In recent times, classic platform games have seen a resurgence, with various popular titles getting an HD makeover on home consoles. Today, however, we are setting aside popularized mascots and hit titles to walk like an Egyptian again in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy.
Originally released in 2003, this action platformer was available on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube under THQ and developed by Eurocom, which you may know from their various 007 titles over the years. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy received criticism and praise from the gaming community at the time, but did not survive beyond its initial beginnings.
When developer Eurocom closed its doors in 2011, the chances of this forgotten classic returning to our consoles seemed unlikely. Thanks to THQ Nordic, we can now enjoy Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy on a home console for the first time in 16 years, with higher resolution and the benefits of portability. Those who remember this sixth-generation classic may congratulate Anubis on its return, but does this classic title live up to today’s standards?
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is set in a fictional ancient Egypt, which uses mythology as a focal point. You play as the demigod Sphinx, who finds himself embroiled in the affairs of Tutankhamun, a young prince transformed into an undead mummy by his stereotypically evil brother. What begins as a task set by the Sphinx’s master, Imhotep, translates into a quest to retrieve the fragments of Tutankhamun’s soul and defeat a sinister evil threatening the earth.
The story and dialogue of this title is similar to that of the first 3D Zelda games, without dubbing, with lots of subtitles and original characters. While the plot might seem a bit on the Saturday morning anime side, it still does enough to keep the player invested. You might even find the game’s light tone a refreshing break from the cinematic drama of modern releases.
Sphinx might be the main character, but you’ll likely find yourself rooting for Tutankhamun as you progress through the game. He’s an adorable goofball with a hilarious gait, which is a stark contrast to Sphinx. , with its arrogant expressions and warlike aesthetic. The other characters in the game don’t really have much depth, but they serve their purpose in the narrative. From Imhotep as a guide to our anthropomorphic bird friend, Horus, taunting our lack of abilities, our adventure is far from lonely.
Creating an Egyptian-inspired landscape in a game can be hit and miss, as desert environments can often feel dull and dark. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, however, manage to create a vibrant fantasy kingdom, while remaining true to its Egypt-inspired biome. The use of color in this game is simply breathtaking, without half measures when it comes to the deep blue desert sky or the glow licked by the flames of the temples. It’s a shame that this game doesn’t have a day / night cycle, as crossing the earth from dusk to dawn would be a wonderful viewing experience.
Although they were released in the early 2000s, the textures and character models in this game seem far from dated, with the addition of HD resolution improving the visuals even further. The cartoon art style of this game has kept it from earning as many liver spots as you want, which is useful if your eyes are not used to the jagged fuzzy shapes of the game of yesteryear. Surprisingly, this game’s graphics settings accommodate different levels of antistrophic filtering and field of view, which is a luxury usually reserved for PC ports. This can be useful for optimizing performance when switching from docked mode to portable mode.
In terms of gameplay, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy offers a traditional adventure experience, with a few extra bells and whistles to keep you from turning off. It is essentially a game of two halves; hack n slash adventure and dungeon crawl when playing as the Sphinx, the Tutankhamun sections mostly consisting of platforming and puzzle solving within one area. While it might be easy to call this game a Zelda clone, it does a lot to keep from being a generic adventure game.
When you play as Sphinx, you get a real sense of progress as you acquire new abilities and weapons throughout your quest. Despite being a demigod, Sphinx is sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient sword from a deadly land with two abilities – he can jump and walk. While it might seem a bit tedious at first, you quickly realize that the design of the whole game is all about acquiring skills that will keep you moving forward. This Metroidvania-inspired structure does wonders for keeping things fresh, despite the fact that you’ll be revisiting the same areas for the most part.
On the other side of this adventure, Tutankhamun plays the role of the cursed mummy, trapped in the evil castle of Uruk. As Tutankhamun is essentially dead, he can only revive himself once the Sphinx provides him with a canopic vessel containing a fragment of his soul. Ultimately, these vases are the key to returning the prince to his living form. Once brought back to life, our mummy is able to walk through sections of the castle using her lack of mortality.
Tutankhamun can catch fire, electrify and flatten himself, all for the purpose of solving puzzles and having fun. These sections are a delightful break from the standard adventure structure, acting as both a fun experience and a satisfying accomplishment. In Uruk Castle you will find items that will help Sphinx, which can be transferred to him with the help of a strange little creature called Bas-ket. Once an item has been retrieved, Tutankhamun becomes a corpse again, until the Sphinx can send another canopic jar.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the gameplay have started to show their sixth generation wrinkles. Movements in the game appear to be slightly floating, which becomes a problem when trying to navigate the platform sections. In-game combat can be irritating as well, with a lack of lockdown targeting only adding to the frustration. There are also some occasional glitches with the camera, which brings back the horrors of early 3D titles. That being said, many of these flaws reflect the timing of release, with many games suffering from the same issues. If Sphinx had managed to receive a sequel, the developer might have honed the gameplay, taking an already awesome title to a whole new level.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a must-have classic that acts as a great example of how to create a timeless title. Despite a few quirks that remind us of its age, this Egyptian getaway is just as enjoyable as it was in 2003, if not more on the Switch. Not only does it manage to capture the essence of a good adventure title, but it gives us some entertaining abilities and puzzles that are truly a fun experience. Maybe THQ Nordic will give this game the chance to have a sequel, where it could potentially become the series it was always meant to be.
Tested version: Nintendo Switch
Revision copy provided by THQ Nordic