Review by BloodGod65
"Walk Like an Egyptian"
The Playstation 2 proved to be a temporary safe-haven for the endangered platformer genre of games. With excellent franchises such as Ratchet and Clank making their home on Sony's black box, it was clear that platforming still had plenty of life left in it, regardless of what the naysayers thought. While Jak and Ratchet are the two most recognizable platformer franchises, there were plenty of other good titles released as well. With its semi-free roaming environments, dungeon roaming, elaborate puzzles and numerous side activities, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy feels a lot like an Egyptian flavored Legend of Zelda. And that's a very good thing.
As you might have guessed from the title, the game revolves around two characters. Sphinx, a spunky guy with a tail, is an apprentice to a sorcerer known as Imhotep. Being a world-wise kind of guy, Imhotep tells Sphinx that something evil is brewing in the blasted, dead land of Uruk. He then sends Sphinx on a mission to recover the sacred Blade of Osiris. Not long after, the game introduces Tutankhamen, the young prince of Luxor who is about to celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately evil deeds are afoot in the Pharaoh's palace and Tut ends up getting captured and turned into a mummy by a nasty sorcerer. As luck would have it, Sphinx shows up and inadvertently saves him, causing Tut's body to remain in a semi-dead and invulnerable state. After this chance meeting, it becomes clear that it will take both heroes using their unique abilities to save the world from its impending doom.
It should be obvious from the supernatural elements that Sphinx isn't a historically accurate reproduction of Egyptian history. While players will meet historical characters like Nefertiti throughout the course of the game, Sphinx will also cross paths with gods such as Anubis and Set. And aside from meeting mythological deities, many of the characters are anthropomorphized animals. In one area, the townsfolk all look like different types of birds. As with Beyond Good and Evil (which did the same thing) this lends the entire game a very surreal feel.
Throughout the course of the game players will use both Sphinx and the Mummy to accomplish goals. These two characters play out in radically different ways as Sphinx is a more action oriented character while the Mummy is used in elaborate environmental puzzles. But players won't get to decide when to switch between the two, as this happens automatically at certain points. It's also worth mentioning that Sphinx takes the spotlight for the majority of the game and players will only step into the shoes of the Mummy a handful of times. Regardless of this, the balance feels just right, because the Mummy levels take a slow-paced, thoughtful approach while using the Sphinx feels more like an action game.
Sphinx isn't purely a brawler though. He does most of the platforming and dungeon crawling, which often entails some puzzle solving as well. Though he starts out as a wuss, after the first level he'll have acquired the Blade of Osiris. Throughout the game he'll continue to acquire new tools and abilities, much like Link does in a Zelda game. He'll eventually have a shield and a blowpipe that shoots a variety of ammunition that can do a variety of things, such as freezing enemies to breaking chains. He'll also find things that give him new abilities such as the Wings of Isis, which allow him to do the requisite double-jump, or the ability to swim quickly underwater.
On the other hand, the Mummy doesn't do much fighting, but his ability to survive any form of abuse comes in handy for puzzle solving. He can be set on fire, pumped full of electricity, flattened like a pancake or even cut into several difference replicas of himself. This whole idea is used cleverly and the puzzles themselves rarely feel needlessly complicated. Instead, a logical sequence of actions is typically all that's required to progress (which is how puzzles should operate rather than with a Silent Hill level of ambiguity). Usually thoroughly exploring an area, identifying what needs to be done and the things that trigger certain reactions is enough to get a player through. The fun part is stringing it all together to get it done. One of my favorite puzzles saw Mummy cut into three pieces at the beginning of the state. From here the goal was to get him to the top of a platform. To do this I had to set one Mummy on fire to get through lava, flatten another one to crawl through a gate and then raise some platforms for the third Mummy to jump on.
There are a few side activities players can check out as well. In the city of Abydos several merchants have games set up to test memory and reflexes in variety of ways. The local museum also wants a collection of every monster in the land. This requires going out, fighting monsters and capturing them with Capture Beetles. This mechanic is also important for game progression as two enemy types, the Fire Armadillo and Slim Burble can set fire to things or explode, which is often necessary to proceed. Finally, Sphinx can roam the land looking for Gold Ankh pieces. Just like in Legend of Zelda, if you collect four of these they can be fused to create another health slot for Sphinx.
There are a few problems that mar the overall experience. The jump function can be unresponsive at times and it is often hard to judge where a character is going to land. The camera also becomes a nuisance quite often due to its tendency to get stuck in the environment. And in combat it is usually ineffective at keeping up with the action, as enemies are quick on their feet and like to circle around Sphinx. This often leads to suffering cheap shots from off-screen.
The whole game looks excellent and in terms of style, it looks a lot like a Disney/Pixar production. Character models are comical, highly detailed and very expressive. The environments look great as well, but can be a little bland due to the setting, which involves lots of desert and ruins. Because of this, the color palette gravitates towards brown a little too much. Animations are also excellent and usually very fluid. The Mummy is especially noteworthy. When he's on fire, he'll dance around trying to put his wrappings out and when he's been electrified he'll randomly jerk and seize up from the shocks.
The sound design isn't so great. The music is appropriate to the setting, with lots of Egyptian sounding tunes, and in combat each strike will cause a couple of dramatic notes to play. However, there is absolutely no voice acting. While cutscenes play, characters will dramatically act out but there's almost no sound. This makes it feel as if the game was just rushed out the door and overall, it's very aggravating.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a game no platformer fan should miss and even fans of the Zelda games will find plenty to like here. With unique characters who provide opportunities for similarly unique gameplay, it's a shame the game didn't take off and bloom into a full franchise like several of the other PS2-era platformers did.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/17/09, Updated 07/07/10
Game Release: Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (US, 11/10/03)
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