First Impressions: This isn't the most historically accurate game -- but at least it doesn't include Ramses Burns...
As someone who fancies himself a student of ancient Egypt's grand history and mythology, I have long yearned for a video game that would capture the mystery and allure of this spectacular lost culture, with impeccable historical authenticity down to the last detail.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is not that game.
However, that's not to say it's not intriguing -- THQ promises to bring Zelda-style action and adventure to the PlayStation 2 with this title, and that's certainly not a bad thing. While it's based on ancient Egypt, the game's characters are all cartoonish caricatures of the culture's people, places and things -- in other words, not like any tomb wall you've ever seen on the Discovery Channel!
According to the game's story, Egypt was once a prosperous and harmonious land, but has sunk into a deep malaise. As is usual in video games, this malaise is caused by one thing -- terrible monsters are appearing in once-peaceful ares. But the source of this scourge is easy to find: The country's powerful magical crowns were stolen by the nefarious donkey-headed Set, who also happens to be the god of evil (no wonder he's so evil...he got stuck with a donkey head, while the other Egyptian gods got cool animals heads like falcons, cats and jackals!).
Sphinx, a demi-god with a lion's tail (kind of like a combination of Dragon Ball Z's Goku and Final Fantasy IX's Zidane), is now the Nile's only hope for a future. However, he won't be alone on his quest -- the boy pharaoh Tutankhamen will join him on the adventure, except there's just one problem: He's been prematurely mummified by Set! So, the duo's goal will be two-fold: Recover the crowns, and find Tut's internal organs so that he can be revived.
As I mentioned before, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy seems to play a lot like a Zelda title -- there's even an icon in the upper right-hand corner telling you which button will make you jump, attack, or use special items. While it won't have all the RPG elements that Zelda has, it does seem to be inspired by that series' famous dungeon levels, with much exploring to be done, and many chests with keys and power-ups to be found.
The game is divided into Sphinx and Tut (a.k.a. Mummy) areas, and you'll alternate between the two characters throughout -- in a sense, you'll basically be playing two separate games. The sequences with Sphinx will be traditional sword-based dungeon exploration in the vein of other action-adventure titles. Besides attacking, Sphinx can jump, cling to ledges, and climb up various poles -- he'll even be able to sprout wings and fly at certain points! Keeping with the Zelda-inspired theme, Sphinx will find various augmentations to his arsenal along the way, including things like projectile weapons.
The Mummy's areas will play much differently -- he's a frail li'l bandaged fellow, so he can't really attack very well. But since he's already dead, he can endure being smashed, squished, spiked and set on fire. Indeed, Mummy is clearly the Johnny Knoxville of the ancient world. However, he won't use his talents to make himself filthy rich with TV shows and movies -- he'll use them to solve puzzles, which are the main focus of his areas.
Luckily, never has being dead been so useful. Need to squeeze through a column of metal bars? Just squish yourself down to wafer-thin size, and slip on through. Need to light a few torches to disarm a trap? Set yourself on fire and go town. Does an area require an electrical conduit? You'll have to take one for the team again, Mummy -- shock yourself with a few thousand volts, and get to work! In fact, part of the fun will be in seeing just how many different ways Mummy can be twisted and tortured, so he'll definitely be supplying most of the comic relief in the game.
Though the title is set in ancient Egypt, Sphinx and Mummy will travel to several worlds, such as a jungle area; an imposing, almost gothic-looking castle; and that staple of action-adventure titles, the ?fire level.? So, this means players won't get bored by constant sand/tomb/pyramid themes, though there's certainly much sand and many tombs to be found as well.
The graphics in all the levels I've seen look fantastic, featuring smooth and fast-paced action. One strength of the game seems to be the enemies -- they're weird, varied and look fantastic. Despite the cartoony feel of the game, they manage to capture the essence of ancient Egyptian mythology quite well. You'll run across things like spider-monkeys (I'm talkin' head of a monkey and legs of a spider here!), weird rhinoceros-like creatures, anthropomorphic hawk guardians, and frightening giant scarabs and scorpions (in fact, insect enemies seem to be a theme of the game).
Though Sphinx, Mummy and Set are the major protagonists and antagonist, they certainly won't be the only characters in the game. Horus, the virtuous falcon-headed god, will guide the heroes through their quest. Also appearing are Akhenaten, Tut's rival for the throne of Egypt, and Nefertiti, Tutankhamen's true love in the game. You'll just have to forget that Nefertiti was actually Tut's stepmother in real life! (Yeah, best not to think about that...!) Other Egyptian gods, demi-gods and historical figures (or at least cartoonish facsimiles of historical figures) will most likely play roles in the game as well -- THQ promises ?hundreds? of characters and enemies in all.
Well, I'm still waiting for that historical strategy simulation that'll re-enact the epic chariot battles between the Egyptians and the Hittites... However, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy looks like it'll appeal to a slightly larger audience, as it definitely looks like it could be something special. The combination of impressive graphics, gameplay, story and humor -- along with a fresh new take on famous myths and legends -- could make it one of the top PS2 action-adventure titles this year. And hey, it might even get some kids out there interested in reading about real Egyptian history!