Azkend 2: The World Beneath is the latest assault on the Xbox market from the prolific guys over at 10tons Ltd and unsurprisingly, its another match-3 (or more) puzzle game. Much like their last two attempts to crack the puzzle fanbase, Sparkle Unleashed and Sparkle 2, this is a relatively simple puzzler that is unlikely to stretch the boundaries of what an Xbox One can do.
There is a story to go with the matching action, and it isn't a bad one either. Starting as a female protagonist on board a ship bound for New York from Liverpool, you are thrown straight into the action when a massive whirlpool opens up. Your character feels that getting a closer look with binoculars would be a beneficial idea (although the whirlpool is bigger than the ship and about 30 yards away, so we're not sure why you'd need binoculars) and wouldn't you know it, the binoculars have been split into four parts and each part is hidden behind a puzzle! Who does that? What's wrong with putting them back in the case when you've finished with them? Anyway, the reassembling of the binoculars acts as a kind of tutorial for the game, which boils down to "match three things, they disappear, the rest of the tiles fall down and hopefully make more matches."
If you manage to match six tiles, Azkend 2 will unleash a zap of electricity that can be used to remove tiles in the way, and each successful match also charges some Tesla Coils that can then unleash up to three consecutive bolts of lightning. Each level has a mission, whether it be to remove ice, squash bugs or turn all the tiles blue, and once that mission is accomplished, the part of whatever it is you're trying to rebuild this time will be placed onto the board. It's then a usually simple matter to bring it down to the bottom of the screen by making matches, if it reaches the bottom before time runs out, you win.
If the story doesn't take your fancy, there are two other modes to try out in the form of Challenge mode, where you have to complete certain tasks to earn medals, and Time mode, where you are given a two minute window to try and score as many points as possible. Challenge mode will certainly add to the longevity of the game, as there are many medals to be earned, and with achievements to be picked up for earning half and all the medals, the motivation will be strong to keep going for hunters. The Time mode offers leaderboards for you to see where you rank in the world's elite Azkend 2 players and with achievements linked to this mode too, the "just one more go" factor can be quite strong.
So far, so good, then. Games like this tend to live or die on two things: controls and power ups. On the second score, Azkend 2 has certainly got you covered, as practically every section you complete gives you a new gadget to utilise. These range from active gadgets such as the compass (which allows you to link different tiles together, allowing for much longer matches) through to dynamite (which explodes when matched and takes out a chunk of tiles around it.) There are passive gadgets too, with these having a more indirect effect on the gameplay, such as allowing hints about which tiles to match to appear more frequently. The game will allow you to select one active and one passive gadget for each round, so choosing wisely can help with some of the tighter time constraints that appear later on in the game. When it comes to the controls, the picture is not quite so rosy. Its possible to see the formerly touchscreen-friendly design bleed through in the way that the game wants you to select the tiles to match, requiring you to hold down the A button and then steer the selection around with the left stick. Sadly, what is intuitive and easy to do on a touchscreen hasn't translated well here, and the number of times the game will either take a diagonal when you don't want it to, or refuse to take a diagonal when you do want it to is beyond a joke. It's very hard to walk moves back as well, as if you have taken a diagonal turn when you didn't want to and need to undo it, you have to carefully try to edge the selection back the way it came without going too far or hitting a compass tile and spinning off in another direction entirely. A number of times we were undone by this, with the game refusing to allow us to correct a match as the clock ran down and we failed as a result.
This, then, is pretty much the entirety of experience on offer here, save for one other part of the game. Every so often, Azkend 2 will ask you to take a look at the largely static backdrop of the screen that the puzzles appear on, and try to match a certain part of it to a small picture in the top right of the screen. This is made more difficult in that the part of the landscape you are looking for can be rotated or reversed, the clock is ticking and wild button mashing around the screen will make the clock run faster, and the fact that apart from the moving bits, the backdrops are kind of muddy and hard to distinguish. These sections are generally very tough to beat, because one bit of brown rock looks much like a brown plank on a ship which looks much like a brown building which...you get the idea. Luckily, you don't need to finish these, as they don't prevent you moving on to the next backdrop and unlocking a bunch of new matching puzzles.
In pride of place on Azkend 2's feature list is the phrase "8 different backdrops!" and that really seems to be all you're playing the story mode for here - the chance to see a different barely animated backdrop before more puzzling is thrust upon you. Luckily, the game is not overly pricey at $7.99 and the alternate modes help to keep the interest up, with score chasing on the leaderboard always available to be relied upon to add some interest. With that said, match-3 games are generally good for relaxation, but with the control gremlins to contend with, this isn't one that we found to be terribly restful.