This is what happens when you listen to the ancients!
Destiny can really put a cramp in your style. It doesn't matter if you have aspirations of being a dancer or a street performer or even a monkey's uncle. "Your destiny forbids it!" So says the blind elderly guy who smells of mildew and fancies wearing the ears of dead animals around his neck.
Do you go against the grain, be a rebel and open a backpacking shop in Colorado? Or do you concede and follow the stupid "divine" path that was supposedly laid out at the beginning of time by the ancients? Ah, ancients shmancients. Dead people should mind their own business.
But not all of the chosen decide to defy the prophecies. Microsoft's action adventure Azurik: Rise of Perathia tells the story of Azurik, a young mage apprentice who openly embraces his destiny and has been entrusted with the safety of the sacred elemental forces - earth, water, fire and air. The game brings familiar gameplay and nice level design to the Xbox, but the first half of this adventure is pretty lame and the character animations are pretty stiff. They can't all move like a sex machine!
Azurik begins with a training sequence of you channelling the elemental forces to bring about varying effects. But right after the training sequence, the ambitious mage Balthizar sacks your fanciful dojo, pilfering the conduits that harness and help you focus these elements. Plus, he kills your magical Sensei in the process. Stupid infidels. And so begins your quest to catch Balthizar and restore the elements before their absence causes worldwide repercussions.
To accomplish the task at hand, you must travel between the different elemental lands that make up Perathia. Each land houses it's respective element. Since they were all stolen, you're left with a miniscule list of martial arts techniques performed with a double-bladed staff.
This really sucks, because the game's primary shtick is the ability to combine the different elemental powers to great effect. But you begin your adventure with none and aren't able to combine them until about halfway through the game, which is a terrible design flaw.
When you finally get your goodies, it all works out intuitively. Each of the colored buttons on the Xbox controller represent a different element (blue = water, red = fire, etc.) By holding down the left trigger and pressing one of the colored buttons, you can activate various armors or power up your staff with the different elements. Unfortunately, you don't shoot fire or water from your staff - it only increases the damage inflicted while it's powered up.
Once you've procured all the elements you can combine them (water + fire = a super heated steam blade). There are a nice number of combinations and they come in handy for dispatching specific enemies.
Of course, there is a limit to your elemental juices. A good portion of the gameplay has Azurik running around Perathia desperately searching for jewels to keep his elemental powers fueled and ready. It's kind of lame and unimaginative.
But the level design obviously took some thought. Azurik features huge areas with many nooks and blocked passages that lead to even more massive areas with more nooks and paths to traverse. It reminds me of the areas in the original Tomb Raider that seemed to contain worlds within worlds. It's really quite nice.
The game's graphics are solid and well done. Textures are colorful and detailed. The indigenous life is varied and weird. I especially like the cute bovine Norehts that are harmless during the daylight hours only to grow horns, big teeth and a taste for Perathian blood when night falls.
Too bad none of the creatures are very smart. They often just stand around waiting for you to whack 'em. They're only aggressive when you get close to them and their attacks are few and boring.
To make matters worse, the character animations suck. The game's inhabitants have a very stiff way of moving around - Azurik in particular. His animations seem to be missing frames, giving his attacks no fluidity or smoothness in their execution. This is also true for jumping, but with the added hindrance of floaty physics to throw off your timing. Azurik moves like he should be treated for arthritis. That boy needs to stretch.
Thankfully, controlling him is decent, even with that baby's head Microsoft is calling a control pad. There are two attack buttons, a jump, and roll/dodge button as well as pretty smart auto-targeting. But the camera in general isn't great. The right analog stick and the D-pad controls your camera, which will annoyingly pan around at the most inopportune moments. The right trigger button snaps it back to a third-person view, which is odd. You'll spend about as much time fighting the camera as you will bad guys.
Azurik: Rise of Perathia is a relatively unexciting first stab at the action-adventure market. It's not in the same company as Jak & Daxter or even Soul Reaver 2. What really puts the hurt on this game is the lack of any real challenge or fun. Sure, the levels are pretty to look at, but the fighting is bland and it takes entirely too long to get to the mildly interesting bits. Stiff character animation and bad NPC AI easily push this adventure into the rental section.