high score tracking although there is GameCenter achievements providing some albeit limited replay value. Even in Time Challenge, a shortcoming is that none of the power ups acquired in Adventure mode can be used which for some, may take away from the experience.
When it comes to appearances, Azkend 2 is polished with an elegant design and in concept, a terrific game. However, in gameplay, the execution may leave many wanting and frustrated. While every game needs a degree of challenge, Azkend 2 takes it too far leaving gamers more discouraged than satisfied.
Albie Meter: 3 Stars (elegant and polished design with terrific animation and graphics; gameplay execution needs tweaking; luck of the draw with tiles makes it more a game of chance than player strategy; limited replay value in Adventure mode; Time Challenge does not allow the use of acquired power ups; GameCenter support and achievements)