Game Description: Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy puts you into the midst of an epic quest to find the ancient crowns of Egypt. You take on the character of Sphinx interacting with hundreds of supernatural monstyers while traveeling across levels spanning the globe. Each region is linked together by magic portals, but in order to reach them, you have to solve puzzles, defeat bosses, and learn new abilities.
There was a recent news story regarding Sega suing the makers of Simpsons' Road Rage because they felt the game was a direct rip-off of their own Crazy Taxi. While I agree that the Simpsons game is a rip-off of Sega's madcap driving title, I'm not sure there's really enough there to warrant litigation. I mean, the gaming industry has made an art out of taking one successful idea and running it into the ground, with everyone and their brother using it in similar games. By Sega's logic, anyone using bullet time in a game should be sued by the developers of Max Payne (or even Ringo Lam, who utilized it on of the earliest forms of the technique in his film Full Contact). Better yet, almost everyone in gaming would owe money to Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto for all the Legend of Zelda clones that have come out over the years. Sure, they change the characters and the settings, but Ocarina of Time has clearly inspired a ton of adventure games. The latest game to take up the gauntlet is Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy.
No one is ever going to confuse Sphinx with Zelda, but that doesn't mean this quirky little action title is without merit. Sphinx may not succeed in all the areas of game development, but it does more than enough things right to justify spending some time with it. Gamers who enjoy lighthearted action with a pleasant mix of combat, puzzle-solving, and platforming elements will find Sphinx an interesting diversion.
The title features a threadbare plot designed solely to take the two main characters, Sphinx (a half-man, half-lion demi-god) and Tutankhamen (a bumbling prince turned into a mummy) into a number of interesting quasi-Egyptian landscapes. Gameplay alternates between the two characters, but each is unique so it never feels forced. Sphinx is the action character—he fights, he can do all kinds of crazy jumps, and he can use all the cool artifacts littered throughout the game. Tutankhamen, on the other hand, spends the entirety of the game locked away in the enemy's booby-trapped castle (what is it with enemies and booby-trapped castles anyway? It must be a real pain getting around even for the people who live there). Since Tutankhamen is already technically "dead," nothing can kill him. He can fall into bottomless pits, but he just reloads himself right back into the game. He's the mummy version of Voodoo Vincesort of.
To make up for his immortality and the fact that he can't fight, the Tutankhamen missions are puzzle-based. Players will have to interact with the environment to solve the puzzles—this means lighting Tutankhamen on fire, smashing him flat to slip through bars, and so forth. It's really quite charming in a masochistic sort of way—fans of Voodoo Vince will definitely enjoy it.
The Sphinx segments are much more straightforward, with a premium placed on hacking and slashing bad guys. The only flaw here is that the game lacks the brilliant lock-on targeting system of the Zelda games. If you're going to make a Zelda clone, why would you leave this out? The game suffers because of the omission—with the combat becoming occasionally unfocused and harder than necessary when facing multiple opponents.
Unfortunately, the Sphinx character lacks personality—he's the heroic main character gamers have seen a billion times before. Tutankhamen is the far more interesting character (continuing the trend of games wherein the sidekick is more interesting than the lead—e.g. Ratchet & Clank, Jak and Daxter, etc.). Tutankhamen exudes personality—his actions while being lit on fire or electrocuted are priceless, as is the cheesy big grin and thumbs up he gives the camera whenever he finds something important. However, the biggest problem with the game in this regard is that it features absolutely no voice acting That's right—players will be reading everything in the game. Five years ago, this wouldn't have been much of an issue—but today, the lack of voiced dialogue even in cutscenes stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. The game's charm factor would have increased exponentially with good voice acting. Hopefully, this will be remedied for a sequel.
The other main components of the game are serviceable if not anything particularly inspired. Graphics vacillate between really nice (many of the areas) to really bland (the low resolution ground graphics are pretty ugly). Control is manageable, although both characters have a slight learning curve in terms of getting used to their jumping mechanics. The camera has the occasional hiccup—getting caught on the environment—but overall it's not much of an issue. All of these things highlight the fact that Sphinx is a fairly average game.
Average doesn't have to equate with mediocre or bad, though. Sphinx may not bring anything new to the table or anything gamers hadn't already seen in the Zelda series, but it is a fun game. It's hard not to equate it with Voodoo Vince—another quirky first effort that was amusing despite some kinks in the design—with this game. Both were solid titles that were criminally overlooked by the gaming masses and consigned to the great bargain bin far too quickly. Yes, players can sum up Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy as "just another Zelda clone"—but at the end of the day, if developers are going to emulate something, shouldn't it be something great?
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy sat in my "to-play" pile for months, probably more than a year if I wanted to be accurate about it. I'm a big fan of third-person adventure games, and after reading Mike's opinion, I thought it was a safe purchase on the cheap. The problem was that I never felt like playing it. The box art is very mediocre and not the sort of eye-catcher that jumps out from the shelf, and with an onslaught of other titles that I had been anticipating or that needed reviews, it never got its turn at bat.
So, now that I've completed the game I'm writing this review as a form of apology—any positive influence (however small it may be) that would have resulted from an earlier review comes far too late to be of much benefit to either Eurocom or the game itself. For this, I'm very sorry because Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy deserved better treatment.
Clearly, the game is a superior effort, and much better than the average cookie-cutter experience that it appears to be. Although it doesn't really break new ground, it's a smooth, entertaining romp with attractive visuals and a surprising ability to remain fresh over the course of a 12-hour adventure.
The main attraction to the game is that it's split almost perfectly in half; Sphinx battling monsters and pulling off double jumps for the reflex action that most platform fans enjoy while the Mummy's half is all about cleverly designed environmental puzzles and fearless experimentation thanks to his immortality. The developers' decision to divide the formula works extremely well. As I took control of each character in turn, I knew exactly what type of activities I'd be doing and enjoyed the changes of pace. These swaps were even better because the length of time spent on each character was relatively short and focused, with my role shifting before I got tired of either.
Mike's observations that the game sports a similarity to the genre-leading Zelda franchise is spot-on. It may be squarely in the shadow of Link and his adventures in Hyrule, but Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy sports a surprisingly wide range of mechanics and an unexpected level of sophistication that Miyamoto wouldn't sneeze at. Highlights included Sphinx using a blowpipe to hit distant targets or magical beetles for capturing monsters. The Mummy was no slouch either; his talents included things like being split into three separate bodies by spinning blades or slipping through metal bars after being crushed as thin as a pancake. The developers really went the extra mile in thinking the characters through and giving them a bag of tricks that's stuffed full.
With such a solid base to build on, it's a shame that the game never really took off. The craftsmanship in gameplay is clearly there, and combined with alluring graphics sporting a high level of artistic skill, it should've had a greater impact—the game reminds me a bit of Beyond Good and Evil in that it's another great experience that got shut out at retail.
With a finely-crafted world rich in reinterpreted mythological figures, elements, and images, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy does an excellent job of combining untapped Egyptian themes with likable characters in a solid fantasy title that's well-suited for a broad range of Character Action fans. There's a feature available from the option screen that shows some behind-the-scenes footage of the game being created, and there are several segments shown that were not used in the finished product. It's a shame that Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy didn't do better at retail, because I would have definitely signed on for another tour exploring this extra material in a sequel that's not coming.
Although I can't say that I'm fully responsible—Eurocom, I apologize for not doing my part sooner.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Fantasy Violence
Parents shouldn't be put off by the T rating that Sphinx carries—this is another example of a game getting a rating that was probably harsher than it deserved. The fantasy violence is innocuous, with Sphinx hacking up a lot of bugs primarily. The game features no blood, gore, sexual situations, nudity, or anything else that would be inappropriate for the kids.
Action/Adventure fans should consider checking out this title. It plays a lot like the Nintendo 64 era Zelda games, only not quite as polished. While Sphinx may never reach the lofty plateaus of Link's greatest adventures, that doesn't mean that this is a game without merit. It's actually quite charming, and kept this reviewer amused throughout.
Casual gamers will also want to give Sphinx a look. It's one of those games that can be picked up, played, and then set aside for awhile with nothing lost in the downtime. Plus it's funny enough to appeal to players of all ages and demographics.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers can play Sphinx without trepidation—the game has absolutely no voice acting, so the entirety of the script is presented through text dialogue.