Review: Montezuma's Revenge for the Atari 2600


I've got Montezuma's Revenge and I want to tell you all about it! This 1984 release from Parker Brothers is reputed to be one of the best adventure games for the Atari 2600, so naturally I was eager to try it out. Imagine my relief when I finally sat down with this sought-after title, only to discover that it is genuinely fun to play. What makes it so much fun? Glad you asked.

Panama Joe

You are the mysterious adventurer known as Panama Joe and you are raiding Montezuma's fortress in search of treasure. The instructions don't explicitly say whether you are a hero or a thief. But either way, your ultimate goal on each level is to find the special room known as the treasure chamber. Along the way you will find an occasional jewel to whet your appetite.


The fortress consists of a network of rooms (screens) that you must navigate through. As you progress you will encounter all kinds of obstacles including bouncing skulls, crawling spiders, snakes, laser gates and disappearing bridges.


You can find several objects to help you in your quest, including:

keys - essential for opening the many locked doors you will encounter.

sword - possession of the sword allows you to eliminate either a skull or a spider.

torch - once you have the torch you can see in rooms that were previously dark.

amulet - allows you to temporarily pass through enemies without suffering harm.

jewels - jewels give you points and points can earn extra lives.


Note that the sword does not affect snakes. Most of the time it is preferable to eliminate a spider with it since they are worth 1000 points more than skulls. Also note that the amulet actually looks like a hammer. My guess is that it was originally going to be used more like the weapon from Donkey Kong, but its function changed for whatever reason. Finally, it is important to collect any jewels that come your way because the points will help you gain extra Panama Joes. At times it will seem like extra Joes are plentiful, but they have a way of disappearing as quickly as they arrived.

If you collect the necessary keys and climb and jump your way through the maze of rooms you will eventually arrive at the treasure chamber. I won't describe the chamber except to say that it is a unique room and you will know it when you get there.


After your time in the treasure chamber runs out, Panama Joe will fall down and land in the familiar "rolling skull" start-up room. This happens quickly, and if you forget to release the joystick you could walk right off the platform and lose a life (but of course that's never happened to me). The next round has now begun, with a rearranged fortress and creatures that move a little faster than before.


The increased speed of later levels actually makes life easier at times because in this game faster-moving creatures are easier to jump. The stationary snakes are the most difficult creatures to leap over. Panama Joe is very responsive to the joystick, however, so at least you're not constantly battling with control issues.


One thing I like about this game is the fact that very little is left to chance. The absence of random pitfalls means that success or failure lies completely in the hands of the player. The key to survival is good timing. Haste is your biggest enemy in this game. The key to success is planning. There are numerous opportunities to waste time backtracking or to waste keys on doors that don't need be opened. Find the most efficient path through the fortress, focus on each obstacle as you encounter it, and enter the next room with caution (easy to say, I know).



Montezuma's Revenge is fun from the start and has plenty of replay value. It combines elements of surprise and humor in one flicker-free adventure. Although most individual rooms provide only a short-term challenge, small mistakes add up to make long-term survival more difficult. Grab all the treasure you can, because sooner or later you will feel the sting of Montezuma's Revenge.


reviewed by Randy

April 2001

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