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Video Game / Crystal Skull

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Crystal Skull is a 1996 Full Motion Video Adventure Game by Some Interactive that was released by Maxis.

The story begins with Emperor Motecuhzoma II waking from a strange dream where you - Queztal, a birdkeeper in the Emperor's aviary - brought him a Crystal Skull which showed mysterious visions to him. Upon waking, he learns from a messenger that "white men with beards" have arrived in the east. He promptly gives orders for you to be brought to him so that you can bring him the Crystal Skull.

However, Motecuhzoma's military commander General Snakeskirt promptly gives secret orders for you to be found and killed before the Emperor can meet with you. You have no choice but to make your way through Tenochtitlan past Snakeskirt's men to the Emperor - aided by a friendly Shaman with various magical abilities - and after that, out of Tenochtitlan to find the Crystal Skull, on a journey that takes you across Mesoamerica to the abandoned cities of Teotihuacan and Tula, across the ocean to the ancestral homeland of Aztlan, back through time to the cities of the Maya, and finally deep within the earth to the realm of Xibalba.

Tropes in this game include:

  • Anachronism Stew: Played for humour. At one point in the game Quetzal needs to destroy a wall hanging, and he can casually ask an NPC for "a Swiss Army Knife or something".
  • Backtracking
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In two different conversations, Quetzal expresses the desire to "quit" - in one case, you have to make him say it to advance the game. One person even responds by saying "Do you want to save first?"
    • If you try to enter the Jail in Chichen Itza, Quetzal will turn and shrug at the camera after failing to get in.
  • Broken Bridge: Several. The Marketplace and City Gates remain blocked by a crowd until you defeat the Eagle Warrior in the Priest's Room. A crevasse blocks access to the ruined city of Tula until you get a rope to cross it with. Xibalba remains inaccessible until you bring offerings to the Consecrated God Pots.
  • Chain of Deals: The Marketplace level is this; at the start, you sell a medallion to buy a copper flagon and some feathers which you sell to another merchant for cacao beans. Then, when you need the medallion back to complete the level, you have to buy all of these items back. Unfortunately, the feathers have been turned into an expensive tapestry, and have to be broken apart once bought.
  • Dialogue Tree: A somewhat unique variant; whenever you talk with someone, three images of Quetzal's head appear at the bottom of the screen. Mousing over each lets you hear what Quetzal is thinking, but it's not the same as what he actually says.
  • Disney Villain Death: Bloodglutton gets thrown from the Great Pyramid to his death, and Quetzal does too in some bad endings.
  • Dull Surprise: Xochi seems awfully calm when she finds out she's about to be executed on the Great Pyramid.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You
  • Evil Chancellor: Snakeskirt. It's gradually revealed that he's wanting to start wars with the Aztec Empire's allies to get what he sees as a better quality of sacrificial victims for the Gods.
  • Exposition Fairy: The Shaman. He has the power to teleport and shapeshift - which he later empowers you with - and often pops up to give you vague hints. In addition to that, you can "summon him" if you're stuck; bringing up an in-game walkthrough.
  • Gainax Ending: Oh boy. You find the Crystal Skull, and take it to the Great Pyramid at Tenochtitlan which summons the Gods Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl. Tezcatlipoca promptly demands a sacrifice and kills Xochi, but Quetzalcoatl refuses, and restores her to life, before the two Gods combine and explode in mid-air. The Shaman promptly appears and explains to Quetzal and Xochi that great changes are coming to their world, but that their time will come again. At the conclusion of this, Tenochtitlan transforms into Mexico City, and Quetzal and Xochi - now in modern clothing - embrace. Good luck understanding what the heck that was about.
  • Groin Attack: Xochi, to Snakeskirt, resulting in an Instant Soprano.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Averted with Snakeskirt's Lieutenant, who can see through Quetzal's fake disguises when nobody else can. Oddly, he doesn't bother Quetzal when he's wearing his normal clothes...
  • Guide Dang It!: The latter half of the game is a re-enactment of the Mayan Popul Vuh, and getting through it requires knowledge of what the mythological figures did. This includes riding on or hiding in a bamboo blowpipe, releasing a mosquito to attack the Lords of Death before you meet them, and using feathers to fake a fire in the Dark House. Good luck figuring this out on your own.
    • Infiltrating Snakeskirt's base earlier on in the game is equally difficult; entering each room - and even exiting the building - successfully hinges on whether Quetzal is wearing the right disguise or in the right form.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Sort of. If you defeat Snakeskirt in the penultimate level, Snakeskirt's minion assists you and drags him off to be executed; however, it's more because Snakeskirt agreed beforehand that the loser would suffer that fate.
  • Killed Off for Real: The Tlaxcalan warrior Quetzal meets in jail; who is happy to be a sacrifice to the gods, to the point where he refuses the opportunity to escape with Quetzal when the Shaman comes to help.
  • Mayincatec: Largely averted.
  • Makes Just as Much Sense in Context: The plot of the game can be described as strange at best.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: When at the Doer's cabin, Quetzal can use his seeing stones to look into the future, which happens to show him exactly what's happening to Xochi and Wind Jaguar in his former time.
  • Nintendo Hard: Two minigames in the latter part of the game; one requires you to shoot a moving bird, and another requires you to guide two avatars through four levels of spinning razors. In both cases, the movement of the bird and the razors is completely random and very fast, so there's little strategy involved. Thankfully, the game offers you the option to skip both levels if you can't manage it.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Played with. Quetzal is able to disguise himself as a priest by stealing equipment from the Calemac, which fools every character in the game except Love Interest Xochi and Snakeskirt's Lieutenant, who runs the Calemac and can recognise a fake. Doesn't explain why High Priest Bloodglutton doesn't recognise one, though...]
  • Sequence Breaking: When knocking out the Eagle Knight and stealing his uniform, a glitch allows you to take multiple uniforms from his unconscious body, which means you can skip the latter half of the Market level.
  • Shop Fodder: The copper flagon and the feathers are this.
  • Sinister Minister: Bloodglutton the High Priest, and Snakeskirt's Lieutenant to some degree.
  • Take Me Instead: After Xochi gets captured by Snakeskirt's men, Wind Jaguar gives himself up in order to free her. Snakeskirt accepts, because Xochi stupidly revealed that Wind Jaguar is alerting the common people of Snakeskirt's plans.
  • Teased with Awesome: After you get captured for a second time by the Eagle Warrior in the Priest's Room, the Shaman grants you the ability to shapeshift. However, you can only use it at a few places in the game, and never for very long.
    • Blessed with Suck: Shapeshifting into a snake - one of the most common options - NEVER helps.
  • The Starscream: Snakeskirt, to Emperor Motecuhzoma.
  • Time Travel: Turns out the temple at Tula allows you to travel back through time.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: The first level of the game requires you to find the proper exit out of the Emperor's Aviary, with only vague hints as to which way is the correct way out. Even the help guide acknowledges figuring out this level is confusing!
  • Unwinnable by Design: One part of the game requires Quetzal to gamble with a trader to win cacao beans to trade with. If you lose them all, it's impossible to complete the marketplace level.
  • Useless Useful Spell: When you raid the storage room in the Priest's Room, you get two vials of "Sorcerer's Dust", one of which is marked "Highly Toxic". If you use it, though, it has no effect on your enemies at's the vial marked "Property Of High Priest" that actually does damage.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: One of the Shaman's powers is this; he gives it to you after you get captured twice by a particular Eagle Warrior.
  • Warp Whistle: The Shaman gives you this ability fairly early on in the game; giving you a talisman that contains "a spirit of the world", which allows you to return to key locations. Course, it doesn't work when you're cornered.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Wind Jaguar gets arrested part way through the game, and you never get a chance to release him from jail. The last we see of him, he's grieving at the thought that Xochi will die at Bloodglutton's hands.