A group of rival wizards are in search of ultimate power, seeking to transcend their mortal forms and become as gods. Their quest takes them through a series of mystical realms, battling each other as well as the numerous golems that guard the secrets of Aztlan. A range of arcane spells and some devious traps await them as they face off across numerous arenas. Let the next challenge commence!
Aztlan Dreams is a curious game. Go into battle against one to several rival wizards and golems, the winner being the first wizard to notch up the required number of victories (which varies depending on which realm you are battling in). Battle consists of occupying the majority of a honeycomb of coloured cells. You do this by changing the colour of your controlled cells to that of cells bordering your current region. Bombs, moving blocks and of course the underhanded tactics of your rival wizards are there to make this harder. You have a range of support spells that can help you turn the tide, however, and you can add to your repertoire as you play.
Everything (except for wizard names and some keyboard options to skip/speed up AI play) is controlled by mouse, and you merely need to click on your desired options. This is good, as this can get quite complicated. Certainly at first I was utterly bamboozled by the instructions. Spells? Gem slots? Bombs? Teams? Golems? What do all those map symbols mean? Aaagh! Eventually I figured out the basics by the old fashioned method of clicking on things and seeing what happened. In the early stages there's no real need to worry about all the more complex stuff. It's only a few realms in that I'm finding all the additional stuff especially relevant.
You can play Aztlan Dreams alone, or with friends, or just let the computer play itself. There are options to assign teams (wizards in teams "share" territory, win/lose bouts together and can help - or hinder - each other) and adjust the AI level. Each wizard has different magic types and can only learn spells from those types, so different wizards need to be played in different styles. The option to assign teams and amend all the wizards' settings means that you can make any bout as easy or as difficult as you like. You could even set up a game with entirely AI players and just watch it play!
The main game board is a hexagonal playfield filled with a riot of colours. These are all easily distinguished and transform from one colour to another in a gentle sweep and a blur of coloured light. Some cells on this playfield contain bombs or gems and so forth, and I found these harder to distinguish. I spawned random bombs a number of times with no idea where they ended up and thought for some time that bombs were invisible (they are not!). Character graphics are in a 2D cartoon style, as are the backdrops for realm descriptions. Everything is mostly clear and easily recognisable... once you know what you're actually looking at! Sound meanwhile is one of the strongest elements of Aztlan Dreams, featuring a range of background music in a variety of styles and plenty of sound effects for spells, explosions, gem selections and so on.
The playability is simultaneously very easy and very complicated, not helped by the at first baffling instructions (which could use both a more gradual introduction to the game's features and a good spell checker). The main game features the wizards going around a path, which determines their battles and any rewards they may gain from them. You have very limited control here, able to occasionally move extra spaces on top of your dice roll. Battles have wizards taking turns to choose colours or cast spells. As I say, it's very easy. The complication comes from the range of spells and other features available. I was particularly annoyed by the way computer players can cast spells without any explanation of what they mean. The only way to find out what a spell does is to cast it for yourself - assuming your wizard obtains it.
Aztlan Dreams is a game with plenty of replay value, assuming you stick with it long enough to figure it out in the first place. Completing each realm unlocks new ones, and there is scope for expansion - you can potentially download new realms to play. The range of options for play mean that you can experiment with different wizards, different strategies, different team balances. Struggling players can team up their wizard with a strong AI character and gain some support in battle. Golems get steadily tougher from one realm to the next and there's always a set number of wizards in any realm - you cannot play with fewer or more, meaning that later realms can take a long time. Fortunately you can speed up entirely AI matches and you can break out to the menu and save your current game at any time!
This is a somewhat difficult game to rate. While it does everything with great style and it has tremendous scope, it seems to want to introduce it all in one go and ends up confusing the new player in the process. Perhaps a starting realm with limited features would allow a more gradual introduction to the gameplay mechanics. Once you get started, however, it is a very well produced game. My biggest concern is that it can get a bit "samey" after a while - a side effect of the feature overload, perhaps? The introduction of new features over time can provide a target to aim for.
Although there may be a few areas which could be improved, I was impressed by Aztlan Dreams. It has an ethereal style in keeping with Ixchel's previous Bytten offering, Wicked Defense, and they certainly know their particle effects! Unusual, stylish and deceptively strategic, this is worth a look for any puzzle fan.
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