Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Azkend. ($2.99, version 1.10)

iTunes Link.

I held off buying Azkend when it first came out because it was a $3 game. $1 games are impulse buys. I've been burned too many times with $3+ games to keep blindly buying them. I then saw on a forum that there was a free online (or it could have been a downloadable) version, and I tried it out. Big mistake. Played it for 30 seconds, closed it out, and bought Azkend immediately. It is that good.

The best part of Azkend is the controls. It's a match 3+ game, but you swipe your finger over like tiles to create a chain and then release your finger to break the tiles. It is oddly satisfying, and one of the best match-3 control schemes I have ever tried (and I've tried a lot of them).

When you first start up the app you get a bit of back story. You found a relic in far Asia and took it back home. As relics tend to do, it brought a curse over your head, which you now wish to get rid of. You are retracing your steps to put the relic back. I find a backstory is always welcomed because it keeps pushing you until the end to see how it all works out.

Right at the beginning you get to select whether you want sounds or not. I don't particularly like this because you have to restart the app to change your choice. This is the first app that does this and I'm curious as to why they chose to handle it this way.

The gameplay is deeper than most match-# games. First you match 3+ tiles to turn their spot blue. Sometimes they're filled with obstacles and you have to turn tiles around them or on them to first break them free, THEN you can turn their spot to blue by matching the item on that tile again. Once you turn the whole board blue, you then get either a talisman piece or a gem at the top of the board and you clear tiles below them to get them to touch the bottom of the screen. The obstacles include steel, ice, and tar. You have to match objects on a tile twice to break through steel, you have to turn tiles around a tile to break through ice, and you have to turn tiles around tar to make it disappear. Take too much time with the tar and it infects adjoining tiles. You also get wildcards that can take the place of any other tile. Sometimes part of the board are locked out and you have to turn tiles around them to unlock them. Sometimes there's holes that make matching more difficult. If you wait a few seconds without making a move, there's two ways the game helps you. It points out possible tiles to match and sometimes it shows you what tiles you have left to turn. It would be nice to be able to turn these suggestions on or off.

From the main menu you can select Play, Instructions, and Options. Instructions cover just the basics (Talismans are not covered here), but at least are nicely illustrated. There's just a couple of options: To turn the music on or off, and the sound effects on or off. There's also some credits information under options, and the version number. Once you press play you have two modes to try out: Adventure and Survival. Adventure mode has a total of 70 levels. It will take approximately two and a half hours of game time to complete, given you don't fail any levels the first time around. Survival it just what it sounds like: Keep going at it until the timer runs out. As you progress the timer resets back about 10 clock minutes (out of 60).

If you have a game in progress you can continue it or start a new game. If you were in the middle of a stage and you either exited out to the iDevice's springboard or selected Save & Exit to go back to the game menu, your progress in the current stage is saved, which is really nice. The "world map" shows how many stages you've done, how many stages you have left, how many stages you have gold-starred (completed the stage in a certain amount of time or less), Achievements, Talismans, Play the current level, or Save & Exit.

The Achievements page is pretty detailed. It shows how many Achievements (out of seven) you have obtained, how many tiles matched, total time played, total levels completed, Talismans activated (power-ups used), Expert Levels Rank (out of 100%), and longest chain. Clicking on each Achievement shows a mini-description. They include:

- Completing 40 levels with expert rank
- Strung together 24 or more tiles
- Played over 5 hours
- Unleashed the power of Talismans over 200 times
- Summoned 9 or more lightning bolts with one move
- Strung together 12 or more tiles
- Played 20 levels

The last four are relatively easy to get, while the first three will take some time.

Talismans are special tiles. Match 4 or more to activate them. They include:

- Explode tiles around it (more tiles matched, bigger explosion)
- Shoots a destroying (i.e. tile turning) ray of light from the last selected item
- Gives you a lightning rune (more on this later)
- Calls a falling star to help you turn tiles
- Summon a destroying hammer
- Lightning arcs zaps multiple random items on board
- Destroys all items underneath the activated item (my favorite, as if you get this at the top of the board it really helps your progress)
- Destroys all extinction tiles on board

At the game screen you have your game progress to the lower left, the timer to the lower right, and your lightning meter at the bottom center of the screen. Tapping on any of them brings up the in-game menu, which includes the option to go back to the game, access to the paltry options menu, access to the instructions page, and the option to save and exit back to the main screen.

Every time you match at least one-non-blue tile, you get a lightning bolt added to your lightning meter. Once you get five, you get some lightning strikes that turn tiles.

As far as sounds, there are clicking noise when you select menu items. There's also different sound effects during the game, depending on whether you are matching tiles, using a Talisman, or obtaining a gem piece. There some Indiana Jones-esque music. I found (through using an iPod Touch 2G's speakers) that in order to be able to hear the music properly I had to turn the volume all the way up, but then the sound effects were too loud. It would be great to have different sliders for the music and sound effects.

The biggest complaint I have with the game is that you cannot replay a specific stage. I would love to be able to go back to any stage I already complete in the Adventure game and re-do it over and over again until I get gold. You can only go once through each stage as you go through the game. Hopefully this gets added to a future version of the game!

You cannot go wrong with this $3 game. You can spend an easy three hours on this on the first go-around and then go back to it for more. I can see myself replaying the main adventure mode two or three times, and that's 4-7 hours right there It would extend the replayability if you could re-do individual stages. The Survival mode lets you jump right in to the main gameplay. Highly recommended, as it has polished graphics, satisfying controls, inventive gameplay, nice music, and different modes to keep you occupied for hours on end.

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