Having previously taken in the majority of the joyous experiences on offer in the Xbox One library of games from developers 10tons, it was befitting that I got my hands on their newest title – Azkend 2. Following in the footsteps of their most popular games, the Sparkle Unleashed series, Azkend 2 has a go at being a successful match-three game, in a world full to the brim of them. But match-three games can come in many forms, just take Ironcast as an example. So, there’s a chance this can retain the addictive nature of the genre whilst finding the ability to stand out amongst the masses.
There’s no shooting marbles to make matches here, instead there’ll be a board full of different hexagonal tiles featuring all sorts of designs, from blue swirls to pink oyster shells and brown fossils. You’ll have to find three or more of the same designed tiles and select them using the cursor. It sounds pretty simple, and if there were no obstacles in your way then it’d be an absolute breeze. Azkend 2 however adds various objectives into the levels to overcome in the midst of matching.
Adventure mode is where the story begins, when your ship on a course from Liverpool to New York ends up getting whipped up into a vortex. Waking up in a world bereft of civilisation, the goal is to return to normality by going on a journey and collecting the pieces of vital items needed to advance. How do you get these? One piece can be earned by completing a level and after all pieces of the item are collected, usually three or four levels later, the next chapter of the ‘story’ will begin.
Although I appreciate the effort to include a narrative to string together what you are doing, I really didn’t think much of it. The voiceover was very unconvincing no matter which emotion the story narration was attempting to convey. On the other hand, the hand drawn bits of scenery were rather lovely to look at and did represent this forsaken land perfectly in order to capture the feeling of loneliness.
Matching tiles could easily get boring without some targets to aim for and so it’s fortunate that the objectives bring a certain amount of panic to counteract the laid back atmosphere provided by the wonderful soundtrack. Nearly all levels are timed to some degree and there are generally blockades which need removing by matching next to them. These could be foggy tiles that stay still or fire bearing ones that can spread around the board if left for too long. Once the issues are removed from the board, or all the tiles are turned in the classic type levels, the piece of item you are looking for will drop onto the playing field and all you need to do is help it move downwards so it can escape at the bottom.
The most enjoyment with Azkend 2 comes from the bug infested boards because they’ll slowly move one by one towards the top, and if they reach it then it’s all over. A single match nearby won’t rid you of these critters, instead a mixture of multiple matches and power-ups will serve you well. My ego has cost me on these levels because you simply cannot take it easy and try to set up large, cool looking matches like I tended to do – mostly to try and get an achievement. It’s best to just go for any little bit of damage possible, with no frills matching to reign victorious.
10tons have thought outside the box to add variation to proceedings, but I wish they hadn’t brought in the puzzle levels. Although very rare, there are a few levels where the object is to remove all the tiles from the board through carefully matching them and making sure that all tiles are accounted for. The amount of times one match can make the rest of the tiles fall hopelessly into places, where none of its design are situated or when there’s less than three left on the board, is painfully irritating. I reckon the developers knew this though, due to the fact that after a handful of fails it’ll let you completely skip it and move on. Good call.
Sometimes you need a helping hand to finish off that final obstruction or creepy crawly. Step forward the power-ups that come in two forms; active and passive. The active power-ups can be initiated by matching tiles bearing the symbol of said power-up, whereas the passive ones go about their business in the background. My favourite combination consists of the Hammer and Mechanism Design; the hammers will smash small areas up whilst the passive Mechanism Design spawns more power-ups onto the board. I do wish there were more decent active ones to unlock, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment by using the same combo almost all the way through.
Once the adventure is over, there are two types of challenges left to tackle; Medals and Timed. The medals challenges basically take you through the levels found in the story mode but with the objective of completing them in halve the time to earn a shiny gold medal. If you end up addicted like me, then going through the same board layouts and objectives won’t matter one iota… you just need to keep matching!
Timed challenge puts two minutes on the clock for you to garner the highest score possible and to make large matches which lead to score multipliers. What’s odd is that the developers have only included a leaderboard of offline scores to try and beat. In fact there isn’t a single online leaderboard in sight for anything in-game and so, if you want to create healthy competition with friends you’ll have to rely on the Xbox’s own Game Hub leaderboards. It’s a bit of a shame really.
Azkend 2 brings a melancholy form of the match-three genre to the table then turns up the heat with the element of time slowing creeping up on proceedings. There’s a lovely freshness to the levels within the Adventure mode thanks to the well placed objective differences throughout and the ever-changing tile layouts found in each board. Should the addiction bug not grip you, then the Challenges which follow may not offer much replayability, especially in the Medals section as they feel all too familiar.
Story-wise there really isn’t much to keep a player interested but fortunately, the gameplay alone will be enough to ensure value for money in yet another very good match-three game from 10tons.