Aztez comes to us from the super small developer Team Colorblind (two person company). Aztez is set in the fifteenth century, as the Aztec Empire begins and grows…then gets destroyed. Aztez seeks to be two games, alternating between turn based strategy and beat ’em up. Players plot and gambit around the map to maintain and expand the empire in strategy play, and brutally smack around people in between. With two vastly different play styles and speeds, and an uncommon backdrop, does Aztez make it work? With a recent chance to try it out, FextraLife has the answer.
Developed by: Team Colorblind
Published by: Team Colorblind
Release date: 8/1/2017
Platforms: PC (Eventually PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PS Vita)
Price at time of review: $19.99 USD
- 8+ complete weapon sets: the spear, the club, the ritual knife, the legendary obsidian sword, and more!
- 25+ enemies based on the historical archetypes: the Eagle warriors, the Jaguar warriors, the Noble warriors, the combat Priests, and more.
- Customizable avatar; beat the gear off of your enemies and wear it!
- 50+ combat environments based on real Aztec cities and locations from the Valley Of Mexico.
Story and Setting
The player hits “new campaign” and Aztez begins. A black screen with white lettering foreshadows the style of much of the game and provides a vague concept of time and place. And then you’re playing…
The single greatest failure of Aztez is the lack of true narrative and expansion of the setting. Neither turn based strategy nor beat ’em ups have ever been highly regarded for complex narratives, but Aztez still manages to fall short. No explanation of motive or context is given, you’re right in the turn based map and expected to act. The player can select which mission to carry out, which provides a goal such as removing spies from a city, or preventing a drought. Items can be used at this time as well (more on that soon), and then it’s off to murdering people with the beat ’em portion of the game.
Missions all boil down to some variant of “Aztez forces, the elite of the elite of the Aztec empire need to murder people to fix it.” Stopping a drought or other calamities usually revolves around something like preventing the defilement of a temple. None of this is to say that it’s an inaccurate representation of political strategy mind you. And items that can be used during the strategy portions don’t always center on murder. However, this is the general flow of the game.
Titles that helped define the genre such as Nobunaga’s Ambition are generally similar, but do a better job conveying setting and context. There, I understand from the get go that my goal is to unify Japan via murder and conquest. Flipping to beat ’em ups, I can still remember that I’m kicking the [expletive] out of people to save our beloved mayor Haggar’s daughter from some bad dudes.
To be fair to Team Colorblind, the included guide is readily available in the main menu and does much to illuminate the setting. Further, this is often how games of olden times told much of the narrative. However, with guides becoming nothing more than a hair away from obsolete, Aztez feels incomplete in the narrative department. This is exacerbated by the fact that the rarity of this setting provided a golden opportunity to tell many players an entirely new story. Team Colorblind appears to have taken great pains to research the Aztec Empire to shape their game, but falls short in showing you this upfront.
The heart of Aztez beats within two drastically different game types, and this title felt like reviewing three things at once. A turn based strategy game, a beat ’em up and the totality of the experience in their unification.
As a turn based strategy game, Aztez features a standard map with numerous locations containing the expected information. Population and demographics, alignment to the empire and if there’s any current events that can be addressed. Each turn will randomly select several locations to change. This could be in alignment to the empire, or an event that requires violent intervention. The number of missions that can be conducted each turn corresponds with the number of Aztez warriors you currently have, starting each campaign with only one.
In addition to sending out the murderous Aztez, players can use items to impact the events in game right from the map. Items can turn a location’s alignment in your favor, add resources or population and more. This is supplemented by the ability to hire powerful figures to go in and help with the dirty work. Unlike items which are found and removed from inventory upon use, these can be used at any time assuming you have the resources to pay the cost. Each use increases the necessary resource cost.
Aztez is by no means the most intricate strategy game, but does have satisfying complexity and depth. The greatest aspect is the limitation on missions per turn, which often has you choosing which calamity is coming rather than having them as an “if.” In contrast, the biggest knock is that events occur like a switch rather than a visual. Lands change and you’re notified, but that’s it. If you don’t send out the Aztez to do battle to intercede, the repercussions of an event will simply occur. This aside, Aztez holds up pretty well as a strategy game even if that’s all it happened to be.
The beat ’em up portion of the game does not “hold up pretty well,” but before we get to what it does do (or not), allow a quick tangent to illustrate the upcoming points. The Training option from the main menu focuses solely on the beat ’em up part of the game. This is standard fare and acts as a review of input options and battle strategies. About halfway through this tutorial you’ll probably start thinking “man…this is a long tutorial for a beat ’em up.” By the time you finish, you’ll have no doubt felt this way.
As a result, it was felt in the best interests of the following points to time how long the tutorial took to complete. Before giving up the time it took, note that Aztez is unlike most similar tutorials in that you only need to complete each move or combo ONCE before it moves to the next. There is zero “block three times” or anything like it.
The tutorial took NINE MINUTES to complete.
Nine minutes of learning more and more combat strategies. Within this, they cover only two of eight possible weapons. Aztez doesn’t add too many new ideas into the genre (though it does add a couple), but it damn sure didn’t leave out many tricks from this history of this style. Aztez’s beat ’em up part of the game doesn’t “hold up pretty well.” It’s awesome. Adding to the combat variety is a sizable cast of enemies with varied behavior patterns. Remembering which attack will sweep the leg (Johnny) comes in handy against the inevitable shield user.
Aztez is by no means shy about the idea of human sacrifice and blood rituals in Aztec culture, and this is prominent in the beat ’em up part of the game. The player can choose to collect the spilled blood with an upward thrust of the arm, funneling it into the sky. This is somewhat gruesome, and puts an element of risk/reward as it leaves you vulnerable. If you collect enough blood, you can summon one of several Aztec gods who will generally make the fight a bit easier to say the least.
The success of putting these two things together is likely going to depend on how much of a fan of the two genres a person is. Both modes are tied together (though you can choose to just beat ’em up in Arena mode). Dying in battle reduces your number of Aztez by one. Permanently. Getting to zero is game over.
If you’re only a fan of one type of game or the other, you will spend significant amounts of time playing a style of game you’re not keen on. If you like both game types, it comes together cleanly and provides an interesting back and forth.
Audio and Visual
The game’s audio is unremarkable (to the good or the bad). For this game, the visual is far more important.
My honest first reaction was that the Patapon Army had grown up and their violent nature had gone a little more gory. Investing more and more time with the game didn’t dispel this thought. For anyone unfamiliar with the tiny and cute Patapon army, they (and the Aztez) are rudimentary silhouettes with details on weapons and gear highly emphasized.
In Aztez, the monochrome scheme extends beyond the characters and into the beat ’em up setting. While the map is more colorful, the style is less striking (and more map like). Gouts and freshets of blood stand out in bright red during battle…which is always. The style works marvelously for Aztez as the complex combat system retains fluidity and speed. The minimalist characters also allow traditional Aztec weaponry and gear stand out and tell a little of their story.
To help alleviate the issues of finding your character in the chaos of slaughtering a small army of enemies, only your Aztez is truly black and white (and gods when they’re summoned). Everything else is a dark gray. The exact shade allows for almost no diminution of detail yet provides a clear clue of which violent monochrome character you are at the moment. Aztez isn’t the first game with a similar aesthetic, but they use it brilliantly and find a perfect balance between art and function.