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Review: Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (PC)

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a 3D adventure platformer from Eurocom. From my understanding, one of its biggest draws is that it has two protagonists with one solving puzzles and the other taking the lead in more action-oriented scenarios. While it originally released on Gamecube, PS2, and Xbox back in 2003, it did not arrive on PC until 2017. As such, this version includes some more modern features like achievements and higher resolution textures. I never played it back in the day, but I decided to give it a try this time around.

*Steam key provided by the games PR company.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Story

As the title would suggest, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy tells the story of Sphinx the adventurer and a mummy. The game begins with Sphinx on a quest to retrieve the Blade of Osiris. Not everything goes according to plan, and he ends up having to warp to a mystery location. While exploring his new surroundings, he interrupts a nefarious plot. Once aware that heinous schemes are afoot, Sphinx sets out to put a permanent end to the villain’s plans.

Interestingly enough, the mummy is actually alive at the start of the game. We get to see a glimpse of his normal life and meet some of his family. Of course, he loses his life early on and becomes a mummy. For the remainder of the game, he is nothing more than a tool for the true hero to use. As his body lies within the enemy’s lair, Sphinx sends fragments of the mummy’s soul whenever he needs to retrieve something from their base. This only allows him to move around just long enough to grab the items before becoming an inanimate corpse once more.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Despite what some advertisements may suggest, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy does not have much comedy. There is a bit of visual humour with the pain certain traps inflict upon the undying mummy and there are a few minor gags in some of the dialogue, but the game takes itself seriously most of the time. This approach is certainly better than bombarding the player with lame jokes, but it might limit the game’s appeal.

Sphinx encounters quite a few minor characters throughout his adventure. The ones who appear in the main story help explain the lore of the land while telling Sphinx what he needs to do to advance the plot. Others will briefly introduce themselves before making a request or presenting a challenge. The protagonists themselves do not contribute much to these conversations; their only lines are yes/no dialogue options. Despite an abundance of dialogue, the characters have hardly any depth and do not experience much growth.  Still, none of that is really necessary in a game like this. The writing may not be too compelling, but it still works as a basic adventure story.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Graphics

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy takes place in a world loosely inspired by ancient Egypt. Players can expect to see lots of sand and animal people. However, the game is not all deserts and tombs. Many shops, side-quests, and important people are found on an off-shore city. Sphinx will also visit the volcanic region of Uruk during his adventure. Still, the architecture in each location is pretty similar, giving the world some consistency.

As a modern release, the character textures do not look so bad, but their models have some noticeably polygonal shapes in their design. During conversations, everyone performs a short animation loop as they deliver lines. Most characters have a number of animations with exaggerated motions that do a decent job of emphasizing their emotions. One notable exception is Sphinx whose confident smirk never leaves his face for the duration of the game.

Like other games from its era, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy has some issues with its camera. It zooms in whenever there is an obstacle in its path, but it will only get so close to the protagonist before coming to a complete stop. There are not many areas where this becomes a problem, but there are a few walls and doorways that will get in the way during normal play.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Audio

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy mostly uses orchestral style tracks for its background music. It all fits the general tone of the game and feels perfect for an adventure, but it also sounds a bit generic. Each of the mummy’s abilities has its own song, and one fades out as the other fades in for a smooth transition. The game also uses many ambient sounds from whispers to cackling fire which all help create a specific atmosphere in various locations. While not especially impressive, the game’s background sound is decent enough.

The voice acting in the game only consists of monosyllabic sounds. Characters may sigh or grunt to convey their tone, but their actual dialogue only consists of text. Thankfully, everyone only makes a sound once per line, so the noises they make never get annoying. Similarly, the mummy will yelp in pain when something hits him, but he does not shout for the entire duration of its effect.

Every enemy makes a noise as it attacks. These audio cues all have the perfect timing to act as a warning for the player that feels fair. Furthermore, the various foes have their own unique sounds which helps to keep track of what is going on off-screen. These may seem like fairly standard features, but they are still an essential element of good game design.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Gameplay

Since Sphinx is the primary protagonist of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, players will be playing as him for most of the game. While he is the most capable combatant on the team, his sections of the game have a bigger emphasis on exploration than fighting. Advancing the story usually means venturing to new areas, solving simple platforming puzzles, and acquiring a key item at the end of a gauntlet. Of course, the world is not entirely linear and there are a few collectibles to find off the main path.

There are also quite a few side quests to complete. These mostly involve running obstacle courses within a time limit or delivering objects. The rewards are usually pieces of health upgrades. Since the process for upgrading health opens up late in the game and requires multiple pieces, the reward does not always feel worth the effort. This is especially true as some obstacle courses demand near-perfect performances.

Of course, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy also has players take on the role of the mummy. Since he is already dead, he does not need to worry much about suffering fatal damage from traps. Instead, his sections of the game require him to take advantage of their effects to activate various mechanisms. The catch is that most wear off after a while. Touching water will also nullify the effects of most traps, as will getting hit by a trap of a different element. This means that his sections mostly revolve around figuring out the best way to get from one point to another.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Many puzzles on both sides of the game are pretty complex. They are large in scale and include quite a few smaller parts. This means that it takes a bit of effort to get everything just right. The puzzles are usually pretty easy to figure out, but actually performing the necessary actions to get through them tends to be satisfying anyway.

Both protagonists gain new abilities as they go. Sphinx can not even attack at first, but the items he collects over the course of the game grant him additional abilities from a double jump to a faster swimming speed. Meanwhile, the mummy encounters new traps in each area. Having the gameplay evolve like this can help keep players engaged over the course of the game. It also works as a way to lock content away from the player until they progress to a certain point in the story. Still, each protagonist gains abilities that they only ever need to use once. Having to learn new mechanics just to solve one puzzle feels like a bit of a waste.

Sphinx gains the power to block attacks relatively early on. However, this only works in the direction he is facing. The ability also needs a moment to take effect. As such, it feels rather useless outside of certain puzzles. Combat also suffers from a poor staggering system. While the third attack in Sphinx’s normal combo deals extra damage, it will knock the enemy down and leave them invulnerable for a time. However, each regular hit staggers the enemy and leaves vulnerable to additional hits. As such, it is often more effective to pause between each swing and stick with normal attacks. Enemies can also take advantage of the staggering system. Since Sphinx is not invulnerable for the entire duration of his recovery animation, foes can get multiple hits in while he is completely helpless and keep him staggered.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

When Sphinx loses all his health, players lose all progress since their last save. While there is usually a save point at the entrance of each area, some tombs can take a while to clear and might not have additional save points along the way. The game can also be a bit stingy with health drops, so these places can be especially dangerous. I rarely died during my time with the game, but it was very frustrating when I did.

One of the more notable abilities in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is the power to capture nearly any adversary. Once Sphinx gains some Capture Beetles, enemies will blink yellow when low on health. Sphinx can then steer a Capture Beetle into the creature to capture it. Certain beasts can then be unleashed to break obstacles and open special crates. However, using a beetle replaces the camera controls. If an enemy goes off screen while trying to capture it, avoiding its attacks can be difficult.

As a game that was once exclusive to consoles, it should come as no surprise that Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy plays comfortably with a controller. The keyboard controls are not as pleasant, however. Most functions that appear on the right side of a controller are near the WASD keys instead. This means that the left hand has to perform most actions, including both movement and attacking. For some reason, aiming the blowgun in first person uses movement controls. Obviously, WASD does not offer the same precision as a mouse or joystick, so that is not ideal either. The game is still playable this way, but it is best to have a controller ready to go.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Verdict

For the most part, l enjoyed my time with Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. The story is not incredibly compelling and the presentation is relatively unremarkable, but the gameplay is fairly fun. The platforming puzzles are not difficult to figure out, but they are large and intricate. Since they require a bit of effort to finish, they end feeling satisfying despite the lack of difficulty. There are also quite a few side missions to complete which gives players incentive to explore. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy may not be the best platformer ever made, but it still feels worth playing.

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