Looking and playing like an unreleased 8-bit NES game, Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan is a 2D pixel sidescroller that mixes a bit of Metroidvania with Mega Man. With an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom visual theme, this game carries plenty of personality and retro platforming pleasure.
An homage to the C64’s Montezuma’s Revenge, Sydney gets trapped inside a Mayan temple and is tasked with putting together an ancient calendar. Starting with nothing more than a whip for attacking, the player will eventually acquire additional abilities to allow for more exploration of the environment. Each area is composed of one screen at a time which allows the player to instantly determine the goal of each individual area. Even with occasional disappearing blocks, think Mega Man, platforming is rarely too difficult or unfair, at least until closer towards the end of the campaign. It also seems a little strange to not have the ability to duck and attack but combat is also kept straightforward and simple. Fighting small creatures, like the fast moving mice, seem like they should be a part of the background but wind up being a major enemy throughout. Luckily, outside of some cheap boss tactics and the occasional desire for more save stations, the level design provides an entertaining experience, being tough but fair.
The PC version already received an update to enhance the user experience by allowing for more customizable controls with a Switch patch on the way. Currently, it is much too easy to accidentally hit the Up + Attack button to use that precious healing item. This should be changed once the future patch gets pushed through. The only other major complaint is the level of progression. The center of the temple acts as the hub and each doorway is locked until a certain number of crystal skulls are collected. These skulls are hidden throughout each stage but force the player to hunt for the vast majority of them, often causing forceful backtracking and replays. I wish the price of level entry was lowered because there are some stages that are too complex to yield a compelling replay. Unlike Castlevania, there is no secret wall meat to find. Instead, these crystal skulls are often found hidden in these crevices which makes the player annoying try and whip every wall, hoping to find something. So the level design might be designed with care but forcing the player to hunt for every secret is tedious. The charming 8-bit presentation assumes a casual playthrough but screams tedium trying to unlock the mid to late stages.
Definitely not a perfect adventure but still highly enjoyable, Sydney Hunter is a quality retro throwback that will please fans of classic games and can act as a stepping stone for younger players who might not yet be ready to withstand the more complex environments of Metroid, the tricky bosses or Mega Man, or the heavier plot of the Castlevania series. This is one game that should not be sacrificed to the Gods.
Also Try: Alwa’s Awakening (PS4)
Better Than: Haunted: Halloween ’86 (NES)
Watch It: Apocalypto – the 2006 movie directed by Mel Gibson