Our next games appears to be Sega’s first attempt to have a Legend of Zelda-style game for the Master System, only this one favors simple arcade action instead of dungeon exploration and hunting secrets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and the game certainly makes a decent impression at first, but things gets disappointing in a hurry.
This cart lets you take the role of El Nino, a young explorer journeying across 10 different stages of a South American landscape searching for the way to a supposed Aztec paradise that’s said to contain enough wealth for a lifetime. At first it seems like Zelda as you wander from screen to screen slaying various creepies from a top-down view. You’re armed with an ordinary sword and killing foes will net you money and special secondary weapons you can utilize, including a level-specific ability to help you with certain hazards. However an interesting feature is the ability to hire some allies as backup; when you come across certain sword-welding enemies, you can throw money at them and they’ll instantly join your side, walking and fighting enemies alongside you. Each level also has certain ‘boss’ monsters you have to knock out before the door to the next level will open. Then it’s on to the next stage for more challenges, all the way up to the final boss that stands between you and the true secret of ‘paradise’, or something.
At first this game seems like a charming little romp for the SMS. The graphics are nice as the environments are bright, colorful and sport some nice details, while the sprites are large and each have a unique look to them. The background music is also pretty catchy, though the sound effects are your typical SMS fare. But it isn’t long before the game’s warts become present. For starters the controls are slightly unresponsive, and switching between items feels clunky. But the biggest problem is the game’s excessive and frustrating difficulty. Nino’s sword (which can’t be upgraded in any way) doesn’t have a long-enough reach to really be effective, forcing you to get right up in their faces to damage them which isn’t helped by the iffy collision detection. Nino also takes damage too easily and the only way to refill your energy is to toss money in the wishing wells. Sadly the ‘allies’ system, which had lots of promise, is undone by the CPU’s poor AI; your pals just mindlessly wonder around, walking blindly into enemies or getting stick behind walls, forcing you to constantly redirect their movements. In addition the game promises 10 levels, but once you pass level five you’ll find levels 6-10 are just repeats of the previous five stages. There’s also no continues or a save system, though the game does feature a complicated level select-cheat.
Overall Aztec Adventure tries to provide a fun quest for the Master System but the game trips over itself with its repetition and frustration. Not to mention it pales to the good Zelda-style games that can be found on the SMS, such as Golvellius and Golden Axe Warrior. It’s a shame as the potential is there with some nice ideas and with a little tweaking this cart could have made a nice little addition to the SMS library, but this golden road goes anywhere but paradise, and isn’t worth taking.