Greak: Memories of Azur is a delightful little game. Visually reminiscent of the Ori series, it’s a platform-puzzler set in the beautiful, hand-drawn world of Azur, where the Courines (your folk) and the Urlags (baddies) are locked in an ongoing war. A little predictably, it’s your role to save the day, in this case by helping a dwindling village of survivors flee invasion in an (initially kaput) airship.
Thankfully, they start you off gently. You run through a scene-setting tutorial, take a bit of a tumble, dream vividly of rescuing your sister - a sample of the multiple-character gameplay unlocked later - then wake up in a strange bed with a sore head. Rough beginnings for our pointy-eared friend.
Introducing the protagonists:
- Greak: the youngest of the litter and a bit of an all-rounder, he’s got a variety of sword attacks, a bow & arrow, a roll-dodge, can swim and crawl through narrow spaces
- Adara: the apprentice mage and middle sibling, she fires magic orbs and can hover rather than double-jump like the others, dodges by jumping backwards, and is the strongest swimmer
- Raydel: the big brother, he uses a sword and can block attacks and traps with his shield, oddly can’t swim, but has a rather cool grappling hook to help with combat and exploration
The game spans a number of quests and side-missions, and feels split into three rough chunks: initially you’re only in control of Greak and your main concern is finding Adara; once you’re a duo you begin to feel like part of the bigger narrative; and having finally recruited Raydel you’re ready to kick some ass, and save the world. It drip-feeds you new areas and abilities, and lets you learn the ropes of a slightly unusual control system at a very comfortable pace.
About that control system. At face value this game feels like a couch co-op open goal, but quite quickly you realise that alternating between the characters, rather than synchronising them, is what makes Greak interesting. They could’ve made a 3-person version of all the same mechanics we’ve seen in Brothers and A Way Out but the single-player puppetmaster approach really works, and I can’t think of another game like it. Sure, it’ll occasionally cause your head to spin, but playing solo makes this a much stronger puzzler than it would’ve been otherwise.
It goes like this: You can freely alternate between them using the directional buttons, and when the other members of your gang are within range, L makes them shadow you and R draws them towards you. While holding either L or R your button-presses (jump, attack, etc) command them, so after a bit of adjustment you can become pretty adept at spinning 2-3 plates, and there are times when it’s really satisfying to use. For me, some of that control went out the window during boss fights, and while there’s always a technique or weakness to exploit that’ll help you get the upper hand, I’d invariably resort to an inelegant button-mashy derivation of it to get the job done.
Combat is generally good though. There are only a modest handful of enemies to take care of as you progress, from aggressive bats to flail-wielding Urlag guards, and while you couldn’t call it sophisticated there’s easily enough variety to set it above many of its peers.
Puzzling is where the game shines, with nicely balanced obstacles that mostly revolve around helping your differently-abled troupe navigate the landscape. Melt ice blocks with flaming torches, raise gates and bridges, reflect light beams into switches, push floating rafts and destroy magical barriers; you get the idea. Each character also has a timed skill challenge and I wish they’d included a few more of these, but on the whole there’s a satisfying blend of mental and digital dexterity.
The art style is what grabbed me first about Greak, and it really is exceptional. The characters and environments are absolutely full of charm, animation is smooth as silk, and everything from weather effects to the occasional animated cutscenes are lovely to look at. The music adds depth too, orchestral and dynamic, though naturally limited so you will hear the same tracks over and over; fortunate, then, that they’re all great. With the exception of a tiny gripe with the dialogue windows which I’ll get to in a moment, Navegante Entertainment have set an extremely high bar for an indie title, and the presentation is very nearly flawless.
There’s a lot of written dialogue in Greak and it’s consistently excellent, builds a world around the core story, differs depending on which character you’re using, and provides a nice opportunity to change pace between quests. At times it’s a bit earnest, and given Team17’s roots and the playful visuals I half-expected a few quips here and there, but the characters you come across are clearly too focused on their predicament to provide light entertainment, and I suppose that’s fair enough. One niggle of note: the text builds in type-writer style with a sound effect and jumpy animation that I found quite annoying, and if you accidentally choose the same dialogue option, you can’t back out of the branch or skip quickly to the end either. Minor, but over a session of a couple of hours, it does begin to grate.
And while I’m complaining, the only other notable irritation is inventory management. A classic pitfall for most genres really, but nowadays it feels totally unnecessary to stop actually playing the game to shuffle your items around; something which - given the overabundance of collectibles and absurdly small carrying capacity - happened to me a lot.
I finished Greak in around 15 hours, and at least a couple of those were spent on the final labyrinthine dungeon, which totally threw me to begin with. Your characters each start in a separate section, but encounter portals that allow them to swap places, meaning that gradually you can traverse sections or unlock barriers, reuniting them for the finale. At first it feels daunting and without a map, difficult to orientate yourself within, but this is a quality game designed by a seriously skilled team, so with a bit of patience and persistence, it all fell into place. The ending is slightly abrupt and there’s next to no replay value, so I was a little disappointed when it was over, but I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure and will be first in line when they (fingers crossed) release the sequel.