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PS2 Review - 'Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy'

by The Cookie Snatcher on Feb. 3, 2004 @ 1:24 a.m. PST

Sphinx is an enchanting adventure filled with mystery, action and a deep, compelling storyline. The game is set in an entirely original universe that is styled upon ancient Egypt where players will embark on an epic quest exploring new worlds, uncovering dark secrets, interacting with hundreds of fantastic creatures and discovering new abilities. Travelling the world via magic portals to foil the evil plans of Set, players will guide Sphinx on a journey requiring all his wits, agility and special powers in an attempt to find the stolen mystical crowns of Egypt.

Genre: Action
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Eurocom Entertainment
Release Date: November 10, 2003

Xbox | GameCube | PlayStation 2

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy has been in development for quite some time and gone through more than a few changes in the process. Up until only six months before its release the title of the game was to be Sphinx and the Shadow of Set. Sphinx is an action/adventure/platforming/puzzle game set against a fictitious backdrop of Egyptian mythology. Developer Eurocom has went to great lengths to ensure the success of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, and their effort is immediately apparent within the first few hours of the experience. Yet, the similarities Sphinx shares with a recent Nintendo developed franchise hit (it rhymes with Melda) is hard to ignore.

The story in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy revolves around its two titular protagonists. Sphinx is a half-demigod with a tail and apprentice to a powerful magician. The referenced "cursed mummy" is actually a young prince who was duped by his older brother and turned into an undead mummy. The paths of both characters begin with completely separate circumstances but as the story progresses you learn that the fates of these two unlikely heroes are intertwined. It'll take the efforts of both Sphinx magician-to-be and prince Tut the mummy to undo the evils that have been set loose in the dark city of Uruk.

While Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is decidedly Egyptian oriented, the game is also quite original and takes more than its fair share of liberties in sprucing up the age-old mythology of the era. You'll run into lots of crazy characters that don't necessarily belong in the stereotypical world of Egyptians, yet blend in perfectly. What's more is that each personality you come into contact with plays a substantial role in the game's multifaceted story elements.

The majority of focus in the game is placed on Sphinx, but Tut the mummy does make more than a few appearances during the course of the experience. Both characters have their own unique abilities, but they maintain a general fluidity that makes switching between the two seamless. It's obvious that more time was spent with Sphinx when it comes to functionality; he has more potential to grow as a character in terms of acquiring new weapons, skills, and moves. Whereas Tut only has a few moves and relies almost exclusively on navigation.

The first time you play as Tut he will be in his pre-tragedy human form, but don't get used to his visage because it isn't long before he'll irrevocably be transformed into a mummy. Playing as Tut in mummy form means navigating through stage-inspired obstacles and understanding the logic behind them. Tut, unlike Sphinx, does not have the ability to attack, but since he doesn't have to worry about dying this isn't much of a problem. When it comes down to it, the puzzles you'll find yourself in are of a traditional, tried-and-true ilk. Hitting multiple switches or using the right combination of variables to overcome something that stands in your way is more often than not the order of the day. Tut's method for dealing with these puzzles, however, is entirely original. He can set himself on fire, crush himself with two massive rock slabs, or be cut up into multiple pieces of himself. Plenty of humor results from Tut's escapades and as such you'll get into the habit of expecting comic relief whenever he takes center stage.

But not everything in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy revolves around puzzles, there is also a fair share of platforming as well. Navigating moving platforms and risky ledges is often necessary. Luckily, the control system in the game is precise and comfortable, making most any obstacle the game throws your way well within the realm of do-able. Some areas of the game are not so obvious about what needs to be done in order to progress, but after taking a keen eye to your surroundings the solution has a tendency of coming into focus.

The combat in Sphinx is one of the game's few disappointing aspects. While it utilizes a similar system to the 3D Zelda games, it's nowhere near as fluid or functional. The lack of a targeting system, for one, makes disposing of baddies unnecessarily time-consuming and difficult. Once you get used to manually maneuvering the camera with the second analog stick and facing your opponents, things get a little easier, but why the game is devoid of such an obvious gameplay feature is a mystery. The experience has a tendency to feel a bit slow and sluggish at times as well. This is due mainly to the fact that the story doesn't really come together until a few hours in, and partly because some of the objectives in the game don't make a whole lot of sense and as a result they feel extraneous or stilted.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a lengthy game by traditional standards, clocking in at just over 20 hours. What's surprising is that most of the time you spend playing the game is genuinely enjoyable, and you often have a desire to progress just so you can see what happens next. The occasionally repetitive or tedious quests that you are forced to complete are frustrating, but knowing that something good may be just around the corner is what kept me playing.

Sphinx features a solid and oftentimes impressive visual presentation. The PS2 version doesn't look quite as good as the GameCube and Xbox ports, but the differences are negligible. The character design is consistently creative and original throughout, especially Tut and his arsenal of comical animations. The environments found throughout Sphinx are like a character unto themselves. While not as technically impressive as Jak 2, or other titles that boast huge, expansive areas, free-roaming environments are nicely detailed and artistically impressive. The facial animations on the game's protagonists are certainly one of the game's many graphical highpoints. Each character's mouth and face move realistic and convey believable emotion. So it's a shame that the developers didn't bother to include voice acting to go along with the excellent facial animation, but then again neither did any of the Zelda games, so maybe they knew what they were doing. The soundtrack is pretty ass kicking though and fits the on-screen action perfectly.

Overall, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is an intelligent, humorous, creative, and generally satisfying game that fans of intelligent, humorous, creative, and satisfying videogames should definitely check out. If it was not for the stifling objective here and there or the occasional repetitive fetch quest Sphinx could stand proudly among the big boys. As it stands, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a good attempt, and if as much thought or energy had been put in development, as was put into the name it would be a gem.

Score : 8.3/10

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