I’ve been playing a lot of old Commodore games while doing “research” for my upcoming book of game reviews (it’s a good day when you can call playing old video games “research”), and recently I ran across Aztec, a game I haven’t played in twenty years or more.
Obviously influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aztec is a platform game in which the goal is to explore a tomb, find a jade idol, and make it back to the surface alive. Along the way you will encounter traps, animals and Aztec Warriors.
Aztec was released before joysticks were common on home computers, so the game must be controlled with a keyboard. For those of you thinking “big deal”, here are the game’s controls, taken from an old help file:
W: Walk in the direction you are facing.
R: Run in the direction you are facing.
J: Jump in the direction you are facing (must be walking or running).
C: Climb stairs.
S: Stop/Stand Still (if walking).
S: Stand up (if crouching).
S: Spin Around (if fighting).
A: Move Left.
D: Move Right.
O: Open Chest / Search Piles of Trash.
L: Look in Chest.
G: Crouch Down.
G: Crawl in a direction.
T: Get Items from a Chest.
P: Place Dynamite.
F: Fight Mode.
G: Draw Gun (in Fight Mode).
M: Point Gun/Machette Down.
Space Bar: Shoot Gun
L: Lunge with Machette/Shoot Gun
ESC: Help Screen
R: Return to Play.
S: Save Game.
Are you kidding me? Aztec is not a slow-moving strategy game or a text adventure — snakes and other creatures set out to kill you immediately in real time. If a snake is coming toward you, you’ll need to hit “A” or “D” (to face the snake), “W” or “R” to walk or run toward the snake, “J” to jump over the snake, and finally “S” to stop to avoid falling through one of the many holes in the floor. While there were lots of computer games a person could play without ever having read the documentation, Aztec was not one of them. In fact, I recall at one point writing down all the commands in marker on the disk’s sleeve so that I could refer to them during game play.
(Also, note that some keys, like “S”, are used for multiple things depending on what’s happening or what your character is doing at that particular moment. I guess that was to keep from using all 26 letters of the alphabet …)
To find the Jade idol you’ll need to go deep down into the Aztec tomb, and to do that you’re supposed to wander around and found stairs leading down. You probably won’t have to go through all that however because of the game’s multiple glitches. For example, if you jump from one screen to the next with your machete drawn, you’ll inexplicably fall through the floor. You would think someone would have caught that before the game went to production, but apparently not.
The funniest thing about Aztec is that, for as wonky as this game seems today, I remember playing it a lot — not so much on the C64, but I definitely logged some hours on this game on the Apple II. Regardless of the game’s complex control system and obvious programming bugs, I played the crap out of this game. While joysticks weren’t commonplace in the early days of Apple computers, Commodore’s DB9 ports (which allowed it to use the extremely common Atari 2600 joysticks) ensured that almost every game released was joystick compatible. By the time I got my C64 in 1985, Aztec’s control scheme already seemed clunky and outdated. While Aztec may have been too complex to be completely joystick driven, it would have been much simpler to play if all of your character’s movements (walking/running/crawling/turning/jumping/etc) were done with the joystick instead of mapping each one to a different key on the keyboard.
Aztec is a great example of nostalgia affecting my memories. While I can remember playing Aztec as a kid for hours at a time trying to find that jade idol and return it to the surface, the game’s complex and nonuniform control scheme made it impossible for me to play for more than a few minutes the other night. While the game may have been fun back in the day, this is definitely a case of rose-tinted glasses affecting my vision. I’m sure I couldn’t pay Mason to play this game for ten minutes.