There's a lot of Zelda to be found here, but can you honestly say that's a bad thing?
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy
Platform: All Consoles (Gamecube version review)
Above all, I think I appreciate the realm of Adventure games more than anything else. I'm a big RPG guy, but the older I get (and consequently, the less free time I have each day) I have come to realize more and more, the frustrating flaws inherent in the entire RPG genre, while simultaneously coming to appreciate more and more, the strengths of the Adventure genre. I have come to take much more pleasure and have come to derive a much greater sense of accomplishment from successfully solving a giant puzzle moreso than spending 5 hours tediously leveling up my party. This radical alteration to my tastes has taken place over the last few years, and in that time, I have actively sought new Adventure games to quell my hunger.
I became a monstrous fan of the Legacy of Kain series, which is 100% undisputable proof that the best stories don't always come from Final Fantasty's CG cinematics. I had a sort of Zelda-Renaissance, in which I feverishly sought all of the primary games in the series, of which I now own all. I went ga-ga over Eternal Darkness and Beyond Good & Evil, which I have written extensive reviews for in this very forum. Now, my attention has been recently turned to Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy.
I was always sort of intrigued by this game. Egyptian mythology has always fascinated me, although I have only studied it to an extremely minimal extent. Sphinx takes a lot of creative liberties with Egyptian mythos, altering the history and purpose of numerous mythological and historical characters to suit the needs of the game's purpose. While this may scream "sacrelige" to many people, it spells "kickass" to me.
In an ancient Egypt not written about in our history books, the desert empire was originally ruled by a single deity, the god Ra. Ra was the essence of all things, both good and evil. Over time, however, Ra's polarities began to grow sentience and formed personalities. Eventually, the god Ra split into two wholly different beings, the kindly god Osiris and the dark lord Set. Once the two brothers had formed, their separation heralded the emergence of a new legion of gods and demigods. The new gods then heralded the emergence of mankind, and the humans and gods coexisted for millennia.
At the opening of the game, the demigod Imhotep sends his two apprentices, Sphinx and Horus, into the dark lands of Uruk to retrieve a sacred weapon stolen by the dark tribes long ago. The reason being that Imhotep has recently noticed a startling wave of dark activity in Egypt, and fears that the sacred weapon will be needed in the near future. The weapon in question is the Blade of Osiris, a gleaming sword constructed of brilliant light. In acquiring the blade, Horus meets with misfortune and the two are separated.
As all of this is happening, a young Egyptian prince named Tutenkhamen is preparing for his ascension to his father's throne. On the scheduled day of his anointment, Tut (being a clumsy, debilitatingly curious character) stumbles upon a villainous plot being set in motion by his own brother, Prince Anekhamen. The devious prince is alerted to his younger sibling's newfound knowledge and sets his dark plans into action. Tut is framed for treason by his own brother, and his punishment is to be magically mummified while still alive. During the mummification ceremony, the ritual is accidentally interrupted by Sphinx himself, and Tut fails to be completely mummified. In desperation, Anekhamen and his lackey, Menes, escape from the castle with Tut's undead form. Tut awakens some time later in the dungeon of an unknown fortress. In his current state, he is no longer alive, so he cannot truly be harmed, and as such, Sphinx and his master Imhotep learn of a way to use Tut as an inside operative of sorts.
In relation to these events, Sphinx comes to learn part of the dark activity that has caused Imhotep so much grief as of late. The dark lord Set has amassed his forces in Uruk and has vile plans in mind. Now armed with the sacred Blade of Osiris, Sphinx must ally himself with the forces of light to combat whatever nightmares Set has in store for the world.
Sphinx plays a hell of a lot like a Zelda game. The pacing, learning curve and overall structure of the game plays out very similarly to some of the more recent Zelda titles. All in all, that's a very good thing.
There are two characters that the player controls throughout the course of the game: Sphinx and Prince Tutankhamen, the Cursed Mummy. Sphinx does the ass-kicking. Over the course of the game, he gains numerous abilities and pieces of equipment to enhance his capabilities. Sphinx will locate items such as the Shield of Osiris (a circular energy-shield) a blowgun (capable of firing several different types of darts, from acid darts to bouncing ricochet darts), a pair of golden gauntlets (giving him the ability to lift and move heavy objects), an amulet that allows him to utilize a double jump in midair, a token that allows him to summon an eagle to fly short distances with, as well as a number of other abilities such as super-speed and the ability to capture and release certain types of monsters for explosive or flammable effects. Sphinx can allocate items to the R and L Triggers as well as the X Button. The B Button is reserved for sword attacks, the Y Button is used for context actions (like opening a door or pulling a lever) while the A Button is reserved for Sphinx's jump command. That last one is actually a pretty big thing, considering that the Zelda games don't offer a jump command, just an automated jump. Because of Sphinx's jumping abilities, many of the areas that our hero must face are based around platforming elements.
However, that nifty jump command comes at a price. Being able to jump at will is certainly nice, and it definitely adds a completely new level to the experience, but it does so at the cost of another important aspect. Sphinx has no lock-on command. In the Zelda games, Link is capable of locking onto a certain target and strafing around them, allowing for a very complex combat system with a lot of clever ways to design various enemies. Sphinx does not have this option available to him. You just face your enemy and swing away. Now, while this certainly works, it really makes the combat seem too simplistic. Sure there are some creative enemies, such as a giant burrowing worm that you can only attack my jumping into the air and slashing at it's head, but in comparison with Zelda's combat system, it makes the battles feel too straighforward and not varied enough. I would have gladly sacrificed one of the item slots if I could have had a lock-on and the jump command. That just would have been the bees knees. Meh, even without the command, the battles in the game are fun and engaging. While a lock-on function would have doubled or tripled the fun-factor of the combat system, it's still highly entertaining to mow down a group of baddies with Sphinx's sweet-ass sword.
The Mummy is a completely different beast altogether. While Sphinx has the ability to unleash all sorts of Egyptian ass-kickery during his travels, the Mummy has absolutely no attacks. Here's the deal: the Mummy is technically undead, so why would he need to defend himself? This proves to create one of the most entertaining gameplay dynamics I have ever witnessed in an adventure game. Tut cannot be killed. At all. He can, however, be set ablaze, be smashed into a paper-thin mummy, be electrocuted, be dematerialized into smoke and be sliced into three separate Mummies all capable of moving and acting independantly. That dynamic allows for some of the most creative puzzles I've ever encountered. Sphinx is the ass-kicker, the Mummy is the puzzle-guy. Because of the Mummy's innate ability to withstand every form of death imaginable, he can use his flaming body to set wooden barriers ablaze, he can electrocute himself and charge power pods to operate machinery, he can become thin as a sheet and slip between bars and he can split into three mummies to handle numerous tasks at once. I've touted Soul Reaver 2 as having the greatest puzzles in video game history. The Mummy chapters in this game are seriously like an asshair away from being just as good those puzzles found in SR2.
Aside from that, the game plays extremely well. Control is tight, the button configuation is intuitive and well designed and the dungeon structure is incredible. If I have one other major gameplay gripe besides the whole no-lock-on thing, it's that there aren't enough boss battles, and the bosses you do encounter aren't very consistent in difficulty. The first one took me a few tries to get right, the second one had me nearly pulling my eyelids off in frustration and the third one was far too easy. I haven't played the final boss yet (I'm seriously like an hour away from it), so I can't comment on that one.
This game is gorgeous. GORGEOUS. Seriously, it's nearly impossible to describe. The graphical presentation in this game is like nothing else I've ever seen. The use of color is phenomenal, the special effects (such as Sphinx's sword and shield) are eye-buggingly beautiful, and each and every one of the areas in the game is dripping with brilliant architecture and lighting.
My favorite thing about the graphical presentation in this game is how massive every area in the game is. A good example would be one of the earlier dungeons, Anubis Tower. The central chamber of the tower doesn't have a ton of areas to explore. The actual gameplay area of the dungeon is fairly small. However, the dungeon is actually huge as a result of the architecture. The central chamber has two monstrous hallways reaching out to the left and right. Seriously, the height of these hallways is probably something like 1000 to 1500 feet in game terms, and they stretch far down into the abyss that surrounds the main explorable pillars of the dungeon. It's a brilliant design choice. The area is huge, but you're not capable of exploring every last inch of it. Another one of the main areas, a region called Heliopolis, is easily two to three times the size of Hyrule Field from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and you can explore just about every last inch of that particular area. The town areas, the dungeons and every other location in the game is enormous, both by way of actual monstrous size and extremely creative architecture.
Aside from that, the one other incredible graphical advantage this game has is it's supply of character animations. Every single animated object in the game is meticulously designed and masterfully animated. Again, there is no simple way to explain it in words. You have to see it for yourself in order to understand it. But, while this is certainly one of the games greatest graphical advantages, it also proves to be the catalyst for the game's other serious flaw, which I will detail in the Sound section.
Again, phenomenal. The score in Sphinx is by far one of the best musical accompanyments I've ever encountered in a game. The entire soundtrack uses slightly westernized Egyptian themes, with numerous pieces used for ambient effect as well as climactic crescendo. Listen to the title piece, played during the main menu, and you can honestly imagine it being used in a massive epic film. On top of that, the music changes constantly depending on certain situations. If Sphinx is running through the South Desert of Heliopolis, the ambient region theme will be playing. That is, until he gets attacked by a Knives Cat, at which point the score launches into a more battle-friendly piece. Those same musical changes apply to the Mummy as well. Just walking through a hallway will give you an abmient piece, but should you choose to ingite Tut and set his body ablaze, the score will shift into a more upbeat, humorous piece that fits the comedic situation quite nicely.
Ahh, and while the sound in this game truly is amazing from the musical perspective, it's in the sound effects department that the next huge crucial flaw emerges. The sound effects themselves are actually fine. Sphinx's shield hums while activated, enemies have a large variety of intimidating and amusing noises, and the Mummy shrieks with discomfort when he's set on fire or electrocuted. And that's where the problem lies. The voice samples in the game are used very well...but they're just samples. There is no actual voice acting to be found in this game. Sure, pretty much every creture has an assortment of grunts and non-commital warblings, but there are no spoken lines in the entire game. This is the problem I mentioned up above in the Graphics section. You see, the character animations in this game are truly stunning. They are so good, though, that the absence of voicework severely devalues those brilliant animations. It's just not right at all to see these fantastically designed, brilliantly animated characters grunting out a noise every once in a while whilst speaking entirely in text. It's just lame.
I've mentioned a few already, but I'll reiterate them here for the sake of convenience.
1) No lock-on. It just feels too simplistic to run up to an enemy and slash away. It strips all of the strategy out of the combat system.
2) The bosses are very unbalanced and there aren't enough of them. The first one was a medium challenge, the second one was a severe difficulty and the third one was way too friggin' easy.
3) There is no real voicework to be found in the game. It feels wrong to have such amazing characters blurting out grunts and other nebulous sounds instead of true voice acting.
4) Honestly, there needed to be about one or two more Mummy missions. The structural brilliance of the Mummy puzzles was such a shock, and such a welcome treat, that there really needed to be at least one more.
5) The first hour of gameplay is pretty slow. Sphinx doesn't recieve his sword until you've passed somewhere around the one-hour mark, and the puzzles up to that point are ridiculously simple. However, once you complete the Mummy's introductory chapter, this game will devour your soul. Wait until you arrive in Abydos. You won't be able to stop playing.
Sphinx is a very fine-tuned experience. Granted, the absence of a lock-on system hampers the combat engine, but on the flipside, the platforming elements in the game are very well done. The absence of voicework dampens the cinematic weight of the entire package, but the music is phenomenal, and the sound effects are great. Graphically, this is one of the most awe-inspiring games I've ever played. Seriously, this game deserves the purchase on graphics alone. And in addition to the massive graphical feats, the game is a blast to play. If you're eagerly anticipating a new foray into adventure territory (and just can't seem to curb your giddiness over that shiny new Zelda game coming out next year) I would highly recommend giving Sphinx a purchase.
Last edited by Raziel; 2004-06-06 at 04:07 AM.