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Sphinx and Cursed Mummy
game: Sphinx and Cursed Mummy
four star
posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
publisher: THQ
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Apr 21st, 2004
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Apr 21st, 2004

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By Matt James

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is one of those games I might have overlooked and never known what I was missing. From what I knew about it, I expected more of a platform game. While there are many of those elements present (especially during the mummy portions of the game) Sphinx is really much more.

The beginning of the game didn't do much to alleviate my preconceived misgivings. It was that overly simple jump here, jump there? kind of gameplay. The first ten minutes had me groaning at the prospect of having to review the game. Luckily, I played on and discovered that, despite many little flaws, Sphinx was a very satisfying experience and a much different type of game than I expected. Sphinx is essentially made up of two different games that intersect with each other. They are similar yet very different. The largest portion of the game is devoted to the journeys of Sphinx, a young demi-god. The designers were smart in making this the main thrust of the game. It is a challenging and entertaining adventure, heavily influenced by the Zelda series of games. The smaller part of the game focuses on the young prince Tutankhamen, who becomes the mummy after his first level. This is closer to the type of gameplay I had expected from Sphinx, yet it is done so well that I enjoyed most of it quite a bit. It is very platformy and can become frustrating, yet in the small doses we are given actually helps to break up the gameplay and add a little comic relief to the more straightforward adventures of the Sphinx.

The game begins by introducing us to Sphinx and his world. There is an evil rising and it is up to Sphinx to put a halt to it. True to the Zelda form, you start off with very little, and your first task is to retrieve the Sword of Osiris. This is the most painful part of the game. It doesn't take too long though, and once you get your sword the game becomes a lot of fun. Once the sword is in your possession, your mentor asks you to teleport to your enemy and stop his rise to power. Unfortunately, you are prevented from doing so and end up teleporting to a mysterious location. That is when the game cuts to the young prince. It is his birthday and the palace is a buzz with preparations for the big event. As you walk around your aunt gives you a task that leads to your discovery of a plot by your brother to take over your throne at your birthday celebration. You complete your task and uncover your brother's treachery but not in time to keep him from turning you into a mummy.

Our heroes are linked by an ancient being known as Bas-ket, who happens to be an animated basket. He teleports between the two of them as they help each other out (Sphinx finds jars that will restore the Mummy's life and the Mummy has access to artifacts that are out of Sphinx's reach). The Mummy is trapped inside the evil Set's palace and Sphinx exists out in an expansive world. It all looks pretty good. The environments are fine. They aren't the most detailed and engrossing but the characters themselves are excellent. They have all kinds of little mannerisms and the details in their faces are stunning. The Sphinx's tail wags, and he bounces a little after each jump, as if expelling that last little bit of adrenaline before moving on. The Mummy is even better. His ticks constantly crack me up. The way he runs is frantic and hysterical; the way he constantly tries to put himself out when he is on fire is classic, and watching him jerk and shutter while electrified is just perfect. The world is populated with many other interesting characters as well. One of my favorites is the medicine woman, who chants a silly song and shakes her thing to restore your health. You are left with a feeling of interacting with a cartoon adventure.

The Mummy's power comes from the fact that he is already dead, thus it is impossible to kill him. This means that you can electrocute him, burn him, smash him flat, slice him in three, and even turn him into a cloud of dust. You must apply these abilities to several puzzles. You must also sneak, jump, and hide your way through many places of the palace. This is the kind of gameplay that is fun in small doses but becomes frustrating very quickly. The developers seem to be well aware of this and keep the Mummy portions in the minority. There is just enough of it that it remains fun and ends just as you have had enough. Like I said, it is a good break in gameplay as well as story telling (because it is often very funny). On the downside, there is very little saving to be done as the Mummy. Each section of the Mummy is designed to be done in one sitting. Sometimes this just isn't possible. My first time playing the Mummy, I had to leave before I could finish the level. I wasn't pleased about losing and hour's worth of gameplay. Luckily you cannot die as the Mummy so the only time this is a real problem is if you have to shut the game off. It is just a little convenience that would have made this game that much better.

The Sphinx part of the game is really my type of game. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was easily the game I was most engrossed in during 2003. Sphinx is like Zelda-light, and it came at just the right time for me. It is enough like Zelda that I really get into it, yet it is different enough that it doesn't feel like a rip off. It was the perfect length of game to give me the quick fix that I needed right now (if you consider approximately 20 hours a quick fix). Like Zelda, you must earn new items while you explore Sphinx's world in order to be able to explore further in to the world. This is an effective style of gaming because it is not only fun, but it also imbues you with a sense of being rewarded. You can expect to find a shield, blowpipe (blow dart gun), power gauntlets (for heavy lifting), and much more. You also build on your character with items like the golden ankhs. These, like the container hearts of Zelda, allow you to store more health. You can also learn to swim faster, double jump, and do a power slam with your sword. With each additional weapon or skill you can hardly wait to go back to all the places that were previously inaccessible.

The sound in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is generally good. The music is good at adding to, but not distracting from, the gameplay. But, the developers made a major mistake when they decided to omit the voiceovers. I have nothing against reading. In fact I love reading. I was always proud of how videogames, like Pokemon, had aided in my brother's learning to read. This wouldn't have happened if it were all read to him. In Sphinx's case though, it really feels as if something is missing. The characters are dying to be given voice. It just doesn't come off well. The characters are so good and well animated that I can only imagine how much fun their voices could have been. The load times are hard to stomach after a while. There is enough time spent loading that the developers included two different load screens: one for faster loads and one for longer loads. Another glaring annoyance is Sphinx's camera system. It just isn't intuitive enough. It is always looking in the wrong direction and fighting you when you try to right it. A lot of this could have been fixed with a lock-on feature. It worked for Zelda and it could have helped to at least clean up some of the messier battles.

(SPOILER) My only other complaint is the ending. After such a journey I hoped for a little more. When you finally save the Mummy and he is presented with the last jar, he trips and destroys it. This is supposed to be funny (not too mention conveniently setting up a sequel) but it just annoying. After having a grand adventure I didn't like seeing it squandered by an idiot. The ending is supposed to be a reward not a set up for the next game. You are supposed to let us enjoy our victory at least for a moment before ushering us on. (End SPOILER)

All in all, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy makes for a great gaming experience. Zelda fans will definitely want to give it a try. If you are the obsessive type of gamer then you may want to rent it. I was able to beat it (and I recovered nearly everything and conquered every minigame) in three days. They were days of solid gameplay though. Knowing what kind of gamer you are, you will have to decide whether or not it is worth owning it. It is light and fun enough that playing through a second time could still be a lot of fun. Replayability for this game depends more on the gamer. If you want a light adventure that is familiar and yet unique, Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy is something you should definitely try out. It is exciting, funny, and challenging all in perfect doses.