A rough around the edges adventure with plenty of heart.
Aztech Forgotten Gods is hard to nail down by generic genre standards. It’s jetpack-like traversal system feels like something I’d normally associate with a superhero game. Its open-world full of giant monsters to be felled is reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. And its deep and surprisingly complex narrative would not be out of place in a story driven adventure game. In other words it is the exact sort of game that can really only exist in the indie space where experimentation is king. Like any experiment it brings with it a few mistepps, but with those come fresh revelations as well. Aztech Forgotten Gods is that precise kind of perfect imperfection I find myself so drawn to in games.
Aztech Forgotten Gods takes place in an alternate future in which the Aztech Empire never fell, but rather evolved into a technologically advanced super power. You play as Achtli, a young woman fascinated by the past but who is haunted by her own. Early on you’ll come into contact with the Lightkeeper, a mechanical gauntlet of sorts that allows Achtli to fly through the air whilst also communicating with the mysterious Feathered Serpent, an ancient Mesoamerican god somehow tied to the Lightkeeper. Together she’ll work to defend her home from a slew of giant gods, who’ve mysteriously appeared to destroy it.
The Lightkeeper is the central mechanic when it comes to gameplay. It is both your primary means of traversal through the world while also serving as your weapon against these malevolent deities. As the story progresses, the Lightkeeper will receive upgrades granting you new abilities both in and out of combat. An optional upgrade tree is also available with upgrades to be purchased using resources gleaned from defeating enemies. Flying around the world feels wonderful, especially as you acquire upgrades to make it easier and easier to refill the Lightkeeper’s energy and thus stay airborne even longer. While there unfortunately isn’t a ton to do in the world beyond fighting bosses and taking part in the occasional side challenge to unlock optional lore entries, simply exploring is somewhat enticing thanks to the movement system.
Combat feels somewhat less refined in this regard. Boss encounters on a macro scale are generally well designed, but some small issues work together to cause some stumbling blocks now and then. The primary culprit is that there is no real targeting system. Almost every boss encounter is built around aerial combat, where simply keeping track of the boss will take some getting used to. Added to this are some performance issues when playing handheld. Certain boss encounters can cause severe frame rate drops which make the demanding aerial combat extra difficult. The performance held up much better when playing docked, so your individual play style will have a significant effect on your experience. But once again the actual design of the boss fights, particularly in the back half of the game, are largely excellent. Despite an awkward learning curve early on, I had trouble resisting the urge to continue on to the next boss fight.
In addition to boss fights getting significantly more interesting as I progressed, the story also became much more engrossing. Early on I worried how much time was being spent in cutscenes and I started to wonder if it was an attempt to pad out the length of the game, which isn’t especially long. But after the first couple boss fights I found myself extremely invested in the story. Achtli is a deep character who’s arc is incredibly endearing. Almost every character ultimately ends the game in a different place than I expected. The twists I was waiting for were cast aside for much better ones I hadn’t anticipated. It doesn’t totally make up for the extremely slow pace of the first act but it's worth noting what a strong note Aztech Forgotten Gods ends on.
The one other struggle Aztech Forgotten Gods faces is that of the Switch itself. The game’s distinctive art style isn’t always preserved on Switch, with low level of detail elements of the environment often creeping very close to the camera. Low resolution textures are rampant across the environment and the presentation in general can come off as a little messy at times. This mostly affects the large city and the world around it. The more contained areas in which you encounter bosses hold up much better and are a definite visual strength. There is a basic though functional photo mode included which is great for highlighting some of the stronger elements of the art design, though I do wish when activated a higher focus was placed on visuals over frame rate. I just never felt like I was completely doing the art justice when taking a photo, especially in handheld mode.
Aztech Forgotten Gods stumbles its way into being something special. It certainly has faults both technical and simply in terms of design. At the same time it is also incredibly bold when it comes to its ambition. The unique elements of its design are executed very well, and it's only in that final pass of polish that its limitations are truly evident. Even then, I struggled to put Aztech Forgotten Gods down once I started playing it. As I said at the outset, Aztech Forgotten Gods is perfect imperfection. While I can’t ignore its faults, I found myself significantly more enamored with its successes.