Retrospective: Montezuma’s Revenge

Some games are constant favorite, titles that you wish you could replay over and over. Others are favorites, but only because you played them when you were a kid and associate them with your early childhood. Montezuma’s Revenge is in the latter category.

Montezuma’s Revenge is a puzzle-based platformer from the 80s with an Aztec pyramid treasure hunting theme. Your character must collect coins, keys and swords (which will kill an enemy on the screen) while avoiding enemies such as rolling skulls and snakes. The game concept of “go to this temple/dungeon/pyramid and find gold and kill undead enemies” is a timeless one and Montezuma’s Revenge does it well, albeit with the kind of old-school cheap shots that made games in the 80s and early 90s so frustrating to play.

This screen is everything that you'll ever have to know about Montezuma's Revenge.  Your lives are represented by hats.  If you touch the skull here, you will lose one hat.

This screen is everything that you’ll ever have to know about Montezuma’s Revenge. Your lives are represented by hats. If you touch the skull here, you will lose one hat.

Why Montezuma’s Revenge is remembered while other, similar games have been forgotten probably turns on the fact that it was pretty damn advanced for a game released in 1984. The controls are janky as expected for an Atari/C64 game, but there’s usually a lot going on at any one time and the game is rarely boring. It’s not a timeless classic like Super Mario Bros., but it was great for its time and is still playable and fun. It was also at least partly responsible for later, far deeper 2d platformers like Cave Story and Spelunky. Well, actually, I don’t know that for sure, but I would bet that some of the makers of those games played Montezuma’s Revenge as kids.

Really, though, the most telling thing about the staying power of Montezuma’s Revenge is that, even ten years after its release, it was still installed on the Apple IIes at my school. Why my school let seven year-olds play games about jumping over skulls and collecting coins is a mystery. Maybe they thought computer game = educational? By that logic, they should have let us play Doom too, but they didn’t.


The Master System Montezuma’s Revenge box is kind of amusing if only for how it proudly announces that it is “featuring PANAMA JOE”. Even though nobody knew who the hell PANAMA JOE was before Montezuma’s Revenge came out, and even then nobody cared. We just referred to him as “guy.” Ex: don’t let the guy fall into the fire pit.

If you want to play Montezuma’s Revenge today, you can probably get a rom and run it on DOSBox or something. You might enjoy it, though it helps if you also played it as a kid.

One thought on “Retrospective: Montezuma’s Revenge

  1. Poor Panama Joe joins the list of forgotten gaming stars. The C64 had some fun platformers. I liked playing Bruce Lee for example.

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