It might be becoming increasingly difficult to choose between the slew of board-based, connection-style puzzles titles on Switch, as their simple mechanics combined with lower price points make them a good option for casual players. Whether spinning in 360-degrees or siding from left to right, the continuous flow of colours and shapes are as popular now as they are similar. Developer 10tons continues its prolific run of games in this template with its third 'match 3' game in as many months, Azkend 2: The World Beneath.
Azkend 2 tells the story of sea faring adventurer Jules, who gets caught up in a maelstrom and becomes stranded in a mysterious new land. Told through chapters of journal entries chronicling her journey, your job is to escape one perilous location after the next with the aid of various objects and equipment found along the way. From here, the familiar 'match 3' gameplay kicks in, and you'll connect hexagonal tiles with symbols ranging from pearls and starfish to dinosaur skulls and tortoise shells in order to build combos and complete the 60 stages of the main adventure. Although the main objective throughout is to turn over all the panels on the game board (more than once in some instances), there are a number of different twists thrown in to keep you on your toes.
On occasion, you will have to break ice or stop bugs that climb in real time from making their way to the top of the board by turning over panels next to them, or lining up hammer symbols to inflict damage. Some level sections are cordoned off by padlocks, which have to be dealt with first. Later, you'll have to extinguish a fire that rises and surrounds a precious map before you can move on. There are many tiles with individual properties, such as the compass, which can be used to link tiles on either side of it.
There is a real sense of organic progression to the levels, as the location and different symbols you eliminate have a direct result on the board you are trying to beat, not to mention a sense of urgency that's more interesting than a plain time limit or reaching a certain score to progress. Once these goals have been met, it's then a case of getting an item or piece of equipment to the bottom of the screen. Typically, there are three or four pieces of an object to collect before it's time to move on to the next chapter.
Interspersed with the puzzle boards are single screen levels that require you to search the scenery through a telescope by touching the screen (or moving the cursor) and finding a small specific area. Find them all, and you will be rewarded with either a destructive 'active' power up or a 'passive' ability, such as slowing down time. It's worth testing them all out to see which suit a specific stage, so that your load out is more efficient. This becomes more and more useful as the later levels and a difficult medal challenge mode require more customisation and strategy.
It's a nice touch that the items collected throughout the campaign are suitably themed and integrated into the story, collecting fragments of various exploratory paraphernalia in addition to utilising other weapons such as activating Tesla coils to generate electricity or lighting dynamite to, well, do what dynamite does best. The animation is smooth, the various effects and environments are impressive and there's a good sense of cohesion to the games overall presentation, and the various attempts at mixing up the formula would have not been as successful if it weren't for its rich aesthetic outside of the puzzles. The slightly animated illustrated backdrops are both varied and detailed, alongside the decent voice work and predictably grand soundtrack from composer Jonathan Geer.
If Azkend 2 has a weakness, it's the control scheme. While using the touchscreen is ample and by far the optimal way to play, it's much less ideal is moving the curser around with the analog stick. When things even remotely heat up, it's just not accurate or fast enough that you feel fully in control. All in all though, it mostly controls like any other genre title does albeit a tad finicky, and unless you play exclusively in docked mode, you won't have any huge issues the majority of the time.
Azkend 2: The World Beneath does everything it can to spice up the 'match 3' puzzle genre, boasting a narrative thread, power ups to collect and different objectives at every turn. As derivative and repetitive as the core gameplay is, it does a decent job of maintaining your engagement and does reward your efforts. Overall, it should be commended for its sprawling take on a tried and tested genre. The variety of dynamic scenarios that genuinely affect the gameplay and an overarching story with varied exotic locations make it stand out from its competition. If you're looking for a 'match 3' with more variety, challenge and narrative meat to chew on, this is a good place to drop anchor.