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?
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