Saturday, May 26, 2012

Let’s Play Sphinx #1: Land of Lava and Lasers

            In my first review on this blog, I made a reference to a game called Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. Since then I have no doubt that my legions of voracious readers have been frothing at the mouth to hear more of the game.

Pictured: My legions of voracious readers

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a game released on all three home consoles of the day (PS2, Xbox and Gamecube) in 2003, and at some point I acquired the Gamecube version. My memories of it at the time were that of an okay game that apparently wasn’t particularly popular. On a whim I decided to play it the other day to see how it held up, and it wasn’t all that bad. It’s essentially a solid game in the Legend of Zelda formula of fighting, exploring and solving puzzles.

            But although it’s solid in just about every aspect, none of it is quite perfect, and I was having some trouble putting to words why. The game has a lot of little things both good and bad, and I couldn’t quite encapsulate all its flaws in a normal style of review. This compounded with my poor memory of the game and the fact that I never finished it back in the day gave me an idea. I’m going to attempt a written Let’s Play of the game. For the unaware, Let’s Play is just a general term for a person going through a video game and transcribing their experience in either video or text. The astute among you will note that this page you’re reading is not, in fact, a video, and therefore must be the latter. I have no idea how long this series will last, and I reserve the right to cancel it at any time if the game gets boring. But that aside, let’s jump right in, shall we?

Jumping Right In…to Lava

            The game opens with some mysterious Monkey Man talking to a Bird Man and the titular Sphinx. Apparently Monkey Man will be playing the role of your standard issue wise mentor figure in this game. He mentions, in the vaguest terms possible, that he senses some evil in the world and needs you two, his strongest apprentices, to deal with it. He then teleports the two of you to Morodor Uruk, where you can see in the distance the Eye of Sauron Uruk Castle, which just happens to have a mysterious red energy source at the top that shoots lasers and has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings.

Absolutely nothing at all

            Apparently you’re here to retrieve the Sword of Osiris, a mystical and powerful sword that is just lying around relatively unguarded outside the castle, for whatever reason. Monkey Man then mentions that his power can only reach so far and so he must leave you now (presumably to go do something that isn’t dying in a far-off land of darkness), and you’re given control of Sphinx. The very first thing I did was walk a few steps to the nearby ledge, and discover that this game does not, in fact, have invisible walls around pits.

            One of the key differences between this game and the Zelda series is that this game has a dedicated jump button, which means much more platforming, for better or worse. At the beginning it’s probably the latter, as Sphinx moves fairly fast and they throw moving platforms above lava at you right away. The music restarts when you’re respawned from falling, which is irritating because it happened to me several times. At any rate, I made it over to a wall where my partner Bird Man (who we later find out is named Horus) is waiting. He does that irritating thing of rival characters in games by saying you’re slowing him down and will have to find a way up without him.

            At this point a monster appears in the nearby lava pool and hangs out his tongue. Clearly the only course of action is to walk onto it and get eaten like a sensible person. No seriously. Once you do so the monster spits you out and proclaims you taste terrible, no doubt seriously undermining our mute protagonists self-esteem. However, he says that if you get him several coconuts, he can help you get up the earlier ledge by swallowing you and firing you out of his mouth.

Sure, you look entirely trustworthy in every way

            After an engaging couple minutes of throwing rocks at trees to harvest coconuts, you return to the monster. Somehow beyond all common sense this works and you catapult yourself via vomiting to the aforementioned ledge. Walking forward you find Horus, literally steps past where he abandoned you, unable to proceed. He’s found a special power-up (they don’t actually call it that, but I’ve forgotten the name; in the future I should probably play and write at the same time) that lets you walk on lava, but it’s surrounded by exploding plants. The only other object in the room is a rock, which you can throw. Horus is absolutely stumped by this titanic puzzle. After throwing the rock at the plants (genius!) the two of you proceed.

That’s honestly a very good question, Horus

            By walking on lava you can unblock the flow to some geysers, which in turn can propel you further up the cliffs. However, the lava-walking is only active for a limited time, and the game gives absolutely no warning prior to it running out. So predictably, I take another quick magma bath while looking around. This minor setback aside, I continue on towards the sword.

Giant Lasers, My One Weakness!

            The tutorial stage continues along without much interesting occurring. You learn to climb things, shimmy along edges, and a number of other mechanics. You reach a point where someone’s tied a boulder up on a hill, presumably because they wanted to keep their prized boulder from running away. You then snap the ropes holding the boulder by luring exploding enemies into them, causing the boulder to roll down the hill and provide you a path across another lava river.

            You continue along the level through some caves, jumping over pits, swinging on ropes and clinging to ledges, same as before. Oh, except now there are eyeball enemies in the wall that fire Ancient Egyptian Laser Beams.

Ancient Egyptian Laser Beams would be a great band name

            After emerging from this tunnel you and Horus see the Sword of Osiris floating atop a small cliff nearby, a bit too tall to access. After discovering a lever which raises some platforms up to the sword, Horus runs ahead to grab the sword, only to notice that Sauron Uruk Castle is a chargin’ its laser beam. The even larger Ancient Egyptian Laser Beam obliterates the rope bridge Horus is standing on but must’ve been set to stun because he himself is fine, falling onto a platform below, which he remarks was rather lucky.

            Unfortunately, the platform he was standing on is carried downstream to a lava waterfall, which he falls off. So clearly we’re never going to see that character again. Yup, an important rival character pointedly made to “die” off screen, nothing suspicious there. At any rate, you find an alternative way around via a zip-line and reach the Sword of Osiris. Awesome, now we can hit things!

            And hit things you do. A hologram of Monkey Man (real name later mentioned as Imhotep) appears and mentions that you need to get out of here and that there’s a portal nearby. He hid a portal key here years ago so if you grab that you can warp straight back to him when you get there. Along the way there are a variety of things to hit with your sword in addition to the previous jumpy bits. Sometimes you hit eyeball sentries in order to open doors, and other times you engage in combat with strange Ribcage Spider Things.

I know it’s nitpicking to point out, but how the hell do these things eat or breathe?

            You find a Mysterious Amulet in a chest on the way, which clearly has no significance whatsoever. Eventually you make it to the portal building and see the chest where Monkey Man (I like calling him that more) hid the portal key. However, just as you are about to open the chest the Ancient Egyptian Laser Beam comes back for revenge! Fortunately its stun setting is confirmed by the fact that it blows up the friggin’ wall behind you yet blasts you into the building perfectly intact.

            Monkey Man mentions that without the portal key you can’t make it back to him, and thus are stuck here. Or you would be, were it not for the Mysterious Amulet you found earlier. Apparently it’s a portal key itself, though you don’t know where it leads. Seeing it as your only option, you offer the key to the incredibly creepy portal god and he warps you to some unknown location.

That statue behind you is the portal god. It’s normally just a statue, but when you approach it its eyes glow red, it moves and makes a noise akin to the heavy breathing of a Tyrannosaurs. Then when you give it a key it zaps you with a laser on its head, which turns you into…energy or something? Then it swallows you while doing a full-on roar. It just takes you places, so I have absolutely no clue why the developers made it so unsettling.

            Where will the mysterious amulet take you? Could your friend and rival Horus truly be dead? (No). What new adventures await you, and where does the mummy come in? Will the portal god haunt your dreams for weeks to come? (It will to mine). The answer to these exciting questions, and more, will be revealed in the next episode of Dragonball Z this series!

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