Want to play Bejeweled inside a Jules Verne novel? Azkend 2 has got you covered.
It’s not easy to crowbar in a story – let alone a good one – into games about matching three or more hexagons together, but Azkend 2: The World Beneath makes an admirable effort. The player is cast as an explorer crossing on a seaward voyage in 1898. However, the explorer’s ship is sucked into an inexplicable whirlpool, dragging her into an underground world of mysterious volcanic temples, and ruined ancient cities. More than a few leaves are taken from the pages of Jules Verne’s novels with its fanciful ideas of what lies beneath the earth’s surface (which is sadly just a boring old load of mantle and magma in reality). You’ll even see Jules Verne has a high score in the challenge modes – I knew he was a gamer. Azkend 2 really seems ideal as a mobile game, with its Bejeweled-style mix-and-matching jiggery-pokery. However, the developers were bold enough to put it out for PC and the mainline consoles, bumping shoulders with the high-tech AAA blockbusters. It’s a good thing then that Azkend 2 is simple, but extraordinarily addictive.
You’ll start off the campaign trying to find a pair of glasses to better observe the storm the ship is caught in. A board full of hexagons and shapes appear. Match three of more shapes together, and they disappear, with adjacent shapes tumbling down into the vacant hexes. You keep doing this until the pair of glasses appear on the board. Then you need to clear a path for the glasses to fall to the bottom, where you can claim them and move onto the next level. This is pretty much the pattern you’ll follow for the rest of the game – causing avalanches of useful items. However, constant new mechanics are added to spice things up.
Later on, you’ll collect various power-ups to aid you in your block-busting quest. Matching three or more hammers sends a hammer twirling across the board, smashing blocks in the way of your victory. Matching three climbing ropes freezes the timer watch, giving you a few more precious seconds to finish each stage. Other blocks cause winds to blast across the board, smashing blocks aside in a line. Passive power-ups help you in more subtle ways. For example, the glasses show you more hints of possible matches you might be missing as your eyes desperately dart around the board. You can mix and match active and passive power-ups in interesting ways: I particularly enjoyed picking the dynamite power-up and chaining it with a passive item that gave me 15% more dynamite. This had predictably explosive results as I made matching lines of dynamite that spanned the entire board, blowing up countless adjacent blocks with a satisfying “ka-boom”. However, you can only use one passive power-up and one active one at a time, which means carefully picking the right power-ups for each board – introducing a light layer of strategic planning.
Azkend 2 isn’t just mindless clicking. The changing victory conditions mix things up. For example, one level type requires you to destroy the bugs crawling over the board by making matches in adjacent hexes. Another level type requires you to flip all the hexes on the board to blue by making matches on those tiles. There’s one particularly clever mechanic, which requires you to be smart about each match you make. Every match that helps you get closer to completing a level (such as squishing the aforementioned bugs or flipping tiles to blue) charges up the five tesla coils on the top of the screen. When the five tesla coils are charged, they release lightning which zaps bugs, flips tiles blue or smashes boxes below the “victory item”, letting it tumble a bit closer to your grasp. However, every time you make a match that doesn’t bring you closer to victory, the tesla coils are depleted. If you want the help of the tesla electricity, you’ll need to plan ahead so you’re not left with only meaningless matches to make. This is a big part of what makes Azkend 2 an often compellingly challenging experience as you fight against the increasingly unforgiving timer.
There are a series of sumptuously detailed paintings for each new part of the underworld you explore. Not only do these function as a background for the block-busting portion of the game, they also help break the levels up a little with a series of “Where’s Waldo” style minigames. A little piece of the scenery appears in a highlighted circle, and you’ll have to find it amongst the vast vistas, snow-capped hills and ruined temples to proceed. These little interludes are skippable though, for those who want to get back to blockbusting.
The campaign and its charms are just the beginning for those who really enjoy Azkend 2. Naturally, for more hardcore players, there are “endless” modes where you can continue popping patterns into perpetuity, aiming to get the highest score you can. This can tack on a fair bit of lifespan to Azkend 2 once its campaign is complete.
Azkend 2: The World Beneath is a superb example of an intensely compulsive, time-massacring puzzle game. It’ll keep your twitchy fingers clicking and dragging across the screen compulsively – as if the sound of matching blocks popping out of existence were a sweet hit of a powerful opiate. However, the beautifully-rendered “Where’s Waldo” style sections, and the entertaining narrative tying the puzzles together, make this subturranean puzzler a cut above the competition. Azkend 2 may be about the journeying below the surface of the earth, but it manages to soar firmly above mediocrity.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One; Publisher: 10 Tons Ltd. ; Developer: 10 Tons Ltd. ; Players: 1 ; Released: March 14th, 2012 ;
Full disclosure: This review is on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.