Montezuma’s Revenge (1983)

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This is another ancient platformer game that was listed as a possible Metroidvania or early forerunner. Published in 1983 for the Atari 5200 and ported to a couple of systems in 1984 (Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit systems, C64, ColecoVision and even a PC Booter).

Not unlike The Pharaoh’s Curse there are elements that make that categorization reference sensible, if not exactly right. Sure, the game has a fixed level map and you can explore each level nilly willy to gather keys or others items to advance (there are closed doors and in some situations swords are helpful too, not to speak of the torch to see in the darkened screens), but it really hasn’t much else in the way of the Metroidvanias.

There’s no character progression, neither by items nor RPG-like mechanics. The game consists of nine levels, each a pyramid of exactly a hundred screens you can explore at will, but only each level at a time (also these nine levels are basically the same level/pyramid of screens with minor difference to increase the difficulty on each subsequent level). And while you need items to progress, these are always consumable items (keys).

Still, compared to other platformers at the time, Montezuma’s Revenge must have been quite different. At a time when most games were still exploring basic platformer elements, MR managed to offer persistent, multi-screen levels. Like other early games of the genre, you can’t change direction when falling and you die when falling from too high (very unusual for a platformer, also very annoying because even a tiny fall can kill you).

In that regard it actually feels more like an early forerunner of the cinematic platformer line of games that was later pioneered by Prince of Persia: a focus on more realistic jumping and walking physics (arguably that they are actually more realistic here, but still) and large single, free-roaming levels with lots of action adventure elements.

Once you’ve accustomed yourself to how the game is played, it’s interesting to explore and beat a level to see what the game has to offer, but I stopped after reaching the sixth level. Since each of the nine levels is just a variation of the very first one, with higher difficulty, a few walls changed and more rooms darkened, it becomes boring to progress since there’s nothing really new to discover.

And from the fifth level onward you have to play through a few (and as I heard later on, a lot) screens in absolute darkness. Which is not my definition of fun (forced to memorize the screens and to try to do jumps in darkness is just bad game design).