It’s soon apparent that Greak: Memories of Azure is more fairy tale than video game, and it’s filled to the brim with charm and style – and oodles of frustration.
Not everything about the game is immediately understandable. How you’re supposed to achieve objectives seems broadly written, the incredibly tiny hitboxes seem wildly different for you and your enemies, and the vague sense of direction that you get from the “map” is of limited use.
Greak can technically be classed as a side-scrolling platformer, but it contains many hearty handfuls of elements from other games, each with their own unique perspective. The art style in particular, being hand drawn animations, is lovely and draws you into the true essence of the game, like you’ve somehow stumbled into a storybook world full of strange characters on a mystical adventure.
You take control of three siblings on an epic journey, each with their own unique sets of skills, attacks and jump mechanics. Greak, Adura and Raydel each bring something to the table that will suit a variety of different game styles. You can choose to control the characters on their own, or select everyone to move in unison – or at least that’s the idea, as each of them move in incredibly different ways, which can be a lot to manage. You’ll need to be good with each of the characters individually, and collectively, to make the most out of this game.
At the heart of this character management conundrum are a number of single player puzzles with a multiplayer twist. Mostly involving standing one of the siblings on a pressure pad or operating mirrors to aim beams of light, while the others in the party move ahead to unlock unreachable areas. Some of the early puzzles are quite straightforward, although later levels may have you scratching your head to a nub as you break out a protractor to calculate the complex sequence of angles and timing required to complete them. There’s a particular word for the designers of these harder levels, and it’s as unpleasant as it is unprintable…
Combat, one of the core game elements, seems easy at first, at least when you have single enemies coming at you in a nice, orderly fashion. You can choose to fight solo or work as a team to take them down. Then you face the first boss, who is more than happy to disabuse you of your childish single-hero notions. Once you get into a scrap with the big baddies, you’re forced to fight as a team. You’ll need to balance the characters’ different attack styles, as well as the frustratingly different jumping patterns to defeat your opponents. The safest method for attack seems to be “all out” – overwhelming your enemies quickly and efficiently, before they have an opportunity to strike back. There’s also a dodge function to avoid enemy attacks, but once again this works differently for each sibling. It can be maddening trying to just move your three characters in the same direction at once.
Now what would an epic quest be without a few dead ends? Locked areas are plentiful and will require you to progress through the main story before you can access them. The map system is of little help, as it leans more towards style over substance and generally only tells you which of the larger map areas are connected. You can fast travel (for a price) if you get too lost, but it’s easier and cheaper to backtrack to the closest exit and start over again. It’s time consuming at first, although this smooths out a little once you learn your way through the levels and start to recognise signs that a puzzle may lay ahead.
“Now what would an epic quest be without a few dead ends?”
The most poignant moments of frustration in Greak are when you die and need to be reset to your last manual save point, of which there are painfully few. This means you may have to complete puzzles multiple times if you’re unable to progress past particularly difficult enemies or areas. It can also mean losing significant minutes of progression and item collection. The lesson here is to save at every single opportunity. We can’t stress this enough… Save yo’ game!
The magic of Greak: Memories of Azur is in the simply wonderful storybook setting. Its light touch dialogue and carefully crafted hand-drawn animations are truly delightful. It’s ever-present charm, and excellently suitable soundtrack, ultimately make for a relaxing game experience. And while it ticks all of the cute boxes, there is a fiendishly difficult game lurking in the shadows.
Greak: Memories of Azur is a fantastical mash of pieces of games – bits of an RPG, splashes of a platformer, a healthy dose of puzzlers – and it possesses a lovely art style similar to indie darling Hollow Knight. It’s a wonderfully complex and surprising package that wants to take you on a magical journey.
Greak: Memories of Azur is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S and Switch.