"Welcome to the land of the ancient Aztecs, where money talks and enemies can be bought." This is Aztec Adventure, released for the Sega Master System in 1988 in USA and Europe.
You take control of Niño, and your goal is to reach the Aztec Paradise. The journey there is long and difficult, but what makes this game stand out from other Sega Master System action games, is the fact that it uses a top-down perspective, although that is only related to how you move. The graphics still look like it would in a standard platform game, looking in from the side. This makes for an interesting mix, which I think works quite well. The graphics are colourful and appealing, like in so many of the early Sega Master System games made in Japan.
What also makes this game stand out from other Master System games is the fact you can get helpers, which I thought was a cool idea as a kid. The helpers, Papi (a bird), Pupe (a cat) and Poh (a dog) are not very smart though, and just follow you blindly. Still, you couldn't do this in any other games I knew of.
And, of course, what also makes this game stand out, is the fact it was released exclusively on the Sega Master System. Many of the early Master System titles were arcade ports, and many were ported to other systems as well, but not this one. You had to own a Master System if you wanted to play this game.
Although I've never been able to finish it, not even on an emulator, I quite enjoy Aztec Adventure. It gets quite hard once you reach level 5 or 6 (There are 11 levels in total, so it's quite a long game.) And the bosses get more and more difficult, which is quite normal I guess. Unless that here there are several bosses on each stage! Thank the Aztec gods for those wishing wells, that can give you full life if you are willing to sacrifice a money bag. I wonder who that woman who shows up with the well then is. Is she some Aztec god perhaps? She again appears in the ending of the game, as she lets Niño in the door to the Paradise, after you have defeated the final boss - which looks like nothing I've ever seen before. I'll explain later what I think it is ...
The final boss of Aztec Adventure. What is it?
The backside of the Aztec Adventure box shows a screenshot from this final level of the game, which both annoyed me and made me excited as a kid, because I was never able to get this far. It looks so different from all the other levels! The instruction manual calls it "the Shadows of the Phantoms... a misty land where all the Demons are present together." And "demons" here, means the previous bosses of the game, which you have to fight again. This part is not that uncommon, as also several other games did this - make you fight all the bosses again before you get to fight the final boss.
The ending of the game is quite interesting as it brings up a lot of questions. The manual that came with the game says "What's it like in Paradise? There's only one way to find out", but the ending is pretty much just words, which some people may find meaningful, while other may find to be nonsense. "At the completion of the long journey, our young hero has at long last located Paradise. What did he discover there? That real Paraside lies eternally in the person who dreams of it. Why don't you also venture forth into the world in search of your own individual Utopia. For only with such a dream, will you find the meaning of true happiness." I'm not able to make up my mind if this is brilliant, or if it's just mumbo jumbo. But at least it's not the kind of ending you will find in your average 80s video game, which again makes this game stand out!
Download theme which can be used in RetroCopy v1.0:
http://www.retrocopy.com/blogimages/aztec-adventure.zip (975 KB)
This theme uses elements from both the title screen and the screen you see after you press the start button, which shows Niño, Papi, Pupe and Poh, and how many money bags you have to throw at Papi, Pupe and Poh in order to make them your allies. The background uses the background of the title screen, with trees at the top and bottom, in addition to an effect I used Photoshop to create. Also I had to put in a lot more trees, which you can see if you play in windowed mode and change the size of the window.
In Japan, this game was released already in 1987, but for some reason it's called "Nazca 88". If "88" stands for 1988 I don't know, but it's a bit strange as it was released in September of 1987.
While the Aztec people lived in Mexico, and dominated in that area until the Spanish occupation in 1521, the Japanese version of the game deals with the Nazca culture, which existed in Peru in South America from about 300 B.C. to 800. And my answer to what the mysterious final boss of both "Aztec Adventure" and "Nazca 88" is, is that it is the Nazca Lines. It was only the title screen with the name change which was changed in the Western version of the game, so all other elements remain from the Japanese version. In fact, the Japanese cartridges this game was released on, and the American/European cartridges, contain the exact same ROM! If you open the ROM on a Japanese console (either Mark III or Master System), the "Nazca 88" title screen will show, but if you open the exact same ROM on a Western console, you will see "Aztec Adventure". And that is the reason why the Nazca Lines from Peru could be the final boss of Aztec Adventure, which is set in Mexico. Still, it's a weird idea that some ... lines could be a boss ...
Download theme for Nazca 88 which can be used in RetroCopy v1.0:
http://www.retrocopy.com/blogimages/nazca-88-the-golden-road-to-paradise.zip (1 MB)