A Sphinx and a Mummy walk into a bar and….
Genre: Action Adventure,
Developer: Eurocom, THQ Nordic
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release Date: Nov 10, 2003
This guy. Look at him, swishing his tail and wondering how I could have died so badly. His eyes burn through me and seem to say I am pathetic, but it’s just enough incentive for me to keep going. I’ll show you what to do with that smug look you …you…forgettable NPC-looking character you. Grrr. I *can* do this, I can beat a game from two generations ago. Boy, I had no idea this game was going to be this tough, but it’s all because I’ve been coddled for too long by too many games. Damnit. All this and yet, somehow, I think this game is great. Yeah, I know, you have probably never heard of this game in your life, but it is one of those games that you do a double take on and realize you’ve come across something that has been seriously overlooked through the years.
The Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a third person action adventure game originally released across multiple platforms like the Xbox, PS2, Gamecube, and even PC discs from an eon ago: Nov 10, 2003. I was definitely around then, but I had no means for any kind of console or a gaming PC. It’s a shame, but now that The Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy has been re-released on PC and Switch, I can make up for lost time! The only problem is that this game is a bit harder than I expected. That said, I absolutely think this qualifies as a “hidden gem” that was overlooked by the sands of time. Let’s take a closer look.
If you are a fan of the Prince of Persia style of gameplay, or to some extent the pre-reboot Tomb Raider games, you’ll find quite a lot that is familiar here. Plenty of puzzle platforming, sword attacks, and enemies to keep you on your toes. What I realized right off the bat is that there is no hand holding here. Imagine a standard video game with this cover art, but no directional arrows to follow and puzzles that take some time to figure out because it requires some trial and error to get the gist of what you must do to move from point A to point B. That’s The Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. It’s been so long that the gameplay is actually refreshing. Perhaps too much so, I got stuck a number of times!
When you first start out, you might not have the slightest idea of what to do, and that’s okay. Just explore and guess, you are bound to figure it out until you get disgruntled and look up a walkthrough. The puzzles feel somewhat in the vein of an old point and click adventure game as far as difficulty. I have to say, I had forgotten what it was like to play without arrows pointing in the direction to follow and super easy puzzles that don’t require moving outside of the small area I am in. Well, have someone hit you with a wet noodle, this is 2003-era gaming and you’ll need to get your unguided and ambiguous puzzle solution thinking cap on.
I won’t go into a ton of detail lest I give the whole game away, but I’ll try to reduce the game to a TL;DR synopsis. You are the Sphinx, but instead of the statue-looking type, you are more of a buff looking dude with abs of steel. You are out to get all Spiderman/Ironman feelies with your monkey-god sifu looking mentor, Imhotep, by finding a sword and later on uncovering some shady stuff going on in the city of Heliopolis with the now mummified Prince Tutankhamun who has been betrayed by his brother Akhenaten, who has evil plans in store. As an aside, this is a weird mashup of Egyptian history because since 2003 it was discovered that Akhenaten is likely King Tut’s dad. Anyway, Sphinx has to collect all the parts of King Tut’s soul that are captured in little vases to save him by handing them to a magical basket called, of all things, Bas-Ket. Insert chuckle. Ha-ha. There is also a baddie god named Set that makes the world an unhappy place and some drama with the god Anubis ( doghead dude-god ) who made people into stone statues, but I’m not going to say why because spoilers. That’s enough, you should just play the game because you need to save the day. I do have to note, the dialogue is not voice acted. It’s a shame, but it is well written. Just chug on through, inserting your best voice acting attempt and all is good.
What is rather fun is that you get to play as both the Sphinx and the Mummy. So, when you are the Sphinx, you are essentially playing a Prince of Persia game with tons of platforming, killing enemies, and solving some action-oriented puzzles. When you play as the Mummy, it’s more puzzle related with thought involving brain games that might just squeeze your brain slightly more than the common puzzle platformers of late. It’s really not that hard, but just remember what I said earlier – no hand holding. Expect some fails until you deduce what to do. I’ve heard reference that it is Zelda-esque, and that’s actually a good description. If you’ve played Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, Ocarina of Time, or Breath of the Wild, you will likely have an advantage in figuring out these little brain teasers. Expect to locate some items that are hidden, then walk around levels to uncover a switch, then search for the opened area only to be attacked, and finally open a chest to get a special item which unlocks a new area and so forth. Sound familiar?
You’ll also come across a blowgun that works a lot like a slingshot from Zelda. One thing to note, since the game was designed for an Xbox, it feels very natural with a controller. Yet, it depends on which controller. I had a great response and feel from my Xbone and Xbox 360 controllers, but much less so on a Steam controller. For instance, if you have a timed blowgun area and don’t have an Xbox controller, you might want to switch to KB&M. I felt most of the action was better using my Xbox 360 controller, at least from my point of view.
I have to state that you really need to remember to save when you can. There are limited save points within the game and no checkpoints. Also, look for health all the time when you are the Sphinx as it’s not freely given except in keys areas. The Mummy is dead already, so you can die as many times as you like.
At first, I was a bit terrified by the lack of save options and no checkpoints. It’s my Achilles heel when it comes to games, I don’t like dying and having to redo a whole section of a game. However, here you absolutely will have to do that. When you die, you are asked to Continue and it just loads you last Save with the Sphinx looking at you with that smug look you’ll soon grow to dislike. There is no way around it unless you outright cheat. It’s not the end of the world, but just be aware that if you have about three hits of health left you should just backtrack and get some health if you didn’t bother to save for a while. You’ll discover some areas that have repeatable health jars, so don’t fret. Unless, of course, if you have traversed up to an area where you can’t go back without having to maneuver through an obstacle course full of monsters. Then, you are just screwed.
As for the action with Sphinx, it’s not kiddie in the least despite the somewhat Disney-looking animations that could have been deleted scenes from the Aladdin movie. A few of these enemies have huge hitboxes where even if you jump up to dodge, you’ll still get hit from underneath and they often block your attacks as well. The variety of enemies is actually pretty decent and most, but not all, are not pushovers. From double sword wielding bird-dudes to ring-of-death attacking monsters that look like something inspired from Super Mario. You have to make sure you take care of them as fast as possible, even if there are waves of them to deal with, because most of the time you can’t progress until they are all dead.
Platforming is where I had a few difficulties with the camera. It worked most of the time, and you can change the angle in increments like 64 degrees, 74 degrees, 84 degrees, etc. Changing the angle would sometimes help to prevent it from zooming in too much. Still, some jumps that looked really easy could be off by a smidgen because of the way the camera panned out. There was one area with these snake-like platforms and fire breathing statues where it took me several attempts just to get through because I couldn’t really gauge how far the platforms were when the camera zoomed in over the shoulder. Keep an eye on your health when you fall, because once you get to the other side you will likely have some enemies to deal with right away.
The Mummy has some neat tricks every time he pops in for a level, and I generally enjoyed finding out what little nuance he would bring to the game for the puzzly bits. That was until the stealth started. I feel it is probably the most frustrating part of the game by far. You have to turn yourself invisible on and off as sentries keep a look out for you. If they spot you, you have to reset everything. Sound Zeldaish? Yep. However, it was significantly harder than Zelda. You have just a second or so of time to turn invisible before being spotted and the camera angle doesn’t help one bit. My advice, stay close to the sentries undetected. You may just rage quit in that area and I would not blame you.
I loved the balance of gameplay styles with the Sphinx and the Mummy. When I was tired of trying not to die as a Sphinx, I would be rewarded with a thinker of an area for the Mummy that would not disappoint. Now and then, I’d have the same problems with the camera, but I often preferred the Mummy because I would not have to save all the time. It was a nice break from the action and the Mummy is pretty funny as a character. I hope King Tut doesn’t roll in his sarcophagus from laughing. The best part is the little thumbs up animation he does when he finally gets his treasure at the end of each level.
Another Zelda aspect to the game is an importance on using currency to progress through portions of the game. In The Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy money is in the form of…beetles. Yep, you heard me right. The money is alive! It’s like a whole culture of entomologists. You bust them out of jars, stones, lanterns, and statues. Occasionally, you find health Ankhs as well, but mostly just creepy crawly beetles. It’s pretty easy to get them, and there are even mini-games like a memory music game you can play to bet whether you can beat it or not and double your wager. I’m not sure it adds much to the game beyond that, but it does give it a dynamic similar to Zelda and provides a semblance of reality to the otherwise fantastical events that occur.
My favorite part of the gameplay was using capture beetles. Instead of killing monsters, you have the option to capture them with a bit of twin-stick gameplay where you walk using the left joystick and move the beetle towards a weakened monster with the right stick. That’s brilliant because it gives me more options to play with than simply jumping and attacking. The beetles can also knockback monsters which is a plus, though they have a time limit. If you don’t capture a monster within a short time, the beetles go up in a flash of light. In sections of the game, you actually can’t progress until you use these captured monsters as a weapon to attack, so remember to get a many as you can!
Surprisingly, this game looks rather good for coming out in 2003. I believe there were some additional graphic tweaks made several months after the PC port. This is due to the additional work done for the Switch port and these new fixes are quite welcome. Granted, I don’t know why they weren’t implemented to begin with, but at least the game is much better since the Switch port updates were carried over to the PC version. There are still many bitmaps that don’t look particularly awesome, but you can play this game at 4K with a stable framerate with no issues. I did compare it to the 1080p version and there was virtually no difference, so the game itself is not terribly taxing on most systems and 4K doesn’t really add much other than a wee bit of sharpness on a 4K tv. There were no crashes or startup issues to report in my game time.
The options are very barebones, so don’t expect anything to tweak that will make a difference. After trying all the settings at 4K and 1080p, I saw virtually nothing to comment on. You may as well play with any settings your card is happy with.
The soundtrack is very well done with a broad spectrum of musical influences, yet primarily themed with middle eastern music phrases. I enjoyed them all, to be honest, and it was substantially more composed than I expected. The music can be a little frightening if you have little ones, so keep that in mind with the ominous background music going on. You may need to mute it for kids under 8 years of age.
Sound effects did a great job of notifying me of attacks or locating newly opened areas within the game. As a matter of fact, I used the monster sounds to immediately react whenever I was attacked, regardless if there was something on the screen or not. Overall, the audio in the game is better than average for what on the surface looks like a budget title but in reality, is a well produced and polished game.
If you like old console games and have a half-decent PC, this is a title worth picking up. If you have never played an older console title, you might be a bit overwhelmed at first, so be warned. Wishlist this now if it sounds like something you’d be interested in down the road. Zelda fans will feel right at home here minus the lore. It just makes sense to have a Switch port available, though I’d prefer the PC version myself because I can change the camera angles, even during the gameplay.
What surprised me the most is that I was honestly not expecting the game to be this well done. It’s as good as a regular Prince of Persia game from the mid-2000s, has decent puzzles on par with some the Wind Waker puzzles and is lighthearted to boot. I have no idea why it didn’t get the higher praise it deserves and it’s a blast to play. The lack of a Save function and limited Save points makes it all the more dramatic and tense when you are in battle or on the verge of falling while platforming. The puzzles that sometimes left me scratching my head, though were nothing I haven’t seen before. Yet, I found them to be beautifully simple in their design and made more ambiguous because there is are no hints. I feel this is missing from quite a lot of games these days, they are afraid to be too tough. This game makes you analyze what to do rather than guide you, and it’s just enough to prevent it from being overly difficult or annoyingly easy.
One bit of new info, there have been some authoring tools released as DLC for the game for Steam users, so you can edit some custom levels to your heart’s content. Now that’s an amazing addition to an already fun game.
There is an even a die-hard fan base that enjoys making fan-art for this game. It’s one of the cult faves that you might not have heard of until you stumble upon it. From me, a newbie to the game, I give it a solid Save rating.