Classic platformers have had a resurgence as of late, with various popular titles receiving an HD makeover on home consoles. Today, however, we’re putting popularised mascots and blockbuster titles aside to walk like an Egyptian yet again in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy.
Originally released in 2003, this action platformer was available on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube under THQ and developed by Eurocom, who you might know from their various 007 titles over the years. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy received high scoring reviews and praise from the gaming community of the time, yet failed to live on past its initial debut.
When developer Eurocom closed its doors in 2011, the chances of this forgotten classic returning to our consoles seemed unlikely. Thanks to THQ Nordic, however, we can now enjoy Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy on a home console for the first time in 16 years, with a higher resolution and the benefits of portability. Those who remember this sixth-generation classic may be praising Anubis for its return, but does this classic title hold up to today’s standards?
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is set in a fictionalised ancient Egypt, which uses mythology as its main crux. You take on the role of the demigod, Sphinx, who finds himself tied up in the affairs of Tutankhamun, a young prince who is transformed into an undead mummy by his stereotypically evil brother. What starts out as a task set out by Sphinx’s master, Imhotep, results in a quest to retrieve the fragments of Tutankhamun’s soul and vanquish a sinister evil threatening the land.
The story and dialogue within this title feel similar in style to early 3D Zelda games, with no voice acting, lots of subtitles and quirky characters. While the plot may feel a bit on the Saturday morning cartoon side, it still does enough to keep the player invested. You might even find the light-hearted tone of the game to be a refreshing break from the cinematic drama of modern-day releases.
Sphinx may be the title character, yet you’ll likely find yourself rooting for Tutankhamun as you progress through the game. He’s a lovable goofball with a hilarious gait, which is a total contrast compared to Sphinx, with his cocky expressions and warrior aesthetic. The other characters within the game don’t exactly have much depth, yet they serve their purpose within the narrative. From Imhotep acting a guide, to our anthropomorphic bird friend, Horus, taunting our lack of abilities, our adventure feels far from solitary.
Pulling off an Egyptian-inspired landscape within a game can be hit or miss, as desert environments can often look dull and murky. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, however, manages to create a vibrant fantasy kingdom, while staying true to its Egypt inspired biome. The use of colour in this game is simply stunning, with no half measures applied when it comes to the deep blue sky of the desert, or the flame licked glow of temples. It’s a pity that this game doesn’t have a day and night cycle, as traversing the land from dusk till dawn would be a wonderful visual experience.
Despite being released during the early 2000s, the textures and character models in this game look far from dated, with the addition of an HD resolution enhancing the visuals even further. The cartoon art style of this game has saved it from gaining as many liver spots as you’d expect, which helps if your eyes aren’t used to the jagged blurry shapes of gaming yesteryear. Surprisingly, the graphics settings within this game accommodate different levels of antistrophic filtering and field of view, which is a luxury usually reserved for PC ports. This may come in handy for optimising performance when switching from docked mode to handheld.
In terms of gameplay, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy provides a traditional adventure experience, with some added bells and whistles to keep you from switching off. This is essentially a game of two halves; hack n slash adventuring and dungeon crawling when playing as Sphinx, with Tutankhamun’s sections comprising mostly of platforming and puzzle solving within the one area. While it might be easy to brand this game as a Zelda clone, it actually does a lot to keep itself from a being generic adventure game.
When playing as Sphinx, you get a real sense of progression as you acquire new abilities and weapons throughout your quest. Despite being a demigod, Sphinx is sent out on a mission to retrieve an ancient sword in a deadly land with two abilities – he can jump and walk. While this might feel a bit tedious at first, you soon realise that the games whole level design is based around gaining abilities that will enable you to progress. This Metroidvania inspired structure works wonders for keeping things fresh, despite the fact you’ll be revisiting the same areas for the most part.
On the flip side of this adventure, Tutankhamun plays the role of the Cursed Mummy, trapped within the evil castle of Uruk. Since Tutankhamun is essentially dead, he’s only able to reanimate once Sphinx provides him with a Canopic Vase, containing a fragment of his soul. Ultimately, these vases are the key to restoring the prince back to his living form. Once brought back to life, our Mummy is able to traverse sections of the castle by using his lack of mortality.
Tutankhamun can catch fire, become electrified and be flattened, all with the purpose of solving puzzles and our own personal amusement. These sections make for a delightful break from the standard adventure structure, acting as both an amusing experience and satisfying accomplishment. Within the castle of Uruk, you’ll find items that will aid Sphinx, which can be transferred to him using a strange little creature called Bas-ket. Once an item has been retrieved, Tutankhamun reverts back to being a corpse, until Sphinx can send another Canopic Vase.
Unfortunately, some aspects to the gameplay have started to show their sixth gen wrinkles. Movement within the game feels slightly floaty, which becomes an issue when trying to navigate platforming sections. Combat within the game can also be irritating, with a lack of lock-on targeting only adding to the frustration. There are also some occasional issues with the camera, which brings back the horrors of early 3D titles. That being said, many of these flaws are reflective of the time of release, with many games suffering from the same issues. If Sphinx had managed to receive a sequel, perhaps the developer would have refined the gameplay, enhancing an already great title to a whole new level.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a must play classic that acts as a great example on how to make a timeless title. Despite having a few quirks that remind us of its age, this Egyptian escapade is just as enjoyable as it was back in 2003, if not even more so on the Switch. Not only does it manage to nail the essence of a good adventure title, but it provides us with entertaining abilities and puzzles that are truly a fun experience. Perhaps THQ Nordic will give this game the chance at a sequel, where it could potentially become the series it was always meant to be.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by THQ Nordic