Puzzle games and I have had a strange relationship. I’m not a massive fan of the genre but every now and again a puzzle game will grab my attention and compel me to play it on an almost obsessive level – it happened with Tetris, Columns, Bust’a’Move, Peggle and Zookeeper.These games are all incredibly similar; simple match 3/4 games that had one core mechanic that had been honed and balanced to absolute perfection. Azkend 2 tries to emulate these classic titles while also trying to add something new into the mix and, unfortunately, it just doesn’t work out the way the developer would have imagined – what could have been a great game is simply quite a good one.
There is a narrative here, believe it or not, and it is very much inspired by the writings of Jules Verne. On your way from London to New York aboard the ship Celeste; it is drawn into a maelstrom and the player adventuring through an unseen parts of the planet while collecting items that will allow them to return to civilisation! The truth is, it’s a dull story but it is well told and adding one into a match 3 game is to be commended – if nothing else it allows Azkend 2 to stand out of the crowd.
Another thing that helps Azkend 2 form its own identity is that it continuously adds gimmicks to the stages that challenge the player in various ways – in some levels it’s a strict time or move limit, whilst in others insects crawl up the screen in a random way and must be killed before they reach the top. Some of these gimmicks are far more successful than others however; there are many that rely too heavily on random chance – the insect levels for example rely on the random tiles being favourable as well as the movement of the insects. It adds layers of RNG on top of core gameplay that itself is heavily reliant on RNG – it reduces some levels to reset cycles until you hit favourable RNG and are able to complete the level.
The game begins with a picture match game – in the top right corner there will be a macro of a larger image and it is up to the player to locate that macro and unlock tesla coils for the first real level; there are 6 available and they do make life a little easier because tesla coils are your active special ability. These powerups are selectable and can range from bolts of lightning taking out certain tiles, increased multiplier, the ability to change tiles and much, much more! There are also selectable passive abilities that can limit the tiles that appear on the board, make it easier to earn tesla coils and even slow down time. The fact that there are 9 of each add a layer of depth to the game and experimentation with combinations of actives and passives is required to have the best chance of completing some levels. Well, that’s the theory at least – in reality they make very little difference to your chances as the game is so dependent on RNG for absolutely every aspect of its gameplay and forgets to reward the player for their skill and improvisation.
Azkend 2 at times reminds me of a game that was designed with the mobile model of paid “tries” because the gameplay loop is deeply focused on repeatedly retrying until you get a favourable board. Very little skill is required of the player and when you are successful you are robbed of the satisfaction by the underlying knowledge that your success was determined by the RNG and not by you. I have failed levels with an incredibly high score and passed them with a terrible one – this is a sign of bad design and that sense permeates right through the heart of Azkend 2.
Don’t get me wrong, the core match 3 gameplay is as solid as it’s ever been, with responsive touch screen controls that never let you down even when frantically trying to clear the board! But all the embellishments that have been added for identity irrevocably weakens the game. By stepping away from the simplicity of the genre Azkend 2 has given itself a rod for its own back. It’s not as good as puzzle games that have come before it and there are better puzzle games on every format that it has appeared on.
I had fun with Azkend 2, but I also got no satisfaction from beating the campaign nor did I ever feel the urge to play it again. A disappointing experience all round.