Played on the Nintendo Switch
I picked this up to bridge the gap between finishing Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, and the release of Link’s Awakening. I’m not exactly sure why I became interested in the game, but after such a behemoth like FFXII I needed something nice and relaxing to play, and a 3D platformer was the perfect medicine to my gaming fever.
It actually popped up on Gamestop.com as a used game at my local store, so considering I’d have a week to try it out, I went for it, and got a nice discount to boot!
What followed was some terrific platforming from THQ Nordic, and as I close in on the ending of the game, I can easily say that Sphinx is definitely one of those hidden gems from the days when the likes of Jak & Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Prince of Persia, God of War, and the rest of the swaths of 3d games were king. Of course, the question is, “how did it age?”
I don’t care about graphics, but I’ll throw it out there first and foremost – the game looks great. Nothing to complain about there.
I do care about sound design, and the music in Sphinx is excellent. I do wish, however, that some voice acting was added into this remastered release. One thing that struck me as odd was just how silent and uncomfortable the cutscenes are without any sort of sound effects.
Banjo-Kazooie had garbled sounds for voices, and it worked – if you mute the game during conversations, you experience uncomfortable silence akin to a blind date gone awry. It also was what I consider to be a huge source of the charm found in the Banjo titles.
Speaking of charm, despite the aforementioned audio (or lack thereof…), there is still loads of charm present in the cutscenes and overall atmosphere of the game. The game’s antagonists are your typical slap-sticky goofballs, the closest comparison I can draw is with Jafar and Iago from Aladdin. But the NPC animations and the wigglyness of the movement all wraps up a very fun game that harkens back to the charm of the Playstation 2 and even Nintendo 64 days of gaming.
As far as the actual gameplay goes, you find yourself controlling not one, but two protagonists with different abilities: Sphinx, and Prince Tutenkhamen, who has been turned into a mummy. They exist on the same timeline and so, as you control Sphinx and gradually find parts of Tutenkhamen’s soul, you are transported into the Castle of Luxor where you will uncover new information and tools, which are transported back to Sphinx to further his expedition.
What separates Sphinx from other 3D games of its day are the level of complexity in the puzzles. The overworld is fairly large and contains different structures set in a fictional version of ancient Egypt. As you learn new tools and acquire new abilities, you can explore the levels deeper, find secrets, do side quests, and of course, progress the main storyline.
The challenge is in the form of the puzzles themselves, as each level can be looked at as large Rube Goldberg machines which you must explore, study, and eventually crack. When playing as Sphinx, you obtain more abilities that effect your movement abilities, such as double-jumping and letting loose captured monsters, etc, whereas playing the Prince in his mummy form doesn’t allow you to attack, but also doesn’t allow you to die (because you’re already dead, as Sphinx is trying to recollect parts of his soul), and therefore can become electrocuted or set ablaze, which can then be used to your advantage.
It makes for some super interesting puzzle mechanics, and even as a decades-old veteran of puzzle platformers, I found myself scratching my head on more than one occasion. The casual player and platforming experts alike may take to hitting Gamefaqs once or twice – I know I did!
Combat is one of the very few areas of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy where the game suffers. It does feel at times like the combat was added as a mere afterthought, which is unfortunate, because most of this issue comes from the fact that controlling your character is plagued with poor camera angles, and enemy AI that seems intent on taking advantage of that fact. All too often do enemies spawn when your facing the entire opposite direction – or when they wind up for their attack (also known in the ‘biz as a “tell”), they become invincible for an impossibly short period of time, while you are left to dodge using less-than-perfect controls.
There is a shield that you obtain early on in the game, which I had totally forgotten about after it was required for progression one single time – this may help with some of the battles. If only I had remembered before I fell to my enemies and lost 20 to 30 minutes of progress.
Oh right. That issue.
My pet peeve, my buggaboo, whatever you want to call it – when it comes to games, there is no greater crime than to waste the players’ time. And the worst way to waste their time is to make them replay something because of a lack of save points. Nothing, I repeat, nothing has made me quit more games 20-30 minutes in when I realized that save point scarcity was going to be an issue.
Hell, I got a dozen hours into Final Fantasy IV on the DS before, when reading a walkthrough, I learned that the last dungeon has no save point before the final boss. Therefore, if you fall to the boss, you have to replay over a half an hour of dungeon and, yep, shitty random encounters that I hate. This is made worse by the fact that you would theoretically have low HP/MP from your trek to the boss in the first place. I quit playing the game then and there, knowing full-well that would make me smash my DS.
Save point issues are probably the worst thing in a video game, and it pains me to say this, but this game fucking sucks in this way. At this point, I have about 12 hours logged into the game, and I can tell you that at least 2 hours of that time was annoyingly rushing back through the same shit. Add in not the greatest character controls and some easy-to-miss platforms, and dying is extradinarily punishing.
The issue is that it breaks the game’s momentum to keep running back to save points. While saving is, fortunately, extremely quick, navigating your way back to the seemingly arbitrarily-placed saved points wears you down quickly.
Small issues and big issues aside, if you grew up playing 3D games on Nintendo 64 or Playstation 2 / Gamecube, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a port absolutely worth your time. The puzzles alone make up for the combat shortcomings, as this is not primarily a combat game: it’s a puzzler. But the puzzles are complex and boy are they satisfying when everything clicks. A typical dungeon triggers two large reactions: at the beginning, it is fear of the unknown. When it all finally clicks together and you have your “a-ha!” moment, you’re rewarded with pure clarity. Not many puzzle games can do that, so if you’re looking for a fun way to spend 10-15 hours, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy might be your jam.
And that’s a wrap!
(That was a mummy joke.)
Did you play Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy back in the day, or one of the remasters? What did you like or dislike? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading!
[…] There was also the port of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, which despite the shittiest and most boring title imaginable actually turned out to be a fun 3D adventure game that I really needed! I bought this used for $18 at GameStop and it was worth every penny – but I will say that fond memories for the PS2 era and the shortcomings associated with it is practically necessary, because parts of the game did not age well at all. It still stands the test of time fairly well and although I have no idea why the decision was made to port it, I recommend it if you’re looking for precisely this type of game. I put together a small write-up of it here. […]