Review – Greak: Memories of Azur
While AAA blockbusters are churning out big budget blow-outs with top-of-the-line 3D fidelity, indies are embracing other styles. From harkening back to PlayStation-era graphics, to pixel art and gorgeous hand-drawn environments, such as those found in Greak: Memories of Azure. It’s that distinct pop of colour from the latter that sets it apart and in some cases, above the big boy releases. Now, I’m a huge fanatic for side-scrollers as it calls back to my youth. I’m in my thirties after all, and I grew up when the industry was still figuring itself out.
To further prove my point, the bosses in Greak: Memories of Azur rely heavily on attack patterns. In other words, it’s very trial and error but not to an obnoxious level. In fact, it fills me with childish joy to see so many harnessing the old ways with off the charts quality in some cases. So, when I first stumbled on this game, I was excited. It had me salivating, so naturally, I had to throw out my name for a chance to cover it. Starring two brothers and their sister, you’ll take them on an adventure through the plague infested domain. What awaits our trio? Well, I plan on answering that very question – spoiler, a lot of creepy things.
Before I delve deep into specifics, it’s imperative to note that the plotline is nothing special – it’s generic at best. It tells of an island that’s ravaged by a plague, giving birth to sentient swamp creatures. Your task is to take the inhabitants of a camp and escape the tainted land. As I’m sure you’ve concluded, there isn’t much meat to these literary bones. Moreover, nothing unexpected ever happens. I generally like being shocked in some manner, even if it’s pure silliness but that wasn’t here – it’s textbook story-telling.
Never fear, though, because it’s not all doom and gloom. The tale it does tell is endearing and has glimmers of genuine charm. Furthermore, it does an excellent job at infusing the characters with a degree of individuality. There’s noticeable effort placed into giving them an identity and that, frankly, makes me giddy. The three siblings, particularly, are distinct: Greak is childish, Adara is focused, and Raydel is strictly business.
One aspect I truly appreciated was the attention to detail. Look, bluntly put, Greak: Memories of Azur wasn’t starved for a narrative. Gameplay is king in this genre, but it seems Navegante Entertainment refused to settle. So, imagine my surprise when NPCs began to organically react to whomever led my tiny trope of three. If I had newly recruited someone and spoke to the townspeople with them, they’d introduce themselves.
That’s probably my biggest pet peeve in video games with any semblance of dialogue. I hate that despite never meeting, the NPC carries on as if the team member was always there. I loved that this game acknowledged newcomers as such because it went far in giving life to this pile of code. To add to this, those same NPCs alternate between takes each time you complete the current quest. One moment they’re slamming metal with a hammer and the next, they’re conversing with the scouts that protect the camp. Everything I touched on above comes together to give this little borough soul and life. Although, if I had to point to a baffling flaw, it would be that terrible ending. What a wet fart it was.
The gameplay loop maintains that classic side-scroller fun that one comes to expect. You’ll journey through forests, waterfalls, and ruins, murdering a plethora of enemies along the way. In Greak: Memories of Azur, there’s both quests and sidequests to complete. Despite side ones traditionally being optional, 95% of them contribute to the advancement of the plot. These can range from clearing an area or gathering the requested items. Then, there’s the last 5% that, instead, teaches Greak new techniques. It was during my initial session that I quickly learned that these are missable.
Now, I’d normally be up in arms about this because it pointlessly locks away content for no discernible reason. I know this is something older games did as well but some things are left in the past. The truth of the matter is I wasn’t fussed about it because those aforementioned techniques are, well, pointless. All but one, sort of. See, I struggled pulling off jumping slashes, though, that could be attributed to my atrocious reflexes. An upwards slash is, eventually, taught and it’s pretty nifty. The issue is that it’s seldom employed and after two playthroughs, I can count the amount of times I used it on a solitary hand.
As we’re learning, there’s a few features that aren’t necessarily fleshed out, but there’s also plenty that intrigued me. First, every strike was fluent. Every sword swing and magical projectile soared smoothly through the air. Character movement was much the same, resembling a hot knife through butter. Second is the rather ingenious tag team mechanic that allows you to control every character simultaneously. That likely begs a couple of questions – how does it exactly work, for one. Well, decently, but not perfectly.
In order to even team up, a lone button press will emit an aura, binding everyone nearby. Afterwards, any action taken gets an equal and identical reaction – if you jump, they do as well. A few puzzles make use of this but nothing that ever proves extensive or brain busting. Now, if, during your excursion, your companions get separated from you, holding down another button will attract them back. This is swell because it eliminates the tedium of having to constantly bounce between the siblings for minimal movement. One other perk to this is being able to group up and annihilate my gooey foes. Because weapons are unable to be permanently strengthened, this was a suitable substitute – strength in numbers and all that. So, you’re probably wondering where the cons are; I’ll tell you.
Frankly speaking, the tag team mechanic isn’t implemented very well and if you’re not paying attention, it will cost you. For example, one irritating feature is if one sibling perishes, even if they’re A.I controlled, then the game is finished. The A.I isn’t even that bad, but this still caused quite a few unfair deaths. The first instance I’d like to discuss happened during a section of light platforming. See, each sibling has some sort of way to extend their jump – both Greak and Raydel can do a double, while Adara straight up levitates. It’s the disparity between the variations that are troublesome, particularly, when leaping between one tiny landmass to another – it’s hit or miss. There were times when the lass made it, but the lads didn’t, sometimes plummeting into the water below. Greak wasn’t bothered by this, but Raydel, well, he can’t swim and drowns.
If there are obstacles added in the way, the most optimal way to get across is one at a time – thus, the second bout of unfair deaths is born. Whenever I’d leave one of the siblings alone, they’d be left vulnerable to assault. If I wasn’t paying attention, they’d be killed offscreen and I’d lose progress. Thankfully, Greak: Memories of Azur is very generous with its save points, so I never lost an excessive amount of progress. There still around a half hour discrepancy to the frustration isn’t completely gone, but it’s definitely negated.
Finally, the final cause of unfair deaths occurs predominantly during boss fights. You see, the tag mechanic itself has a terrible habit of disengaging at the most inopportune times. Pausing, checking the map, or even opening your inventory to access health items. It’s the latter factor that’s, notably, most annoying. Healing isn’t instantaneous, taking a second or two before taking effect. While waiting for the beneficial properties, an enemy could easily strike you down and that’s it – game over.
I can’t begin to describe the adrenaline rush I get when I pause at the last conceivable moment to heal. Knowing that I just barely cheated the grim reaper is part of the fun. To have that snatched away like this is odd and I get that it’s to give the illusion of digestion, it isn’t functional in a fast-paced environment. There were an embarrassing amount of times that I opened my bag, ate whatever I had cooked myself, and then jumped away in a panic because the enemy was about to attack. Needless to say, both or one of the siblings stayed behind, utterly helpless. The reason I’m expunging so much about this singular mechanic is because it’s not bad but because of how it works, it feels clunky. It’ll never be to an unplayable degree either. Fortunately, the vast majority of these issues can be mitigated by choosing to control Adara. Since her levitation requires more precision than her brother’s double jump, there’s less room for error.
I was pleasantly astonished by the musical score in Greak: Memories of Azur. In no world was I expecting such a beautiful, orchestral symphony of instruments. Then again, with such vibrant, in-your-face, gorgeous hand-drawn visuals that looking back, I should fully expected it. Every note sounded crisp and soothing, washing a tranquil feeling over me. And yet, there was a strong sense of adventure interlaced with each strum. What especially held my ears in a tight headlock of pure bliss was the stellar ambiance.
Look, I’m known for always pointing rain out in my reviews and, perhaps, that’s my obsession. It’s just that nailing such a sound isn’t easy and when it’s done so authentically, it deserves recognition. This game has phenomenal pitter-patter and relaxed me to my very core. I was consistently slipping into a serene state of mind. That is, until, the ugly head of the tag team clunkiness and unfair deaths appeared. At times, it undermined the wonderful musical prowess. Overall, however, this was a delight to listen to and every instrument – be it string or wind based – all sounded bloody spectacular.
Very few games are able to convince me to play through twice, let alone consecutively, but Greak: Memories of Azur managed with no problem. If that’s not a testament to how fun the adventure was, then I don’t know what is. The world felt alive, with NPC’s all having a routine and acting like more than bunches of code. I loved that when Greak would brag about his siblings to others in the camp, they’d mention having heard a lot about them upon meeting. This seems like a sturdy, strong foundation has been laid to create a possible sequel with more ideas and a more fleshed out story. If that were to happen, of course, I hope Team17 works out the kinks in the tag team mechanic.
As is, it’s clunky and if, like me, you’re forgetful, the game punishes you with an unfair death. Healing having a delayed activation is a puzzling choice that has no place in a game that isn’t afraid to go fast. For anyone that loves the sounds of nature, those are all here at full effect. The rain is authentic, while the sounds of night ring true to its real world counterparts. There’s a lot to like here, so it should come as no surprise that the pros far outweigh the cons.
The graphical fidelity is simply beautiful. The hand-drawn aesthetic fits perfectly with what the game is. The colours are enough to make one smile.
It follows the tried and true formula of a side-scrolling action game. Some of the mechanics were intriguing to play with, but their less than stellar functionality holds it back.
The music was unexpectedly great with a full damn orchestra. What truly gets my gander going was the near flawless sounds of nature. It sounded authentic and made me sleepy – I love rain.
I played it two consecutive times to completion, enough said. While there are frustrating moments at first, you learn to adapt accordingly. I loved the old school thought process behind the bosses too.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Greak: Memories of Azur is available now on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Greak: Memories of Azur was provided by the publisher.