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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Google’s new adventure game takes a top-down journey through ancient Mesoamerica

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I like the cute characters in the game. | Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

Google’s Arts & Culture Division Has Been Released a charming new educational game all about ancient Mesoamerica. The game, The descent of the snakeis now available to play in your browser or via the Google Arts & Culture iOS and android apps.

There is a slight plot to Descent of the Serpentshown in a short video played at the beginning of the game. While exploring a museum, a large artifact is stolen by Tezcatlipoca, the lord of the smoking mirror, and a living statue asks for your help to recover 20 icons on the artifact to prevent flooding from taking over the world. You agree, of course, and the statue says they’ll send you back in time to ancient Mesoamerica.

You can choose from one of four adorable animal “disguises” for your characters, all of which have their roots in Mesoamerican culture. I chose Huitzilopochtli, represented by the wolf, but you can also play as Xolotl (the dog), Xbalanque (the jaguar), and Mictlantecuhtli (the owl).

The four playable characters in Google's Descent of the Serpent.  A cartoon character is disguised from any animal - a wolf, a dog, a jaguar and an owl.
Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge
It’s hard to choose which one is the best, but it’s definitely the wolf.

The game, which was made in collaboration with Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, plays a bit like a simplified top-down The Legend of Zelda title. You’ll wander through lush (though small) environments to collect the missing icons, which appear as gold coins. When you pick up one of the icons, the game will give a little bit of history about what it is and point you to an exhibition on the Google Arts & Culture website if you want to know more.

While exploring the world in Descent of the Serpent, you also have to dodge simple obstacles like wandering crocodiles and monkeys throwing things at you. On the easier difficulty of the game, it will stun you for a short time if you get hit. But in “challenge” mode you have a timer and will be sent back to the beginning of the level after five hits, so you have to be careful. I recommend most people just stick to the default difficulty setting – I don’t know if this is a game that is much better by being harder.

Descent of the Serpent is just the latest educational web experience from Google’s Arts & Culture group, which has already made things like a joint puzzle app and the awesome blob opera. And Descent of the Serpent is also part of a trend of using games to teach history, such as Ubisoft’s educational versions of Assassin’s Creed and Take Twos civilizationEDU.

I’m only half way The Descent of the Serpent, but I may very well finish the game on my own soon. It was a fun way to learn about a culture I’m not that familiar with, and I really want to spend some more time with my wolf buddy. When I’m done, I may have to play a round of Google boules – or make a song with the blob opera.

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