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Backlog Impressions | Sydney Hunter & The Curse of the Mayan

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Sydney Hunter plucks at your nostalgic heart strings with it’s retro inspired design philosophies, but are the ancient practices of the past just a crutch or will they truly make the game shine?

The Art of Limitation

Frequently I think to myself, “You know what would be cool? If they brought back such and such a game!” or “They should really try that one cool thing again”. You know the type stuff we used to play when we were kids. Well, recently, at least here at The Backlog Odyssey, I’ve been noticing a trend. One that isn’t necessarily bringing back exactly what we remember, but new games heavily inspired by our nostalgia. And these games even go as far as being developed with the restrictions and limitations of ancient hardware. You can’t see it, but I just did air quotes around that last phrase. 

However, like the ancient practices of the Mayan civilization, some of these design philosophies might be a little more questionable then we remember. Meaning it’s not all sunshine and lollipops, and at times the result is more misses than hits.

Well, the team over at Collectorvision hope to bring visions of Montezuma’s Revenge to the modern era, with Sydney Hunter & The Curse of the Mayan! But will this love letter to the NES and retro games alike be able to shake the “OLD – BAD” stigma?

A Whip Through Time

Being of its ilk, it comes as no surprise that Sydney Hunter & The Curse of the Mayan is an action platformer, but with a bit of a puzzle solving and collect-a-thon twist. Where you’ll be controlling the adventurous Sydney Hunter as he whips and boomerangs his way through an ancient Mayan Pyramid broken up into many dangerous and trap filled chambers.

His goal is to reconstruct the Maya Haab calendar as well as retrieve a set of powerful idols that have been scattered by the Mayan Sun God, Kinich Ahau and his compatriot Kukulkan, a maligned and feathered Serpent God. If Sydney is unable to recover these artifacts, then the world’s balance will be lost and time as we know it will cease.

What’s Old Is Getting Old

Now, typically I’d be gushing about the beautiful sprite work and backgrounds, but honestly at this point unless it goes horribly awry, the NES presentation is kind of a given at this point. Not to say that Sydney Hunter looks bad, which it certainly doesn’t, in fact it’s quite well done with impressively fluid animations. And my only real sticking point in that regard would be the soundtrack, which has a few catchy tunes, but for the most part is a bit grating and forgettable.

No, in Sydney Hunter’s case, I’d like to focus more on the gameplay and it’s quirky dialog. On the dialog front, it’s delivery was a bit off putting. I get that the writers were trying to be funny, but a lot of their jokes just didn’t land and weren’t all that entertaining. It’s like they were attempting to be “meme forward” and it felt forced. Honestly, I cringed every time I interacted with a character and it kinda ruined the experience for me. The game would have been better off with no dialog at all.

A Satisfying Spelunk

And that’s because, Sydney Hunter’s true appeal is in its gameplay. Which definitely lived up to its NES inspirations. The platforming was fun and the controls were responsive. I loved exploring each of the levels looking for the hidden skulls and collection the gems (which could be used for upgrades). While playing it, I was reminded of Spelunky, if it was a more straight forward action platformer.  The bosses were also satisfying to fight with just the right amount of challenge. There were still some frustrating elements to the gameplay like instant death traps, long levels and irregularly spaced save points. Actually, that’s probably the worst part, because when you die, it feels like you lose a lot of progress. Which in turn demotivated me from playing more. But then I’d jump back in a few hours later after I’ve forgotten my loss. But those are just minor gripes really.

In my mind, I think Sydney Hunter & The Curse of the Mayan, is a good example of doing the neo-retro thing right. It wasn’t perfect, mostly due to following the NES design philosophies to closely in some aspects, but all in all, I enjoyed the game. And if you’re looking for a unique pick up and play experience that’s reminiscent  of a simpler time, then definitely give it a shot! It’s available right now on Steam and the Nintendo eShop!