Thursday, 17 July 2014

Chapter XVIII: The Gold of the Aztecs

It's very hard to feel the same sense of wonder as when we first started playing videogames. Growing up it’s obviously the main culprit but I'm sure there are other reasons. One of the most obvious ones is how easy and forgivable games have become. There are even games nowadays that let us skip parts of the games to just enjoy the story. What at first seems like a charitable thing to do, it just contributes to the feel that the game world isn't that big and while exploring everything the game has to offer we are emptying the mysterious space that used to be our imagination.

One of the few games released in the last few years that managed to capture that same sense of wonder as the games of yore was Dark Souls. Besides the now famous harsh difficulty of the game, it delivered the story in small enigmatic snippets and had terrific art direction in order to deliver one off the most atmospheric games of all time. I still haven't finished the game, but I reckon I'm close enough. Still, I don't want to finish. I still want to let some part of that universe unknown to me. I want it to keep existing without me so I can visit its vast expanses in my dreams like some sort of modern day Randolph Carter.

There were many games back in the glorious days of the Amiga that favoured those very same emotions. One of the first examples that come to mind is The Gold of the Aztecs. I do remember the intro clearly as the eerie music that accompanied it. Our protagonist is being dropped in Central America in search of a treasure. Right before the game begins, I remember a little map showing all the levels in miniature, Ghosts n' Goblins style. Then when the game started reality hit me. The game was hard as balls; we were never going to get to explore all the cool sightings of the intro. Still, every new screen that we got to was a triumph and I could never stop to wonder of what was coming next.

I also do remember the controls being kind of clunky and the overall movements of the protagonist a bit jerky. That's quite a big red flag telling me that I shouldn't spoil my memories and play this game, but I will do it anyway.

The intro sequence is still as marvellous as I remembered it. It’s simple but very effective, and the music sets the mood perfectly. It gives that aura of mystery that is lacking in many contemporary games, especially when it comes to big blockbusters. But even better than the intro music is the one on the main menu. It has very subtle tribal feel that kind of makes me remember Shadow of The Beast 2 and Voodoo Nightmare. There’s also a nice animation of women giving tribute to their goat lord under the menu options, which is a nice detail.

So far so good, everything is exactly as I remember it, even the nice little map of our journey, which is accompanied by another cool tune. All those corridors and traps through an ancient temples certainly made my imagination flare up when I was 9 years old, and I wish I could get some of that innocence back, at least when I’m playing videogames. Like Picasso once said “I spent my early years trying to paint like an adult, and the rest of my life to do it like a child would”. Or something like that.

Death by trunk. Not the most honourable way to go...
How many games were ruined during those early Amiga years because of silly difficulty levels? Too many to count surely, and The Gold of The Aztecs should be on the top of those wasted opportunities. This could have been a great action adventure, if were not for some design flaws that exist to just punish the player over and over again.

Controlling the main character is weird, and I’m not talking about his strange look that combines a woman’s head, a ripped guy torso and a redneck hat. This was made in the eighties when bands like Poison and Skid Row were huge, so people were overall a bit confused about gender issues and style choices. While there are some annoyances like the need to holster the gun before shooting, I eventually got used to it, for the most part. What is intolerable is the awful hit detection and the enemies constant respawning. Concerning the former, there isn’t a big difference between what happened in the game and what could have happened. For instance, forget about jumping over enemies’ heads and arrows, yes, I know it sounds silly, and the game designers probably thought the same, because even if you make a clean jump and don’t hit anything, the main character immediately dies the minute he touches the floor.

This is a great looking stunt, and sure it worth of losing one life for it
And what about the infinite enemy respawning problem? As if snakes weren’t unpleasant enough, in this game they just keep coming, and don’t even try about jumping over them, they probably exhale an aura of poison that kills you instantly. Ultimately this screen, together with the one with carnivorous plants, made me lose something like thirty lives altogether. I think there’s a slight arrogance every time I start a game thinking that I’ve grown up a lot and that it’s going to be a pushover. Even after all this games I always get this feeling, and at least I hope this game finally taught me something, which is “You are old, and you suck”.

As far as silly deaths in this game go, being bitten in the butt takes the cake
I have to write something nice about the technical aspects of the game. The ambience is spot on, and besides the aforementioned music, the graphics are very pleasant for such an early game. There’s even a cool death screen, which is something that was quite common during the Amiga years. This can’t hold a candle to that awesome Shadow of the Beast II death scene, but as far as horrible, painful and agonizing deaths go, it’s perfectly fine.

I suppose that's a glass eye since it lasted so much time. It seems taking someone without three dimensional vision on this quest wasn't the best idea
In the end, I didn’t spoiled the good memories of this game, which must sound a bit strange after I tasted first-hand the sadistic tendencies of it. I thought about abusing save states to try to reach later parts of the game, places that weren’t as green and filled with evil wildlife, but like Dark Souls taught me, some things are better left unknown.

Is he giving us the fingers before dying? Badass!

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