Match-3 puzzle games are a bit of an interesting genre – they almost always end up seeming to be well done and addicting or poorly executed while adding little to the genre, almost never straddling that line. Azkend 2 attempts to put itself in the earlier column by adding in something you rarely see in a match-3 puzzle game: a story.
You play at Jules, a woman who is sailing a ship named the Celestia from Liverpool to New York. The journey quickly goes awry when the ship is pulled into a maelstrom. When Jules awakens she finds herself in a strange location and it’s up to you to find out what happened and how to make it back home. The story is told through small segments between chapters of gameplay and I found that it all has a very Journey to the Center of the Earth vibe to it. Each section of the story is narrated over hand drawn scenery with small moving parts within it – the artwork itself is beautiful and would lend itself well to screencapping and using as backgrounds. The backgrounds are also used for a “find the object” type of additional gameplay, with each item found charging up a special power for use in the upcoming level.
The “find the object” sections are practically optional, offering nothing more than a slight edge in the upcoming level. The timer tends to move a bit too quickly with me managing to only find every object once on the first run. These sections can be replayed and with the order and objects not changing, it should be easy enough to find them all. One of my biggest gripe with this section is that the hints that the game provides you are not always aligned as they are in the picture – for example, the image on the top corner could be skewed about 90 degrees, and with the vagueness of some of those images to find (random foliage), I found the most effective method would be to just tap wildly on my screen until something popped up.
The core gameplay is delivered over 17 chapters with 3 to 4 sections within each chapter, with most chapters just having you piece together a part of an item you need to continue on your journey. The gameplay itself offers enough variety to keep the title from getting too rote or boring. Most of the classic sections have you working against a timer to clear some sort of objective within the game board. Sometimes it’s flipping (occasionally multiple times) to make them blue, sometimes it’s bugs that require you to kill them before they escape the board and other times it’s controlling and extinguishing a fire that is spreading across the gameboard. At the end of each level the game will present a puzzle piece that you are required to bring to the bottom of the game board, sometimes against a timer as well.
As you progress through the story, each item you find goes into your inventory which you can equip as both an active and passive powerup. Making long strings creates power balls that wipe away individual tiles and matching tiles that progress your completion charge up Tesla coils that unleash large electric storms. Equippable power up includes hammers that will wipe out large sections of the board or give you more time to complete your level. Passive bonuses grant things like making power up appear more often at the cost of a shorter time limit or making hints appear faster. While there is a good variety to them all, I found myself sticking to a combination that worked for me and my game type with little reason to switch over to anything else. Aside from the normal Match-3 types levels, occasionally there will be a puzzle level where you have a limited amount of moves to make all of the tiles disappear. I found these to be the most challenging of all the levels and thankfully it allowed me to skip them after failing a number of times when I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the order I needed to complete it.
After you finish the campaign, there are two other modes to take up your time. Timed mode gives you a static board and a timer to get a high score to throw up onto a leaderboard. Medal mode repeats the levels from the story but the goal is the complete the levels as fast as possible, earning a bronze, silver or gold medal. These modes are closer to your typical, classic Match-3 games that most are accustomed to.
Playing this game on the Switch allows for both touch controls and usage of the analog sticks. While playing through the game I tried both out and found that the touch controls lend to a more casual, less frustrating experience. Since the game plays on board with hexagonal pieces, moving and selecting tiles with the sticks became an exercise in futility, especially when the timer was running low and mistakes were more likely to occur.
Does Azkend 2 succeed in finding a niche for itself? I would say so – the story, while basically just a delivery method for introducing new levels and concepts, is a welcome change from just playing the endless maps that you would find a game like Candy Crush. Challenging yourself to complete the Medal and Timed modes offers incentive to keep playing the title even after you’ve finished the story mode. If you are looking for a casual puzzle game for the Switch that’s great for playing in short bursts, Azkend would nicely scratch that itch.
Azkend 2 was provided by the publisher for purposes of review. This review was based on the Switch version.