When it comes to my favourite video game genres, platformers of both the 2D and 3D variety find themselves perched proudly atop the podium. They’re undoubtedly the gaming equivalent of comfort food for me, and I can’t help but gorge on them whenever I get the chance. While looking desperately for my next fix, I stumbled across Greak: Memories of Azur, a charming 2D action puzzle platformer developed by Navegante Entertainment and published by Team 17. Sporting an awesome hand-drawn aesthetic that looks similar to Hollow Knight, cute and likeable protagonists and some fun albeit occasionally frustrating gameplay, Greak: Memories of Azur is an experience I’m happy to have found, yet at the same time I can’t help but question some of its gameplay decisions.
The story begins by providing a brief history lesson on the land of Azur. For generations, a small race of magical creatures known as the Courines have inhabited the land, building fortresses and training their people to protect the land from the Urlags, who seek to claim the land as their own. Despite countless battles between the two over the years, the Courines have always prevailed, however the latest attack from the Urlag has finally given them the advantage, an advantage so strong that it has forced the Courines to pretty much concede that they are fighting a losing battle.
Shortly after the Azurian history lesson you are introduced to the titular protagonist Greak, a young boy who seeks to reunite with his siblings and escape Azur for greener pastures. His journey leads him to a small camp where the Courine residents are attempting to build an Airship that will allow them to escape Azur. Having been saved by a member of the camp, Greak agrees to help find the parts required to complete the Airship, whilst also trying to locate his sister Adara and brother Raydel. The narrative isn’t particularly deep, but it does succeed well at providing a reason for Greak to be exploring the land of Azur.
An aspect of the narrative that I found compelling was the fact that it isn’t the generic hero story in which the protagonist defeats the enemy threat against all odds. While Greak, Adara, and Raydel are undoubtedly heroic throughout the journey (and damn likeable to boot), they aren’t eradicating the Urlags and reclaiming their homeland, instead they are merely fighting back against the threat until they can escape, aware that Azur is a lost cause.
Their acknowledgement of the reality before them makes the narrative darker and more interesting as a result, and it deserves praise for that. The world of Azur is also engrossing and atmospheric, with the atmosphere heightened even further by its top-notch orchestral soundtrack and detailed environments. It is evident in the visuals that Azur is a land that is hurting, with its once peaceful landscapes decaying and full of deadly creatures. Despite the current predicament in Azur, it remains a beauty to explore.
Starting out as Greak, your task is to head out into Azur to retrieve items required to get the Airship at camp up and running. While fulfilling these tasks, your overarching goal will be to reunite Greak with his siblings, which will happen in due time as you complete quests for the people at camp. Greak is equipped with a sword and crossbow, meaning he is handy in both close quarter and ranged combat. Combat is basic hack and slash fanfare with the sword, while the crossbow requires proper aiming to ensure you deal damage. The simplistic combat extends to Greak’s siblings Adara and Raydel, who when found can also be used. Adara casts arcane magic that allows her to perform ranged attacks, while Raydel the oldest sibling is a guardian equipped with a sword and shield. There are challenges that can be completed that upgrade the siblings combat abilities, but even so it isn’t particularly complex and often it’s a mindless affair of spamming attacks until you succeed. It is basic fun, but just don’t expect it to blow you away.
When not in combat you will be platforming your way through Azur, scavenging for food and items while also dealing with the myriad puzzles sprinkled around the world. Food is plentiful but each character has a small inventory, meaning that you’ll need to collect food items and condense them into a single item by cooking them. Placing any three items into the various cooking pots found through Azur will result in a meal being made, with the combinations of food resulting in different meals, which will regenerate a particular amount of HP. Cooking will not only leave more space in your inventory for quest specific items, or items such as elixirs that you can purchase from the camp, but it will also likely heal you up more than it would’ve if the items were eaten separately. Seeing the various foods that you could create was a great time and served nicely as a relaxing task to complete between exploration, combat, and puzzle solving.
Alongside the varying combat abilities each sibling has, they also have different abilities that set them apart when it comes to exploration. As Greak is the tiniest of the trio, he has the ability to crawl through small spaces, allowing him to get to areas the others can’t. He can also swim, but his ability to do so for long periods underwater is nothing compared to Adara, who can swim underwater for ages, whilst also being blessed with a levitation platforming ability that gives her a short timed hover. Lastly, Raydel is equipped with a hookshot that allows him to reach areas inaccessible to his brother and sister. He cannot swim at all however, meaning that if a body of water needs to be crossed, his siblings must assist by providing him safe passage in the form of a raft.
Each character has pros and cons, which leads to interesting puzzles in which you must use each character’s abilities in order to succeed. Starting with only Greak initially means that puzzles are quite easy to begin with, but as you recruit the helping hand of Adara and Raydel, they get a little more involved. Switching between the three solving puzzles is great fun, but at the same time it brings the game’s biggest issue to the surface. Alternating between characters to use their abilities is fine but having to be responsible for the characters you aren’t controlling isn’t.
Characters that you aren’t currently controlling in Greak don’t have much in the way of intelligence. In fact, they stand around waiting for you to control them. You lead them with the character you’re playing, which in turn essentially allows you to control all three of them at the same time, an idea that sounds cool but immediately feels clumsy and infuriating to control as their various movement styles make platforming a daunting task. Of course, you could control them one by one, but you shouldn’t have to. This issue is at its worst during exploration when each character ends up being far away from one another, as you must manually reunite each character. A simple AI that would allow non-controlled characters to stick alongside you would’ve made this flaw a non-issue, which is why I’m so annoyed that this was the design choice they stuck with.
While annoying in exploration, this oversight rears its ugly head in combat as well, with characters you aren’t controlling being absolute liabilities. You can force the characters to follow the player controlled one into combat, but even in these moments they don’t provide much assistance. Leaving characters behind while you progress with another is a solution that can work for a short period of time, but more often than not your idle characters will be attacked by enemies, and by the time you notice they’ve died and it’s too late. Countless times throughout my playthrough I’d have one of my idle characters killed, which when compounded with the lack of autosave resulted in sizable chunks of progress being lost. At the end of the day, I’m all for the idea of alternating between the characters and using their unique abilities to assist in exploration and puzzle solving, but if the characters aren’t being controlled by the player, then they should be controlled by AI, not left for the player to have to micromanage.
Greak: Memories of Azur could very easily have been a great game, but design blemishes that are apparent when trying to wrestle with its cumbersome micromanagement of the three main characters results in only a good experience. It’s a shame because other facets of the game are well executed, such as the soundtrack, the beautiful hand-drawn art, and the atmosphere that comes from the plagued yet pretty world of Azur. I’d still say that Greak: Memories of Azur is a solid game that is worth a shot, but just be aware that you’ll have to contend with its annoying approach to controlling its characters.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron