This is the debut title from Mexican developer, Navegante Entertainment. It is a gorgeous game, featuring excellent hand-drawn animation. The music, though not plentiful, is full of emotion and wonder. Let’s see then if the design and gameplay hold up their end of the bargain in our review of Greak: Memories of Azur.
The main concept behind this action platformer is that you control (eventually) three siblings, two brothers, and a sister. Each of which has its own unique strengths and weaknesses. First up is Greak whose small stature and agility help him reach areas the others can’t. Armed with a sword and bow he is solid in combat and his double jump ability makes him great for platforming. Adara is a mage, and she uses a short-range magic attack as her main combat ability. Lacking a double jump she instead can hover a ’la Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2, though for a very short period. Last up is Raydel, the sword and board style fighter. He is a late unlock, I didn’t get him until after 6 and a half hours into the game. He is by far the strongest in combat and he has a Hookshot ability to help him traverse the environment.
In a game like Trine, you would control one character at a time, and then in co-operative play, you could have all three going at once. Greak changes this up though, as you routinely have two or three characters at your disposal. A press of the left trigger will get any character near you to start mimicking your button presses, and the right trigger will have your uncontrolled toons regroup with you by running in a straight line. This is where the game completely falls apart for me. The AI for this is non-existent, they simply mimic what you are doing and will constantly run to their deaths, get attacked non-stop, and do nothing, not dodge when you do, etc. Most of the game ends up with you finding a safe spot for anyone you’re not controlling directly while you then go off and clear out an area. This doesn’t work in certain places though. Like the first boss fight requires you to have both of your characters in the fighting area, and since the controls are so terrible for using two at once it leads to frustrating death after frustrating death.
Siblings of Mayhem
There is no co-op, which in an Agents of Mayhem style choice, is a massive mistake. The game simply is not fun to play most of the time because of how completely useless your characters are when you are not controlling them. Many of the puzzles of the game require you two control your two or three characters one at a time as you move blocks, or rotate cranks. You’ll choose one character, use an item, swap characters, move through a gate, grab another item that keeps the door open, swap back to the first character, run through the gate, then swap to the 2nd character and let the gate fall. This happens dozens of times, and it is fun for the first few times. It quickly grew stale, and the fact that when one of your two or three characters dies it’s game over makes the entire system an utter mess.
You have 4 pips of health to start, and you can lose them incredibly quickly. A halfway decent checkpoint system would make this somewhat bearable if you could quickly get back into the action. What does this game do though? No checkpoints, only save stones. Really spread out save stones, so you can lose 10, 15, heck 30 minutes of progress at times. What happens if you beat a boss and say your power goes out, the cat hits your power button, or you die before finding the next save stone? You lose all that progress and must do it all over again. It takes what is already a badly designed game and cranks the frustration up to the max. The combat isn’t very fun or nuanced either. It’s a spam-fest as you simply hit your attack button as quickly as possible to stagger your enemies. Things get a bit better with Raydel but it’s never what I would call anything close to fun. Another major issue is I would constantly attack in the wrong direction. If facing left occasionally I would press attack and swing to the right and vice versa. It’s not all bad though, and that just makes it that much more disappointing in the end. At the very least, it’s a very pretty game.
Graphical Splendor and Musical Excellence
The main thing that grabbed my and most people’s eye when the game was initially revealed was just how great-looking it is. The backgrounds are fine, but the animation on the player characters and enemies is fantastic. The various short cutscenes showcase the same hand-drawn style and it is constantly and incredibly frustrating that something so good looking is part of a game that I found so unsatisfying to play. Matching the graphics is a similarly great soundtrack. There can be long swaths of playtime where nothing plays, but when the music does kick in it is really something. There are strange cuts in and out of the soundtrack though, which can be jarring. The game has no voice acting but the sound effects get the job done, and the balance of it all is ok.
The setup of the story is quite like The Dark Crystal. You’re a kinder, peace-loving race and the more brutish and uglier race is destroying your lands and killing your people. One of the only things that kept me going was a genuine interest in how things would play out. The fast travel system is tied to the in-game currency and can be easily missed at times. There are two stone types, the small save stones and the larger fast-travel ones. In a few areas, I missed the larger ones and had to stumble around the map to find them later. The game maddeningly at times will let you fast-travel with one character leaving the other one or two behind. If you don’t make sure that everyone is in range to touch the stone you are forced to wait through another loading screen to get back to your other characters and then take them through the stone as well. This type of quality of life issue is found in every single system in the game. Each character has its own small inventory which becomes a pain to manage, and the food and potion crafting system suffers greatly from all the juggling you must do. During combat, if you want to regain health you have to make sure you’re on that character then eat something and wait 3 or 5 seconds for it to kick in. Everything about playing this game is maddeningly frustrating. A few small fixes and it could be legitimately good.
One final issue is that for some reason the game is only on the new generation of consoles. There is nothing on display here that would keep this from running on something as far back as an original Xbox from what I can tell, let alone an Xbox One. The platforms at launch are Switch, PC, PS5, and Series X|S, the lack of release on the Xbox One and PS4 is mystifying.
Greak: Memories of Azur could have been something special. Unfortunately, a large number of questionable design decisions pull down every positive aspect in a way the game simply cannot overcome. The core design of how you control your two to three characters is simply not enjoyable, but the quality is there in every other aspect and I hope that either through further patches for this game, or in their next title that Navegante Entertainment gets the gameplay part of things right.