Genre : Action/Adventure
Release Date: September 24, 2003
There are at least two things that any console cannot possibly have enough of: challenging adventure games, complete with a platforming element and plenty of puzzles, and Egypt!
I shouldn't have to explain our fascination with Egypt. You've got mummies, scarab beetles, jackal-headed guys wielding weird-looking swords, giant mysterious stone labyrinths, and ancient treasures. (You also have topless women, but we may be waiting a while to see those in a modern video game.) Egypt is almost everything you need for an adventure game, crammed into one distinctive-looking locale.
So far, Egypt has been MIA for much of this console generation. Fortunately, Sphinx and the Shadow of Set (and, later this year, Curse: the Eye of Isis) is here to remedy this problem.
The playable build I got has very little in the way of any sort of storyline for the game. Playing as Sphinx, a demigod who packs a magical sword and blowpipe, or Mummy, a remarkably agile corpse who operates under cartoon rules, it's up to you to overcome labyrinths full of puzzles and monsters in order to foil the plans of Set, the evil serpent god.
When this game hits the shelves, one comparison that you are sure to hear is to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. To be truthful, the two games do share similarities: it's a third-person adventure title with expansive environments, nearly flawless animation, an obvious sense of humor (as embodied by the Mummy, whose happy thumbs-up upon claiming an item is almost worth the price of admission by itself), and an occasionally unforgiving level of challenge.
The similarities are more than skin deep, though. Both Wind Waker and Sphinx feature missile weapons that can be aimed from a first-person perspective; a menu in the corner that allows you to map items and weapons onto the buttons as you see fit; a system of swordplay largely based upon the timing of your strikes, which plays a musical chord when you land a successful hit; treasure chests that, when opened, shed a bright white light as you wait to see what's inside; and puzzles that involve hitting distant targets with missile weapons and/or blowing something up with explosive scarabs. Sphinx, unlike Link, can jump and double-jump on command, which lends itself to a couple of platforming sequences, involving moving platforms, sliding ledges, and, in a particularly well-animated sequence, climbing hand-over-hand across monkey bars. That extra mobility helps to keep the game from feeling like a complete retread, especially during combat sequences.
Regardless, when you're playing as the eponymous lead character, it feels like someone was playing Wind Waker and thought to himself, "You know, if you could jump at will in this game ... and it weren't cell-shaded to hell and back … and the lead character weren't so cartoonish ... and it was Egyptian … this game would be really cool."
Then again, perhaps I am being too critical. I wouldn't go so far as to call Sphinx a ripoff, particularly based on a two-level preview disc, and even if it were, the "ripoff" portion of the show is confined to Sphinx's game. Mummy's game is an entirely different animal and is essentially all about using cartoon physics in conjunction with typical adventure mechanics—push that button, shove that statue, find that key, lift that barge, tote that bale—to solve puzzles.
The Mummy's undead state, for example, allows him to hold a fatal amount of electricity in his body long enough to charge a capacitor, or to be crushed when two walls slam together on him and use his resulting two-dimensional condition to bypass barred gates.
As I said, you can never have too many good adventure titles, and so far, despite being highly derivative of another high-profile game, Sphinx and the Shadow of Set looks like it'll be a winner. Its animation is perfect, lending it a firm dose of that "playing a cartoon" feel, and the gameplay is actually challenging without being cheap. Look for it in September, just in time to get your school year off to a great start.
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