Montezuma’s Revenge Review

There was a game released back in 1983 – on almost every 8-bit computer and console system available at the time – that was quickly met with a wide range of accolades and praise, and that game was none other than Montezuma’s Revenge by Rob Jaeger. The game blended elements of Indiana Jones style temple exploration, well programmed platform jumping, and amusing sprite animations into a concoction that the audiences of the time simply could not resist. We now fast forward nearly 30 years into the future where, thanks to developer Normal Distribution, the game is available in a portable format for all of your iDevices.

In Montezuma’s Revenge (out now, $1.99) you control a daring explorer named Pedro – formerly known as Panama Joe back when the game was published by Parker Brothers – on his quest to search for gems inside the dangerous tomb of King Montezuma, with the hero’s ultimate goal being the fabled treasure room said to lie under the middle of the pyramid’s bottom floor. In order to get his hands on the Aztec riches he so desires, Pedro will have to carefully explore the pyramid’s 99 rooms (100 if you count the entrance at the top) to find the keys and torches he will need to advance. Furthermore, he will need to somehow avoid a wide assortment of traps and enemies – including giant skulls that roll back and forth across the floor – as well as successfully deal with his most dreaded nemesis of all: gravity.

Normally an iDevice port of a game with platforming aspirations like this, especially one where gravity can cause the hero to fatally face plant into the ground below, would lead me to talk about how the game is enjoyable only if one is willing to fight with the controls (or worse yet, simply not be playable at all). However, largely thanks to the fact that this game encourages a more deliberate and methodical rhythm to your tomb raiding – as opposed to the twitch reactions that many modern platformers are based on – Montezuma’s Revenge is able to pull together a control scheme that works without a single hitch. The default control scheme has the left/right keys on the lower left corner of the screen, and the up/down and jump buttons on the lower right corner of the screen. There are also three other control schemes that feature a jump button on the lower right, and a different flavor of virtual d-pad/analog stick on the lower left, but I would really advise just avoiding these and sticking with what works.

The aforementioned default control scheme works extremely well for the game due to the fact that Pedro is a smart boy who, with the aid of his apparently steel reinforced shoulders, will always grab any ropes he happens upon mid jump. Since we’re currently discussing the game’s jump mechanics, I should also point out that Pedro – unlike most platforming heroes – is not able to modify the direction or power of his jump after his feet leave the ground. Pedro will either leap straight up, or straight forward, based on whether or not you were also holding a left/right button.

Another thing that works in this game’s favor is that if you ever bump into an enemy and die, that enemy is removed from the pyramid for the remainder of your current run through that level. This also happens, sans the dying part, if you touch an enemy while holding a knife. This means that even if you are not yet sure of the timing involved in jumping over a particular type of enemy, with the snakes easily being the most annoying, you will never become completely blocked by an enemy that is confounding you. Furthermore, whenever you do die, your next life begins at the point from which you entered the current room, so you will never experience deaths caused by respawn induced backtracking.

However, do not let everything I have just said fool you into thinking that Montezuma’s Revenge is in any way an easy adventure to complete. Even though the game doesn’t like to unnecessarily pour salt on your open wounds whenever you die – and you will die a lot – there is pretty much no way you’ll figure out how to reach the fabled treasure room without playing through the same level many times over. It’s still completely up to you to figure out the optimal order in which to tackle the pyramid’s rooms, what order to unlock doors such that Pedro doesn’t become permanently stuck, and when and where to make leaps so that Pedro doesn’t land in unfortunate places.

When you finally finish a level after much learning and experimentation, you will unlock the next pyramid, after which you can permanently select the new level to begin with any time you start a game in the future. Later pyramids will have the same rooms in the same relative positions, but the pathways that connect them – as well as the locations of all the items – will change. There will furthermore be more enemies and obstacles present, and the darkness, which you need torches to see through, will cover more of the pyramid than it did before.

While learning how to finish all 9 levels of Montezuma’s Revenge will keep you busy far longer than most iDevice games will normally last you, it really would have been nice if the game had been given a proper high score feature. Outside of making a happy sounding snippet from La Cucaracha play every time you pick up a gem, there is little incentive to go out of your way to pick up gems in dangerous places when your score otherwise has no impact on your ability to successfully finish a level. Furthermore, the lack of a high score table makes it such that there is no proof of whether you finished each level separately or survived an epic run through multiple pyramids in a row.

I will now wrap this up by talking about the game’s graphics. Montezuma’s Revenge comes with updated graphics for the Retina Display. Unlike many classic game rereleases that get updated graphics – where the modernized artwork manages to lose the charm of the original by looking completely different – the new graphics in Montezuma’s Revenge look, save for a distinct lack of blockiness, exactly like the sprites that came before. This is a good thing as the original game had many comical death animations to help take the edge off whenever you managed to slip up, such as Pedro turning into a puff of smoke whenever he falls into a fire pit. For those of you who specifically want things to remain more blocky, there is also an option to revert most – but not all – of the graphics back to their original 1983 sprite equivalents.

iFanzine Verdict: Fans of the original 1983 classic, or those of you who are simply fans of classic old school exploration games in general, should definitely “Vote for Pedro” by picking up this extremely well handled port. For people who are wanting a more twitch based action oriented experience, or don’t have the patience to die hundreds of times in the name of learning how best to traverse each pyramid, Montezuma’s Revenge is probably an experience that won’t sit well with them.