Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
When you first look at Aztez, you see a game that looks incredibly simple in its scope. A 2D brawler with a dash of strategy thrown in that leans heavily on brutal violence to attract players. The first thought most may have is how much depth can such a game really have? In truth, Aztez showcases how beneath the pretenses of its premise, a game can harbor a lot more depth than meets the eye.
Aztez seems like a simple game mechanically. Players need to string together combos with various weapon types to defeat their opponents in combat. The number of weapons and abilities in total is small, but the combinations achievable are much more complex. Each weapon has different speeds and attacks and fulfills a different function when combining them to string combos together. Each enemy follows a typical pattern of attack, so general strategy against enemy types varies depending on who you fight. This offers players some options when strategizing against specific foes.
Combat is always in 2D, and almost every map will have players outnumbered to some capacity. The trick to surviving in Aztez is to master the combo system. You must learn how to dodge, strike and even counter enemy attacks to string together enough strength to do damage. Of course, this is all easier said than done. Mastering the timing to perform strong combinations is where the game's real challenge comes in. Throw in the use of different Aztec gods when you absorb enough blood on the battlefield, and you have an overall combat system that is far from threadbare as it originally appears to be.
When it clicks, Aztez is a fulfilling, visceral experience. Visually taking cues from MadWorld, the comic-book style graphics mix with copious amounts of red strewn across the battlefield. The simplicity of the graphics accentuates the brutality of the action, to the point of cartoonish amounts of blood pouring out of a recently sacrificed enemy.
Ultimately, this chaos fits the overall theme well. The game's campaign mode is a hybrid of beat 'em up and strategy that's fun but limited in terms of tactics and pacing. It does provide a nice context, however. The waning days of the Aztec empire is a theme that people often gloss over. Alongside the locations, you get the challenges of creating a massive empire while dealing with dissent, fickle gods, the Aztec Underworld, and invading Spaniards. These opposing forces offer enough variety in the campaign to at least hint at a depth that compliments Aztez’ mechanics.
The biggest problem is longevity. If the player masters the combos found in Aztez, the only challenge left is in self-imposed restrictions. The game's campaign often relies on a bit of luck to get through thanks to the presence of different powers and randomized events popping up. There are abilities to try and control these events, but often it comes down to collecting items by completing secondary objectives. These can range from sacrificing several combatants to getting hit less than five times in combat. The rest of Aztez is dedicated to the fighting mechanics, be it training or a survival mode. It is a one trick pony as far as games go. No number of unlockable cosmetics can prolong that experience.
Still, Aztez's one trick is worthy of your attention. Indie developer Team Colorblind’s first major title showcases how well-refined gameplay mechanics can succeed in making an impression on the player. This is a deserving addition to any indie gaming library on that alone, even if it may not have the long-lasting impact to be a mainstay.