Platforming in the first-person is usually a very bad idea. Anyone who has played Half-Life knows that the platforming sections are the most frustrating thing about an otherwise genius game. Released in 1998, the same year as Half-Life, Montezuma's Return by Utopia Technologies based the entire game around this mechanic. And is actually the best example of it I've ever seen.
Before we get into all that, let's look at some history. Return is a belated sequel to the classic 8-bit puzzle-platformer known as Montezuma's Revenge. It came out on multiple systems in 1984 including the Apple II and Commodore 64 before having a decently upgraded port to the Master System in 1989, but it's the Atari 5200 original that got re-jigged on DOS as a bonus for the sequel's release.
Collect all of the treasure to unlock a bonus round (left).
This contraption needs a crystal key to work (right)
Montezuma's Return was originally made for DOS too, coming out in 1997 though that version became obsolete when a 3Dfx version came to Windows a year later. It carries a weighty history in its own right, being one of the first games to feature bump mapping, real-time lighting and fast Phong shading among many others that feature in the UVision engine. If that all sounds like jargon to you, just know that it looks really, really pretty.
But the one aspect that makes this jaunt into treacherous Aztec temples worth it is the gameplay. It plays surprisingly well. You'll be traversing labyrinthine levels filled with contraptions and a variety of entertaining enemies before ultimately coming face-to-face with a huge boss that will often need brains more than brawn to defeat. Your attacks are a little clunky by today's standards, with only punching and kicking at close-range available to you. Your hands and legs react quickly and shoot out a nice distance so it's not broken in that regard, it's just that the enemies are often too nimble to consistently strike them. Even the most minor of creatures will have a health bar that will take a number of hits to deplete.
Defeat enemies by punching and kicking. The three bars on the top left
denote your health, your punching speed and the enemy's health.
By the time you've completed the first level, the difficulty will ramp up considerably. There'll be bottomless pits, angry enemies and moving platforms that float in unusual patterns over lava pits of death. Because of the first-person perspective, these obstacle courses will require studying from a distance before embarking otherwise you may be knocked off as a hovering step unexpectedly creeps up behind you. Fail, and you'll be taken back to the beginning of the level, lose all lives and you'll be taken back to the level-select screen where you'll have to kill all enemies and collect all treasures from scratch. At least you'll be treated with a fun little CGI death scene bespoke to how you died.
While I certainly felt the difficulty curve to be a little too steep, it rarely felt unfair. I wanted to speed-run through the levels when a slow and measured approach is required. The traps are often ingenious, taking advantage of the variety of abilities of our hero, Max Montezuma (not Panama Joe of the first game), the last descendant of King Montezuma and the only adventurer alive likely to survive the curse his ancient ancestor placed on the temple. Not only does he have a satisfying jump arch, but he can also climb ropes and swim underwater. On particularly high leaps, Max will look down to his feet, giving you a better idea of where you're likely to land, proving that this kind of action game can work.
Healing bananas and watermelon slices are scattered around
each level, just not always where you'll need them.
Each level is based on a theme, and has their own enemy set of enemies, whether it be big cats, gorillas or dragonflies. They may be a bit chunky by today's standards but they're brilliantly animated in all their polygonal glory. The obstacles and traps also loosely stay in context with the theme. 'Lair of the Lavalord', the third level, has a lot of deadly molten rock illuminating the cavernous rooms while Dragonfly Dungeon features a lot of lakes and deep water to swim in - it's their natural habitat after all. Cat Caves has a number of feline enemies but also an impressive-looking pool of swimming turtles to navigate across. There's enough variety in each level to keep you interested.
The puzzles are often very fun to solve as well, reminding me of the traps found in the early Tomb Raider games. One room is filled with giant swinging swords to dodge while another requires you to push a ball into the correct position. Most will feature switches to open doors or activate machinery that are automatically pressed when you approach them. The most complex requires specific keys or cogs to be collected first. Again, their use is automated if you have them but they're not always signposted well. For much of my playthrough of the second level, I thought that silver crystal I picked up was just another piece of treasure. It was only when I approached a plinth next to an up-turned platform did I realise it was the key to open up the way forward.
Kicking the first level's boss will be enough to defeat it (left)
while the third level's boss needs you to use your brains (right)
Most levels will culminate in a boss, all of which are well thought out. The first level has you fight a giant in underpants and can be quite tricky if you haven't got your punching and kicking down. If you can master the flying-kick, then you should be OK for most battles. The demon at the end of the Lair of the Lavalord is a little bit different. He will throw exploding lava balls at you and is seemingly invulnerable to your attacks. Instead of the trusty flying-kick, you'll have to punch those lava balls back to him before they detonate. Repeat about five times, and he'll be defeated. Other bosses will have you make use of a giant pendulum or kicking a giant rat in the butt.
Those without a boss will still have a final encounter, though usually as a number of a previously seen enemy in a unique position. For example, Spikes and Skulls will see a number of regular Aztec warriors (known as Georges for some reason) with skulls on their heads. When you defeat each one, their disintegrating body will be dragged to a nearby pool where two bouncing skull heads will spawn in its place. You'll have to defeat the Georges while avoiding the skulls. Dragonfly Dungeon has a fat George seen earlier in the level split into multiple smaller versions of himself once defeated, resulting in a room filled with tiny fat men waddling towards you. Variety is not this game's weakness.
This puzzle has you launching a ball to unbalance the platform.
If you collect all the jewels and pearls in a level, you will be taken to a bonus stage. These short, gem-filled stages often feature jumping pads to bounce around and collect them. They are often very simple, yet purposely frustrating given the tight time allocated, but they add nothing more to than a neat looking room and the promise of a higher score.
Included in the initial CD release was a new DOS version of Montezuma's Revenge ported from the Atari 5200 original. While I struggle with most games from 1984, Montezuma's Revenge still holds up well today. As you navigate through the number of screens towards the end, you'll find a surprisingly addictive puzzle platformer. Jumping is precise and predictable while the core gameplay of collecting keys to open doors a fun one. It's not the best port out there (perhaps I'll do a compilation of them all some other time), but it certainly serves to educate players of how far videogames have come in the years Panama Joe became Max Montezuma.
Both games in the Montezuma series remain incredibly fun and Return remains as one of the few first-person platformers that actually work. Not only does the gameplay hold up, but the graphics do too, being a true showcase of what the 3Dfx card could actually do to a game back in the 90s. Highly recommended.
To download the PC game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo in conjunction with DxWnd to run the VGA version, nGlide in conjunction to DxWnd to run the 3Dfx version and DOSBox to run the original DOS game on modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 232 Mb. Install Size: 254 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Montezuma's Return is © Utopia Technologies
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me