Azkend [Free / HD] took me by surprise—a gem matching/hidden object game that devoured my hours and my phone's battery until I'd burned through everything it had to offer. After that, Azkend 2: The World Beneath [$2.99 / Universal] shouldn't have been much of a surprise, but it was.

Trouble is, the surprise wasn't good. The bones of the game are still there, and it's prettier than ever with Retina graphics. But where the original sucked me in so hard I forgot to put my phone down until it was done, I keep dropping the sequel in frustration.

All the elements are in place. This game, like its predecessor, is split into two parts. The first is a matching puzzle where you chain identical icons together to flip a hex grid board. The second is a hidden-object style puzzle where you match small segments of an image to their positions in a larger landscape. The two intertwine in a sweet and simple adventure story.

In Azkend, the matching game was a blast. The chaining mechanics allowed players to set up and execute outrageously long chains, something I found super satisfying. Powerups were unlocked bit by bit and expanded your capabilities like crazy. The powerups made it back into Azkend 2, but the satisfaction is gone. The board layouts are painfully constricted. Long chains aren't usually possible, no matter how carefully you set them up. In fact, there comes a point when you're lucky if you can make chains at all.

No joke, about a quarter of the way through the game I began to run into levels where the board would shuffle with no moves left, I'd make a single move, and it would shuffle again. This kept happening. At first I thought I'd forgotten how to play effectively, but when there's only enough room on the board for one or two matches in a row you just have to accept that something's gone terribly wrong.

As a result, most levels are an exercise in tedium. You rarely get to set up great chains or plan ahead to set off tesla coil explosions. You hunt down the single match that's hiding on the board and pray that when it shuffles you'll be blessed with a setup that works. There's simply no room to strategize.

This doesn't mesh well with the new goals that have been scattered throughout the Adventure mode levels. Each of these goals requires you match things in unusual ways. Fog and fire can be cleared by matching adjacent tiles (and fire spreads if you don't succeed), bugs get hurt by matches and lightning, flowers need to be matched before they lose their petals, and everything is on a tight time limit. That would all be great if there were room for strategy, but instead it just makes survival even more of a struggle.

The hidden object sections are lovelier than ever, with pretty, animated vistas, a robust soundtrack and passable voiceovers. And there are other ways to play. The Time Challenge mode is super fun—it's a race against the clock to clear wide-open boards over and over until the timer runs down. It reminds me of the good old days. You can also play through the game's levels a second time for timed awards in the Medals Challenge mode.

It's hard to recommend Azkend 2 in its current state. The board layouts are too frustrating, and the game never opens up enough to make the struggle worthwhile. It's a simple problem in a game that would otherwise be excellent, but it's also an insidious one. It's hard to get past levels that just aren't any fun, you know?

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Dave Ewing

    Loved the original, but the constant board shuffling drives me nuts. I hate the bug levels too -they need the perfect combination of luck and speed and can take 20+ attempts. Nearly finished it though... it's still a good game, but not as good as the first.

  • Steven Lewis

    Yep. This review is spot on.

  • Bea Ehrlich

    Spot on with the constant reshuflles, but the hidden object section is a huge fail on the iphone. The images are too indistinct to make out any details. Please bring back the clear images in Azkend 1.

  • Finandir

    To me, the constricted levels aren't as much of a problem. I haven't
    seen the constant reshuffling, though it can be challenging to get
    through some of the levels with major choke points. That problem tends
    to be more of an issue with the fogged in areas until they get cleared.
    The power ups and chain lightning do allow those areas to be opened,
    though it sometimes takes a few tries.

    As for chains, I get decent chains on a fairly regular basis simply by
    focusing on clearing shorter groupings to set up longer chains. As the
    game progresses, choosing which power up to use can be a key to getting
    through some of the levels.

    I haven't finished the game yet, so I can't say whether  this becomes more of an issue toward the last third of the game or not, though.

  • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

    I made it about half way through (Well, maybe a bit less than that.) before the board shuffles became a major issue for me too. It's so frustrating when you've only got seconds left, with whatever item you're trying to get to the bottom of the board and the only matches you're getting are stragglers dropping in the opposite top corner.

    I'm not sure how things went so wrong, since the matching balance in the original Azkend seemed so perfect. I'm just flat out stuck on a bug level now, and not sure I have the patience to keep banging my head against it.

    Sucks too, because the original Azkend is easily high on my list of all time favorite iOS games.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/NissaCam Nissa Campbell

      It opens up a tiny bit before the end, but not really enough to make it worthwhile. Play the time challenge instead - it doesn't use powerups but it's a hell of a lot more fun.

  • jay401

    Thanks for the honest reviews and opinions of this game. I loved the first one and will be holding off on this one until we see how the developer handles the feedback.

  • http://profiles.google.com/davepicardi Dave Picardi

    The original Azkend is the FAAD today. Nice pick up!

  • 007JamesBond007

    Great game, i had no probs, its much better than the first game, more challenging - true it gets tough but with the aid of powerups, its not impossible! :)

  • 007JamesBond007

    The game has been updated/revised, its much do-able now than before, the last level can be tough though, u must use the correct power-up! :)

Azkend 2 HD - The World Beneath Reviewed by Nissa Campbell on . Rating: 3