Match three games are very common, however, the truly compelling ones have their own unique hooks that lure you in and keep you engaged. Azkend 2: The World Beneath attempts to do this with a story acting as a frame device for the aforementioned matching of three, whilst also offering a wide variety of things to match as well as abilities to utilise that makes that job easier. The latter of these hooks works splendidly, the former works against it.

Azkend 2 plays precisely how you’d expect a match three title to play. A grid of objects is presented to you and you need to match three or more objects of the same type that are adjacent to each other. Match three or more of them and they will disappear from the grid, causing the rows above to cascade down. It’s a simple premise that’s usually tied to achieving high scores, however, with Azkend 2 your objective is more specific and varies from level to level. One grid may require you to match objects gradually across the entire grid, whilst others will challenge you to cause an item added to the grid to be collected at the bottom by removing rows below and causing it to fall, and the objectives get more interesting from there. It proves a great way to keep the game varied and prevent stagnation, as well as challenging you to read the grid in different ways.

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Over the 17 stages, each with multiple levels within them, new objects are frequently added to the match three grid. From a gameplay perspective it’s purely aesthetic, tying in with the story, but the variety is still appreciated and makes the aforementioned grid reading slightly more challenging. Meanwhile, each stage also unlock a new ability that can be activated. These range from neutral objects that allow you to match together two or more sets of different objects, to dynamite that explodes and destroys adjacent objects. Choosing which ability to wield becomes a tactical consideration depending on the grid objectives, and once again this adds a wonderful sense of variety.

This frequently changing set of objectives, abilities and grid objects keeps things fresh across the lengthy story, unfortunately the story itself is a bit of a let-down. It all kicks off with a ship wreck, leaving you stranded in a strange, underground world beneath the ocean. Each level asks you to perform an action to proceed; this could be blowing up an area with dynamite so to explore further or simple peering through a telescope. These actions are performed by completing the match three grids and collecting parts of the items needed for the action, such as sticks of dynamite or parts of a telescope. Once you have them all, the story progresses and you enter the next location and set of levels.

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The story has the potential to work as a neat frame device. The way it facilitates the different objects in the grid based on your location works well, as does the item collecting aspect. However, the story is so badly told it’s hard to immerse yourself in it. The narration is patronisingly delivered as if you’re a child, and is ultimately uninteresting and superfluous to the experience. Moreover, it also adds a hidden object aspect to the experience, where you’re shown a section of the, actually pretty terrific, static images that make up the backdrop, and asked to find it and press A with your cursor. However, it’s all for naught and the story will progress whether you find any of these sections or not. It all just gets in the way of the best part of the game: the match three puzzles. Fortunately the additional challenge modes help with this. They strip out the story and challenge you to either achieving a high score or completing each level in the quickest time possible.

Indeed Azkend 2: The World Beneath, provides a great set of match three puzzles that benefit from terrific variety. Meanwhile, the story is a horribly delivered barrier to an otherwise enjoyable game. If match three puzzlers are your jam, then the strong offering of Azkend 2 is likely to scratch that itch, unfortunately you’ll have to stomach the story along with it.

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