Tuesday 10 July 2018

Aztec Challenge (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Robert T. Bonifacio
Publisher: Cosmi
Released: 1982

Aztec Challenge is an endless runner that bears no resemblance to the popular Commodore 64 title of the same name (1983).

Your mission is to complete an endurance-based obstacle course in order to escape being sacrificed by the Aztec priests during their annual ritual to the gods! There's seven phases that can be played with 1-2 players, and depending on which direction is held on the joystick, three jump types are available (High, Medium and Low); once you've lost all four lives it's Game Over. Phase 1 begins as a bog-standard endless runner, as your character slowly plods along. It certainly doesn't show much initial promise, but things start to heat up in Phase 2; here, the game starts to resemble Flappy Bird (2013, iOS) with its vertically tiered hazards that you need to jump through; it's essential that you learn to use the three different jump types, and once you start to recognise these patterns there's a certain mindless enjoyment to the action, even if it is highly repetitive. Phase 4 is where things fall apart, as the game starts to demand absolute pixel-perfect precision; it tasks you with jumping between platforms while avoiding the fire below which is seemingly impossible even if you press the button at the very edge of the structure. Unlike the previous phases, its gameplay mechanics are unintuitive and even the manual only gives vague hints that are completely useless. As maddening as this is though, a really nice feature is the ability to continue on your current phase with a full stock of lives. I also like that points are received each time you jump, as it adds a risk-reward element where you can try to leap repeatedly between hazards to bump up your score. Another fantastic idea is the competitive co-op mode which is unique and provides a totally new way to tackle the steep challenge.

Aztec Challenge provides an interesting insight to the beginnings of the endless runner genre, but despite some neat ideas, its obtuse and rigid style is a real turn-off the further you delve into it. The level design could have used some refinement too, and once you've spent 30-60 minutes with the game there's little reason to return.

Random trivia: An updated version of the game was developed by Robert T. Bonifacio and released on the Cosmi label in 1983.

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