Back when Xbox Arcade and PSN titles were booming with creativity, we saw a lot of hand-drawn animation-based platformers released in a short time. In some ways, they really didn’t go away, and that is because there usually is an audience who are happy to go in alone or with a friend to have a nice story-driven experience from time to time. Greak: Memories of Azur is the latest from Navegante Games, looking to fill any early void this generation for that genre. Does this title fall in line with the past big-hitters like Braid and Limbo? Let’s find out.
The storytelling in Greak is really well executed. Players take control of one of three protagonists, and must try to stop an invasion of the Urlags, who are basically a strange alien species who are destroying an entire race. Along with his siblings Adara and Raydel, it is up to our small hero to save the Courines as they set off into an adventure in a stunning world. Yes, it’s a plotline we have seen before, but the way it is told sets Greak: Memories of Azur apart. The narrative builds as you progress, with text and cutscenes giving this tale a storybook vibe of sorts, with a lot of charm and heart applied to fleshing out the meaning behind the dialogue and actions within the game. I found myself feeling fully immersed almost instantly in the rich atmosphere these environments had to offer, and I think fans of titles like Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet and other similar titles will be pleased to know how well Greak actually pulls of bringing its story to life.
With such an interesting plot, my hopes were high for the actual gameplay mechanics of Greak. Instead, I found there was a lot more to be desired when it comes to how our little trio of siblings actually are controlled. You see, the main mechanics of Greak are built like most side-scrolling adventures, where you control your character in a platforming adventure, stopping to solve the occasional puzzle before moving forward. Early on, the game adds in more substance to this, by allowing the player to seamlessly switch from Greak to Adara or Raydel. During these moments, it Is your goal to press switches and open doors, and then guide any controlled characters to the next destination.
It is a very familiar gimmick we have seen before, and for these moments, everything works well enough for one to quickly grasp control and get enjoyment from these sections – as some of the puzzles are very well thought out. That said, Greak’s biggest issue is that all of this is executed so well that it feels like a lost opportunity to have these mechanics without any form of multiplayer or even couch co-op tied in. When you make such a strong gimmick like this where the focus is multiple characters, single player is fine but things kind of get a bit tedious and tired early on, as the game begins to unfold like a never-ending game of escorting, which is definitely not what I believe our noble development team actually intended based on how well the story is executed and tied into the gameplay.
Making matters a little more cumbersome is the combat and control of all three of these heroes. Each one has simple attacks, with Greak able to swing a sword, his sister able to fire projectiles, and on. That is fine as the simplicity of the combat favors the experience, but sadly always feel imprecise. Sometimes it felt like I had to stop everything just to hit an enemy correctly due to the wonky range and hit detection that rarely connects, and in a game built to kind of flow natuarally with its story, it can definitely take you out of the immersion quickly. The inventory system also has issues, as the limited number of items you have compared with what you actually need for a specific section leads to unwanted backtracking. This wouldn’t be a huge issue for some, but it can make it feel like it unnecessarily is padding the length and difficulty, trying to create more substance through limitation rather than allowing the organic length of the title to stand on its own. Other than those qualms, I did enjoy what is here, I just think when you have this type of game you need to create a more fluid experience, and Greak: Memories of Azur always feels like it took one too many shortcuts to get the player from point A to point B.
The visuals are outstanding. The hand-drawn animations truly put you in a world of awe from the start, which is why I think I was so taken back to the shortcomings in the gameplay. This world feels alive, and the minor details from both enemies and the environment make this world with exploring. The cutscenes are just as lovely, with the same attention to detail applied, making the player feel like they are in a really well polished cartoon at times.
The soundtrack captures this atmosphere further, and is the strongest part of the experience as a whole. Warm melodies greet the player in each area, adding layers of depth to the world in a haunting fashion. The sound design takes it a step further, with sound effects adding further personality to the characters and foes alike in a very nostalgic way. The Urlags oddly reminded me a bit of the foes in the old Splatterhouse franchise for the same reason, which is a compliment as their squawks and cries carry the same presence of a lot of great platformers from past eras. Even if the gameplay does have a few issues, the sound is the champion that makes Greak worth the player’s time.
Greak: Memories of Azur has a ton of potential, but never manages to reach it based on its limited scope. With such seamless one-button character transitions, it feels as if someone else should be able to drop in and make this journey feel complete, but instead we have an average adventure with one player doing all the work of three – adding tedium to the entire offering. Sure, there is still a lot of entertainment to be found here as everything is great from a presentation standpoint, but in a new era where other titles have already refined this genre several times over – Greak is one selection that seems to settle for the basics.