It’s apparent within moments of starting Aztec Forgotten Gods that you’ve stumbled upon something fascinating and unique.
Opening in a mysterious cave that Indiana Jones wouldn’t feel out of place in and armed with a gauntlet that allows you to fly and attack stylishly through the air, you are put in control of a well-designed character, introduced to the game’s mechanics and mythology before being whisked away from that character forever and transported ahead in time to a modern Aztec civilization with flying cars and bright lights.
This unexpecting beginning then fosters an excellent and heartfelt story sandwiched between the gameplay of flying around this futuristic Aztec city and fighting humungous gods. Imagine the Aztec/Mayan design and structures in Sonic Adventure painted with a Cyberpunk brush. It’s such a cool idea that there are even plans for a live-action movie, I mean, really – what’s not to like?
It should perhaps come as no surprise that up-and-coming Mexican developer Lienzo was capable of such a feat though, as they also merged great aesthetics with Mexican culture in their last title, Mulaka, which focused on the little-known Tarahumara. Combining the secluded tribe’s folk stories and history with an exciting action-adventure world, it created something culturally significant in an industry that lacks diversity.
The story has our heroine Achtli help her mother uncover the truth of the scientific research they are doing on an ancient dig site, and inadvertently unleashes world-destroying gods onto the world.
This is where the prior-mentioned gauntlet comes in and it is this huge attachment that does all the heavy lifting in the gameplay department. It allows you to traverse your city to make your way to the next plot point, but it also works the same way in the boss fights, which are huge grandstand set pieces, allowing you to blast around the huge enemies looking for weaknesses.
For a gameplay mechanic that is so integral to the game, thankfully, it is a joy to use, as the controls are flexible and easy to learn. You can launch yourself upwards from a standing start, blast yourself forwards from the ground and adjust your trajectory mid-flight.
Mind you, the gauntlet isn’t just a glorified flying Iron Man rip-off, as it’s also your only method of offensive. As you progress through the game you are given upgrades (in addition to ones you can purchase) – which add to your available attacks – that focus on each new boss’s weakness, so that by the end, you have a satisfying arsenal of moves such as a super punch, a ground stomp, and a slicing projectile.
The city itself also can be used as a parkour-like playground. You can grab onto rails and run along them, jump up structures like Spider-Man or slingshot yourself off them for a boost to your stamina, which flying slowly decreases. You can even land on the train that runs around the city or catch a ride on any of the flying vehicles or boats that run around the city.
This makes for a grand old time of just flying around with no goal and for no good reason – you do it just because you can, and it’s a blast (pun intended). If you did want something to do outside of the main story, the world also provides distractions in the form of purchasing different hairstyles, costumes, and gauntlet upgrades as well as minigames challenges like races and fights in order to earn in-game currency for said shops.
You can even talk to every single NPC that walks around the main city square which is yet another aspect that will make you wonder how this was made by such a small team. With this effort, Lienzo was essentially aiming for the stars, and considering how high you can actually fly, it doesn’t seem like they were actually that far off.
On the flip side of that coin, however, there are aspects of the game where the reality of a smaller budget clashes with its tall ambitions, but other than NPC designs that might make you do a double-take, there aren’t any that particularly affect the core experience. Yes, the map isn’t as feature-filled as it could be, and, true, the graphics and animation are at times incomparable to more expensively-made alternatives on the market, but the key is that the game never loses sight of its strengths – its empathetic story and epic battles – creating something both compact and impactful.
Other than the occasionally poor-quality visuals and boring fight though, every other aspect is like the cherry on the cake of this sub 10-hour action-adventure. There are only 5 human characters involved in the story, but their characterization and personalities are rich and believable. Humour, grief, and friendship are weaved together effortlessly and with every relationship given time to grow, scenes have an emotional weight – a hugely important aspect in any story that wants to take itself seriously – and can be really quite moving.
There is a particular scene where you need to separate from a character who means a lot to Achtli, and in-game this is as simple as walking across and exiting a map, but based on what it would mean for her, you won’t want to make the journey. Simply put – there won’t be a dry eye in the house.
Aiding the story is the very expressive – albeit repetitive – animation of character models in interactions which is excellently paired with emotive noises at the beginning of each sentence. It gives a palpable emotion and humanity in each conversation. As someone who gets lost in the Yakuza series for games at a time – with their voiceless side missions and often wooden expressions – this approach to conversation scenes is like a breath of fresh air.
It would be remiss of me if I went without mentioning the titular Aztec gods which feature heavily throughout, as they don’t disappoint, with designs inspiring awe and fear in our heroine who already bears the pressure and fate of the entire city on her inexperienced shoulders.
Aztech Forgotten Gods is a highly ambitious project that undoubtedly has room for improvement, but considering what this action-adventure not only aims for but also achieves in under 10 hours of playtime, it can only be considered a resounding success. I for one hope that this isn’t the last we see of our witty heroine and Aztec gods as the lore and world is teeming with potential.