Publisher: Viva Media
Developer: Deck 13
Release Date: August 31, 2006
Ankh is a delightful old-school point-and-click adventure that won't tax your video card and will have you grinning from ear to ear for most of its short duration. The game carries a "Teen" rating, but the references to drugs and alcohol are vague and fleeting, and I found it perfectly acceptable to play with my first-grader. In an era of increasingly complex and graphically intensive video games, you may find a quick return to the basic but venerable adventure genre pleasantly reminiscent of bygone days playing King's Quest.
While not technologically impressive by today's standards, the visuals are colorful, pleasing, and appropriate for the lighthearted nature of the subject matter. Textures are not detailed or realistic, but you won't care because this is, after all, a cartoon. The animation is fluid and smooth, but poor lip-synching is somewhat distracting. (Mouths keep flapping long after audible vocalization has ceased.) While no widescreen support is offered, the game scales well to various formats and, when stretched to fill a widescreen monitor, does not appear overly distorted.
In a story set in ancient Egypt, you play the part of Assil, the son of an architect, who sneaks into a pyramid one fateful night to party with his friends. When the festivities lead to the inadvertent smashing of several canopic jars and the desecration of an ancient artifact (the Ankh), a goofy-looking mummy appears and prescribes an ominous death curse (after first considering and rejecting a much more benign-sounding stern warning). Assil must find a way to rid himself of the curse, and thus his adventure begins.
The opening scene sets the tone for the humorous dialogue to follow, which becomes the staple that most distinguishes this game from others in the adventure field. Usually not laugh-out-loud funny, the various conversations and encounters Assil has with other characters over the course of the game are nevertheless amusing and serve to keep the experience fun. A couple of thugs threaten Assil but dutifully step out of role and respond when you (also stepping out of role) ask them self-aware questions like, "Do I need a walkthrough to solve the game?" ("Of course," they say, and proceed to refer you to the developer's web site, where you can purchase one.) Later, a mummy staggers menacingly toward you but soon reveals himself as startlingly friendly. In another scene, Assil's obvious boredom mirrors that of the player when a chatty slave prattles on endlessly about nothing.
An online manual can be found on the disk, but you won't need it except to learn that right-clicking is for using, and left-clicking is for walking and examining. Once you figure that out, the controls are very intuitive: point at what interests you, then click with the appropriate button.
My problem with the controls is the same problem I had with the Myst series and other adventure games; solving the puzzles often requires that you move your mouse slowly over every square millimeter of your screen while carefully keeping an eye on both your cursor and the text at the bottom of the screen. Failing to do so could mean that you will miss an item that you'll need to solve a puzzle, or miss the one-and-only route capable of taking you to your next destination. It's painfully easy to miss necessary items as you walk past them, as they are often hidden in the scenery. Even when they're not intentionally hidden, crucial inventory items may appear in the environment as nothing more than tiny, unremarkable blobs of color. Only when you hover your mouse over the area do you realize that what is before you is not just another brick in the sidewalk as it appears but, rather, a golden banana of utmost importance to your quest.
Like most adventure titles, progressing through the game calls for you to solve various puzzles. Most are fairly straightforward and simply require that you first combine two or more items in your inventory and then apply the resulting contraption to a person or object in the environment. The puzzles can usually be solved through powers of logic, deduction, and common sense. Sometimes, however, these facilities will not be of any use to you, and you'll be forced to resort to rote and systematic clicking on each and every item in your inventory in a desperate attempt to find something that works. I found it odd, for example, that I could not use a wire coat hanger on a locked door – you know, to pick the lock – but that the proper use of my coat hanger was to apply it to a hole. Who knew?
Aficionados of strategy games or first-person shooters may find the limited field of view frustrating. While the camera angle is usually where you would want it to be, you can't examine all of your surroundings without walking to the four corners of the map, as the camera stays fairly tightly focused on Assil most of the time. You could be face-to-face with a giant sphinx yet not realize it because you are viewing your player from a side angle that doesn't include the sphinx (and won't, until you take a few more steps in its general direction). It's as if you were watching Assil through binoculars and lacked peripheral vision.
Movement can also be a chore, for similar reasons. With any given click of the mouse, you can only move your player as far as the territory displayed on your screen. Sometimes this means that you will need to go through a tedious click-walk, click-walk, click-walk process just to move Assil a few yards down the street. From this perspective, you will be grateful for the small maps, as you never have to travel far to get where you are going. Still, you may find yourself wishing for a teleport.
The small maps translate, unfortunately, to a limitation on your adventuring. It would have been nice to have seen more of the developers' fanciful version of ancient Egypt. The lack of variety is compounded by the fact that Assil spends most of the game revisiting places he has already seen. Puzzle requirements constantly dictate that Assil retrace his steps rather than explore new areas. At times, I couldn't escape the feeling that I was walking in circles performing meaningless chores. In one scenario, after spending a lot of time concocting a highly regarded and sought-after beverage after first finding and retrieving its rare ingredients, I did not appreciate being asked to go back and fetch a cocktail umbrella. I suppose that's funny, but I would have enjoyed the joke more if moving around the map weren't so cumbersome.
Pressing "tab" will bring up a to-do list, but it is very bare-bones and does not include detailed notes of what you have learned in the course of your travels. Therefore, when the NPCs speak to you, you will need to pay close attention. Most of the story elements and puzzle-solving hints will come from the NPCs, and if you are distracted during an informative scene by, say, a curious first grader wanting to know why the Egyptians use the term "dude," or why the Israelites appear as a bunch of Rastafarian hippies, you may miss important clues (or just clever jokes) that won't be replayed for you.
All in all, Ankh delivers an enjoyable, kid-friendly romp through an attractive Egyptian setting in a compact, old-fashioned point-and-click package that is sure to induce a chuckle or two.
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