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

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The Descent of the Serpent is a Zelda-like game that’s chock full of actual history.

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In a screenshot from The Descent of the Serpent, a character disguised as a wolf is standing in a mountain environment.

I love the cute characters in the game.

Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

Google’s Arts & Culture division has released a charming new educational game all about ancient Mesoamerica. The game, The Descent of the Serpent, is available to play right now in your browser or via the Google Arts & Culture iOS and Android apps.

There’s a light plot to Descent of the Serpent, shown in a short video that plays 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 included on the artifact to prevent floods from taking over the world. You, naturally, agree, and the statue says they’ll send you back in time to ancient Mesoamerica.

You’ll be able to pick from one of four adorable animal “disguises” for your characters that all have roots in Mesoamerican culture. I picked 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 in a disguise of each animal — a wolf, a dog, a jaguar, and an owl.

It’s tough to pick which is the best one, but it’s definitely the wolf.

Screenshot by Jay Peters / The Verge

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

While exploring the world in Descent of the Serpent, you’ll also have to dodge simple obstacles like roaming crocodiles and monkeys throwing things at you. On the game’s easier difficulty, getting hit just stuns you for a short while. But on the “challenge” mode, you’re on a timer and get sent back to the beginning of the level after taking five hits, so you’ll have to be careful. I’d recommend most people just stick with the standard difficulty — I don’t know if this is a game that is much better by being any tougher.

More games are being used to teach history

Descent of the Serpent is just the latest educational web experience from Google’s Arts & Culture group, which has already made things like a collaborative jigsaw puzzle app and the awe-inspiring blob opera. And Descent of the Serpent is also part of a trend of games being used to teach history, like Ubisoft’s educational versions of Assassin’s Creed and Take Two’s CivilizationEDU.

I’m only partway through The Descent of the Serpent, but I very well may finish the game on my own sometime soon. It’s been a fun way to learn more about a culture I’m not very familiar with, and I really want to spend some more time with my wolf buddy. After I’m done, I might have to play a round of Google’s pétanque — or make a song with the blob opera.

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