The side-scrolling world of Greak: Memories of Azur is one that is as predictably dangerous as it is beautiful to behold. As Greak reunites and then adventures with his two siblings, you’ll have three characters to solve puzzles and fight monsters with all at once. A challenge, but is it one that the young trio can overcome?
The game’s hand-drawn art style is simply gorgeous and makes it one of the better looking 2D games I’ve seen. It neatly avoids any pixel art trappings and looks more like a lovingly animated cartoon. It’s difficult to fault the game here, with plenty of variety between environments and a well realised world to explore. Then there’s the orchestral soundtrack, which is very good as well, even if it doesn’t quite match the game’s visuals. There’s lots of background to the world of Azur as well and characters have a lot to say about it should you be interested.
As interesting and beautiful as the world is, it’s still full of things that want to kill you, so you’ll need to stay on your toes. You begin the game with the siblings being separated, but Greak is rescued and taken to a nearby village. After chatting with villagers, you’re given a side quest or two and sent on your way as you look for your sister, Adara. This is where cracks start to appear, as combat is a little bit rough. Greak begins with a simple combo and a dodge and can unlock some additional attacks by completing specific side quests. The thing is, Greak’s reach is so short that it feels like you need to be touching beards with an enemy to make contact. As a result you feel it’s best to just walk towards them whilst swinging your sword. If they get in the way, it’s their own fault.
You’re actually better off dodging through every enemy and attacking from behind, as you can’t take many hits even after unlocking some upgrades. You can collect food to cook at a campfire that can then heal you, but the inventory is incredibly limited, so you are constantly forced to leave things behind. This doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose in the game outside of making things fiddlier. You can slightly increase your inventory but it’s not enough to alleviate the frustration, especially as quest items tend to take up inventory space as well. In fact, one particular quest item was three glass vials that had to be filled up in separate locations, so whilst the vials initially stacked, once I’d filled one they ended up taking up two inventory slots until I’d done the last one. Annoying.
Similarly annoying is having to manage your siblings – a familiar problem for anyone with brothers or sisters. Once you find them, they’re always with you, but will always wait for you to tell them to do something, usually by switching to controlling them and doing it yourself. You can use the triggers to control your selected sibling and those near enough together, or to bring them to you provided they’re on screen. The game would be better off without them, as these two mechanics are so unreliable as to render them almost useless.
The frustration when you control multiple siblings is that they will copy your inputs, but do so with different abilities. Greak can double jump, whereas Adara, his sister, instead floats the second time you press and hold the jump button. Trying to account for both inevitably ends up with frustrating failures. And when you come out of conversations, for whatever the reason the first press of the trigger doesn’t get the other siblings to follow you, so you end up running off alone and having to have them follow you again. These aren’t big issues, they’re just awkward and fiddly ones that build up over time.
You also need to keep an eye on them in combat as, while they will attack an enemy that comes into range, they will quickly perish if two or more enemies come at them. You can’t just leave a character somewhere whilst you’re exploring as they might be ambushed by respawning enemies. A little AI to have the other player characters automatically follow you would have worked wonders, but as it is you end up having to complete jumps two or three times in a row, once per character.
The enemy design is often frustrating to deal with; whether they’re constantly respawning zombie-like creatures or the various Urlag, they all have their own annoyances. Big slimes explode into four smaller ones, often landing on you with little you can do to avoid it. One boss had only two attacks, but half way through the fight, it enrages and does each of those attacks three times in a row quickly. It felt a little unimaginative and cheap, unfortunately. By far the worst enemy is the blow dart Urlags, who teleport in out of nowhere, shoot homing darts at you that can literally spin 360º air whilst homing in on you, and then they teleport somewhere else and repeat.
On the other hand, the puzzles aren’t particularly taxing, but do tend to involve awkward shepherding your characters around one at a time. There are passageways blocked by ice that you can only melt by grabbing a nearby torch and contriving a route through before the flame dies. They can be satisfying to complete, but the process of getting there is often fraught with awkwardness and inconvenience rather than an interesting challenge. Managing three characters in real time to accomplish one task whilst enemies keep respawning quickly starts to feel like more trouble than it’s worth.