Saturday, June 14, 2014

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy isn’t really a game I had heard anything about, but my interest in playing it came from stumbling across the GameCube version at a Game Stop, during the time when they were phasing out GameCube stock, and the cover art and praise grabbed my attention. Sometime later, on a recent trip to Texas, I remembered to look for it as I perused a couple of places, finding it at a Half-Price Books, once again on the GameCube platform. After getting it home, I began playing during my last few weeks of college, with Finals affecting my play time for a bit. Having recently completed the game, I can say that my time invested in the game was well worth it.

Two demigods named Sphinx and Horus are tasked by their master Imhotep with retrieving a sword called the Blade of Osiris. As the two try to acquire the sword, Horus ends up falling into a lava flow. Not long after Sphinx gets his hands on the blade, his efforts to go back are hindered and so he is forced to travel by way of a mysterious portal. Meanwhile, Prince Tutankhamen is getting ready to celebrate his birthday, while his brother Akhenaten is preparing a special surprise for him. Eventually, his and Sphinx’s paths cross as Tutankhamen gets captured and is transformed into a mummy through a ritual, which Sphinx disrupts. Once Sphinx makes his escape, it’s clear that there’s more to all of this than meets the eye.

Sphinx, one of the main protagonists and wielder of the
Blade of Osiris.

The story is actually pretty well-written, particularly the Mummy half of the story (which has sort of an anti-climax), but what bogs it down a little is the severe lack of voice acting. In its stead is some text acting as subtitles so you know what each character is saying. However, while normally you can skip some of the text at a prompt (and also make it scroll faster), there are points where it goes through by itself, so you’d better hope you were able to read it fast enough. The only real semblance of voice acting in the game is some grunts or screams, and even then the closest thing you get to full voice acting in cutscenes is an evil laugh from the antagonist, Set.

Tutankhamen, the other main protagonist, after
being turned into a mummy.

What makes this game interesting is that you can play as both Sphinx and the Mummy (Tutankhamen) at different points in the game, each having their own style of play. Sphinx portions of the game play out more like an action game of sorts, including having a health bar (made up of ankhs) and gaining more abilities over time that aid in battle, along with some minor platforming and puzzle solving. The Mummy portions of the game, on the other hand, are all about puzzle solving, with some elements of stealth; these puzzles can get more elaborate and creative than the puzzles in the Sphinx portions, mainly since they tend take full advantage of the Mummy’s undead state (he can’t die from what you have to put him through, although it is implied he can still feel pain), and the fun that can be had from solving these puzzles is aided by the fact that you don’t need to worry about health. On top of this, anything you happen to acquire in the Mummy portions is transferred to Sphinx at the end, so the two sides kind of feed off each other. Both of these gameplay types are really well thought out, though personally I had more fun with the Mummy portions of the game (which is probably at least partially due to my enjoyment of puzzle games), and the only problem I have with the Sphinx sections is that they can get a little cryptic sometimes, which can necessitate the use of a guide (Protip: Even though you have to strike a creature multiple times until it glows yellow before you can use a Capture Beetle on it, you do not need to do so on a Slim Burble; these guys you can capture immediately.)

Pictured: A Slim Burble

Another thing about the Sphinx portions of the game is that, more often than not, the sequence of events needed to advance plays out more or less like a point-and-click adventure game, often requiring completing a Mummy section to obtain a crucial item. For example, near the beginning of the game, in the Corridor of Champions in Abydos, there is an optional gauntlet you can go through. In order to go through the gauntlet, you have to pass a test. To pass the test, you have to bring a diamond back to a crocodile person in under 20 seconds. To do this, you need to be able to somersault, or double jump. To get the somersault ability (which you need anyway to gain access to another area in Heliopolis to advance), you have to find 3 Abydosian pearls to give to a guy so he can give you a key, then use the key to gain access to a higher level, go to a Monster Shop, use a number of scarabs you collected to buy a monster (it doesn’t need to be an expensive one) so you can donate it to a museum to get a zipline handle, use a zipline to travel to a boat, give the captain some scarabs to travel to Heliopolis, then swim over to an area so you can trick a monster into burning a box, use what’s inside the box at two marked points to summon an eagle, then trick another monster into blowing up some boulders, go through a cave to another area so you can swim to an island, enter a shrine where your mentor brings a basket (Bas-Ket) to life to revive Tutankhamen, use Tutankhamen to complete a series of tests in three different rooms by using fire and electricity, allowing Tutankhamen to retrieve some stolen diamonds from the museum in Abydos and the Wings of Ibis, then Sphinx gains the stolen jewelry and the Wings of Ibis, the latter of which allows him to somersault, then swim back across and go the boat that just appeared, give the captain some more scarabs so you can travel back to Abydos, then make your way back to the Corridor of Champions so you can try the challenge, do a somersault to bring the diamond back to the crocodile person within 20 seconds and gain access to the gauntlet. There’s plenty more where this came from.

Sphinx in action (this is a PS2 screenshot because GameCube screenshots
are difficult to find).

As this game is over ten years old and I don’t have much experience with the GameCube, I’m not sure I can really say much about the graphics other than that they manage to hold up really well, which can likely be attributed to the game’s cartoonish art style. The music is also pretty good, as it does a good job of keeping the Egyptian vibe going throughout while still having range. It’s not exactly something I would rush out to buy a CD for, should one exist, but it still does its job really well.

Mummy puzzles often require the Mummy to do harm to himself, in this
instance dividing himself into three.

One last thing I should mention as a bit of fair warning is that this game has a particularly nasty bug, known by players as the infamous “glitch door”. During the start of the second Mummy section, if you save at the save point and then turn the system off, a door that will allow you to advance will remain forever locked, causing you to have to start the game over again to get another shot at it. Since I knew about this glitch going in, I did what I could to avoid it, mainly by simply continuing play after I saved my game, so I never came across it. Should you decide to play this game though, this is something you should really keep in mind.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a really enjoyable game, though whether you prefer the Sphinx or Mummy portions of the game depends on the player. Its graphics really hold up after over a decade and it can get really creative with its puzzle design. A fan of action games akin to Legend of Zelda would probably find some enjoyment in this game, since, while I have never played a Zelda game before, I have read that this game shares some of that franchise’s gameplay elements. If puzzles are your thing, the Mummy portions of gameplay have some really fun puzzles to solve that provide a unique experience. However, if you own any of the major sixth-generation consoles (or any later systems that can play those games), this is a game that’s definitely worth giving a shot.

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