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Genre: Action
Min OS X: 10.6

March 22, 2013 | Franklin Pride

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Heads Are Everywhere


Mac OS X: 10.6 |CPU: 1 GHz Intel Core Duo | RAM: 2 GB | HD Space: 1.6 GB | Graphics:512 MB


These days it seems like the return of the sidescroller. There have been action sidescrollers, stealth sidescrollers, underwater puzzle sidescrollers, and now even an action-RPG sidescroller, Aztaka. Given the large quantity of games to compare it against, does Aztaka bring something new to the table? Does it bring in a new gameplay mechanic, a compelling story, expansive environments, or none of the above? Well, there's only one way to find out. Let's get playing.

The first thing you'll notice upon starting the game is that the game is very much styled after the Aztecs. You're constantly surrounded by ancient ruins, underground labyrinths, and the usual range of spiders and wild beasts to kill. There isn't much variety in combat early, though, as your only attack is to stab your spear. You can't aim it, you can't throw it, all you do is walk up to the enemy and right click until it's dead. Over and over again. If you do this enough, you'll level up and get to pick between critical chance, damage, and a skill or two. There are a lot more choices later (including spells), but you'll still find yourself right-clicking your way to success.

So, with combat not being particularly exciting, what do you do in this well-drawn mystic world? You solve puzzles, of course! You'll need to traverse jumping sections, find upgrades to your gear to unlock new areas, gather containers for the spirits of the dead, and use those spirits to open/manipulate/resurrect your way through the many levels. What fighting there is in-between breaks up the monotony of traveling through the same zones over and over again trying to find the one door you missed. So long as you upgrade damage on pretty much every level, you'll never find anything that can put up a serious fight.

This is especially the case if you put a lot of points into the healing skill. The game allows you to hold 25 souls inside a container of the same type. Each one of the green souls that you get quite early heals you a ridiculous amount if you've upgraded healing, so you essentially end up invulnerable so long as you keep harvesting. It just tends to take a lot of the tension out of a game when you know you never have to worry about dying.

On the plus side, the exploration aspect is reasonably entertaining. Due to the different mechanics you have to work with, like gathering a specific type of soul to light a series of pads you have to jump across or the regular upgrades to your movement you have to find (run faster, jump higher, etc.), getting around in the world is quite fun. The game does forget to tell you where you need to go once you get an upgrade, though. Unlike Metroid, where all the areas you've been unable to explore are marked clearly on an overall map, Aztaka requires you to either remember them or create your own map. This leads to a lot of unnecessary backtracking and re-exploration if you've forgotten where that one unbreakable door is. Hopefully that doesn't involve you walking by too many flies or bees, as they're easily the biggest reason to turn the sound off.

And there aren't many reasons to keep the sound on, to be honest. The music is reasonably atmospheric, but Aztaka's sounds aren't really the best. They do accurately portray their intention, but they also tend to sound rather bad when layered over each other. You'll also tend to get extremely bored of the whoosh sound each spear attack makes, as you'll literally hear it thousands of times before the game is over. It'd just be nice if there was at least a minor pitch change between swings to keep it from feeling so monotonous.

So in the end, why would you want to play Aztaka? It's fun in short bursts if you can keep track of where you've been. The leveling system gives you enough choices to be interesting for the ten or so hours of gameplay, the world is pretty good looking, and the only game-breaking crash you're likely to encounter happens when you click on a butterfly. Overall, if you like upgrading a hero over time and slow-motion spellcasting, you may enjoy Aztaka. It doesn't provide a long experience or varied combat, but the world is quite lush and the player buildup can be quite entertaining if you can find where to go next.

Interesting leveling system
Stable, few crashes
Lush world

Lack of challenge
Repetitive sound
Lots of backtracking

Franklin Pride is a game development graduate and professional programmer/consultant for the Unity development engine. He is currently developing Chainsaw Ninja In Space in addition to numerous projects for his clients.

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