Ancient Game Sphinx It’s New
It’s fitting that a game based around so much ancient history feels like a perfectly preserved relic of an older time, but this is the situation with Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy. Initially released in 2003, the Switch now finds itself in possession of another port, this time of the remaster from last year. I had never previously played the game, and to be honest I’m not convinced I’d even heard of it, so this is very much a review from a fresh perspective, something which I imagine many people playing this will have.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy follows the wacky exploits of Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy, the original adventuring duo. Sphinx initially sets off with several buddies who all have animal heads instead of human heads. Sphinx doesn’t have an animal head, but he does have a tail. I’m not sure if this is relevant to anything. Anyway, this is all at the behest of a powerful monkey-headed chap who claims he can’t do his own dirty work for some convoluted reason but probably just can’t be bothered. An initial excursion to grab a sacred weapon goes a bit wrong, however, and via some ancient dimension-skipping and a knock-ff of the Tower of Sauron you soon find yourself buggering things up all over the place, meeting various Egyptian characters with names you vaguely remember from that week in Primary School where you made pyramids from cereal boxes.
Largely, Sphinx and The Cursed Mummy has done well to be enjoyable some fifteen years after its release. It’s no surprise that remakes can be relevant some time on; just consider the recent re-do of Resident Evil 2 for further evidence. Sphinx isn’t quite at that level , but you still get an inventive puzzler that would suit a younger audience.
It’s not all good news on the age front, though; while some of the rough edges are sanded down nicely, there’s more than one telling sign that this isn’t from the modern era. The camera often needs wrestling into position just so you can see where you’re going, and bobs disconcertingly or focuses on nothing too often. In addition to these woes, the game does like to throw a platform section at you; not a problem itself, but the jumping is in need of some refinement. At one point I thought I was barking up the wrong tree by trying to leap to one platform and scoured the environment for something I was missing, only to find I had the right idea all along but the collision detection had taken the day off. Picking up objects is also fairly clunky and often requires awkward shuffling around to manoeuvre yourself into position first.
The combat is also fairly underwhelming, seeming basic and repetitive. That’s perhaps because the focus of the game is elsewhere, though. Sphinx at times resembles a cross between an early 3D Zelda and Spyro the Dragon, and offers novel challenges that feel like they’ve had much more thought than the combat, ranging from memory sections to stealth areas. While your quests do occasionally call upon you to find keys, it’s often a minimal part with your environment playing a key part in progressing. Indeed, it’s an experience that is often better in the sections when you don’t have a weapon and therefore can’t resort to combat, instead searching around for a rock or an exploding frog-creature to clear the way. This is more pronounced with the lesser-used mummy character, who is almost entirely devoid of offence.
The cartoony presentation of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is occasionally a little hammy, feeling like a children’s animated film. But not a high-quality Pixar one, more like that Trolls film. This lack of depth isn’t helped at all by the absence of voicing for the dialogue. Parts of the game are quite chatty indeed, and being left with cycling through speech windows does add to the feeling of age. The orchestral score that accompanies the action is surprisingly engaging, however, something which helps alleviate the silence left by the text dialogue if nothing else. While they may be disconcertingly silent, characters are well-realised, and while some of the plot twists are telegraphed fairly blatantly by some of the characterisation, which again leads me to think this may sit better with a younger audience, they are all memorable and astutely drawn. There’s a surprising level of detail in the game at places that adds to the world-building; I was frequently told off for breaking things as I went about exploring by nearby NPCs.