REVIEW: Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan

Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

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Title Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan
Developer COLLECTORVISION Entertainment Games
Publisher COLLECTORVISION Entertainment Games
Release Date September 12th, 2019
Genre Retro platformer
Platform PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One
Age Rating E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood
Official Website

Given my predilection towards retro fare, it probably should be no surprise that I ended up reviewing Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan. If anything, it’s a bit more surprising that I didn’t cover it sooner. But I often face a dilemma when I see games inspired by retro classics. Are these new games true to their inspirations, or just a cheap cash in? Sometimes that not knowing will make me wait a long time to evaluate whether or not these new games are worth my price of admission. Thankfully, I recently got an opportunity to cover Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan, and decided to roll the dice. Keep reading to see if that was a wise decision or not.

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The story starts when our titular character, Sydney Hunter, wanders into a Mayan pyramid. I’d like to say there was some deep meaning or plot relevance to this, but much of the game’s story is almost treated as either an afterthought or joke. He’s just out and about and decides it’s a good idea. To nobody’s surprise, this turns out not to be a good idea, and he finds himself quickly trapped in the pyramid. Worse yet, he discovers that thanks to the antics of the mouthy sun god, Kinich Ahau, and the feathered serpent god, Kukulkan, soon time will be frozen entirely. This is apparently because Kukulkan broke the Maya Haab calendar into several pieces and stole four idols. While the story says there’s only a few days in which Sydney can fix the situation, in-game you actually have as much time as you need. Your goal is to unlock each of the 13 stages by collecting Crystal Skulls littered throughout each stage. They serve as keys of sorts to progress further. While there’s 100 or so you need to reach the end of the game, that doesn’t require finding the total amount of Crystal Skulls. I managed to get the best ending, and I missed out on a half dozen or so carefully hidden ones.

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Besides these, you’ll also find several other artifacts that aid your escape from the pyramid. Many are new weapons, such as a spear you use to hunt aquatic beasts and a crucial long distance boomerang. You’ll also get objects that do stranger things, such as lowering the lava flow to allow you access to the bottom of the pyramid, one that creates disappearing blocks and another that allows you to destroy annoying Skull blocks. Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan definitely has shades of a Metroidvania, but it’s much more of a classic platformer. You’ll constantly find ways to backtrack to previous stages and find carefully hidden treasures. Most important is a special Skeleton Key artifact you’ll find late in the game, which effectively renders the need to find and use disposable colored keys in each stage moot.

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Often those treasures will be guarded by fierce bosses. Typically I love bosses in any game, and find they can often be the highlight, but here I was somewhat underwhelmed. About a third of the bosses are identical stationary Gatekeepers which just spit streams of fire that instantly kill you if they touch Sydney. I actually enjoyed those more than the deity bosses, which all move and look like lost Robot Masters from Mega Man. Though they all have carefully selected Mayan names, I ended up just referring to them as Leopard Man, Bee Man, etc. Now, you’d think I loved them, since I love Mega Man, but unlike bosses from that series, these deities all suffer from clone syndrome. They all have almost identical attack patterns, with some minor flourishes. Worse, they have a lot of health, and tend to litter the screen with projectiles, as opposed to carefully tuned attack patterns, which made them frustrating. The other third of boss types were just random creatures, and I found them the most interesting. There’s one that’s a giant eel that fires electric bolts at you, and another that’s a malicious stone that tries to crush you. If all the bosses were as distinct as those last examples, the game would have felt much more balanced. As it is, many of them will put your patience to the test, most especially one unique Gatekeeper that fires a rapid stream of blue flames which I thought couldn’t be dodged, and only discovered they could after checking with the developer.

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The basic loop of the game is fun, and I legitimately enjoyed exploring each stage. There’s lots of deadly traps such as spikes, platforms that break apart and statues that spit flames, as well as a variety of minor enemies. There’s things like walking skeletons, Mayan warriors, ethereal ghosts and basic stuff like rats and scorpions. My primary complaint with regard to some enemies is many of them are really, really tiny and incredibly aggressive. One of the worst offenders are beehives which constantly spew tiny bees that rush forwards, and can quickly overwhelm you. Worst, they are often placed so you can’t hit them immediately, and it’s often better to run screaming in terror. Overall though, I found the enemies to be fair enough, and felt they offered a good challenge while I searched for treasure and artifacts.

Speaking of treasure, you will need to pick up a lot of assorted loot as you explore. You can use it in various shops throughout the pyramid to buy items such as restorative elixers, and even permanent upgrades like additional health. You’ll also be able to buy some bird seed from one store, and without going into spoilers, I will say it’s well worth buying all of it. You can just thank me later.

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As far as controls go, Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan plays pretty well. There’s nothing that fancy, you can just rush about, jump with B and attack foes with A. You can also use the shoulder buttons to both cycle between items in your inventory (using them with X) as well as cycling through your weapons. That’s pretty much it, and I actually admire this simplicity. It makes the game much more about your reflexes and proper timing and less about getting overpowered with upgrades. Sure, I wouldn’t have minded something like a double jump, but it wasn’t strictly necessary. One thing that would have been nice, however, is a mini-map. Some stages are quite large, and involve lots of crisscrossing corridors, and it’s pretty easy to get lost at times. Especially when you’re scouring a stage for the 8th time trying to find that last Crystal Skull or artifact. If nothing else, I would have loved an item that chimes or otherwise indicates when you’re close to a hidden item. That would have done an amazing job of streamlining things. Thankfully, there’s plenty of save statues strewn about stages that will keep you from losing too much progress when you inevitably die.

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Visually, I really liked Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan. It’s simple, it’s colorful and it has lots of 8-bit personality. The pixel art is pretty on point, and my only complaint was that some of the smaller foes didn’t do a good job of showing off what the game was truly capable of. Well, that and the fact there were so many generic enemies in a game that might have borrowed more exotic ideas from Mayan lore. But that didn’t dispel how much I enjoyed the game’s aesthetic overall. Musically, the game is nice, and has a couple catchy but mostly forgettable tracks. It also has very silly sound effects, which in a way fit the goofy vibe the game seems to be going for. Put together, the game looks and sounds pretty great.

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While I liked a lot about Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan, there’s a few things that frustrated me. Some of those I have mentioned earlier, such as annoying tiny foes that swarm you and a lack of a mini-map. Another irritation was the fact that when you return to some stages, you’d need to beat the boss all over again, whereas others you didn’t. But perhaps the worst offender is the game’s writing. Now, I can deal with a joke or two, but it goes out of its way to be a clown, which kind of renders the urgency of the plot null and void. Worse was that the game is littered with grammatical errors and typos. When you consider that most every character you talk to will be a chatterbox, that makes things a bit problematic. I don’t like being super critical, but any game just comes across as less polished and well put together when showcasing these easily fixable issues. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the game, but these kept the game from a brighter evaluation.

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In the end, I probably spent a good 7 or 8 hours playing Sydney Hunter and the Curse of the Mayan for review, and mostly enjoyed my time. Though I’m not familiar with the previous game, Sydney Hunter and the Caverns of Death, I felt this was a mostly faithful retro romp. Sure it had its share of problems, but none of them kept me from having a good time. They just irritated me in the interim. But if you like games inspired by the classics (this one definitely took notes from Castlevania, Mega Man, and even more recent stuff like La-Mulana and 1001 Spikes), you should probably pick this game up. For only $19.99, it’s hard to say no if you’re a retro game fan.

Sydney Hunter | Anna

Review Score

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.