Wednesday 11 July 2018

Aztec Challenge (Atari 8-bit review)

Developer: Robert T. Bonifacio
Publisher: Cosmi
Released: 1983

Aztec Challenge is an endless runner and an updated version of the 1982 Atari 8-bit game.

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. The most striking upgrade is the visuals which are markedly improved from the 1982 version; objects are now easily distinguishable from the backgrounds, and the sprites have more frames of animation. Gameplay wise, the action has been polished with responsive controls and better level design. For starters, there's now multiple paths where you can either take the lower or higher route, giving you more freedom in your approach. The Phase 4 Fire Caves level is improved too and is actually beatable due to better spacing between the platforms. Later stages do little to enhance the earlier concepts, but Phase 5 does play like a cool outtake from Circus Charlie (1984, Arcades) where you dodge flaming batons as they move upwards. There's also an instant replay feature after each completed phase and while its not particularly necessary, it is a neat technical achievement. A clever mechanic is how points are received each time you jump, as this adds a risk-reward element where you can repeatedly leap between hazards to bump up your score. Another nice feature is the ability to continue on your current phase when you run out of lives. The collision detection is slightly off though, and it's infuriating when you inch towards a platform edge and inexplicably lose a life due to the game thinking you've clipped through.

The original version of Aztec Challenge was a huge disappointment, but this revised edition is fantastic and shows how clever and addictive the core concept is. The developer managed to realise its true potential, and although there are a few annoying bugs there's nothing here that detracts from the fun, yet challenging gameplay.

Random trivia: The game was later republished on the Ariola, Top Ten Hits, and US Gold labels.

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