Review: Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy
Posted 29 Jan 2019 at 13:00 by Glen O'Brien
Ask any die-hard Nintendo fan what they’d like to see on the Switch and I guarantee that someone out there will say something along the lines of “I want Gamecube Virtual Console games”. While there’s no sign from Nintendo on that front yet, THQ Nordic has decided to step up to the plate by releasing one of their own Gamecube titles.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a third person action adventure game that was originally released way back in 2004. You play as Sphinx, who along with his avian comrade, Horus, is tasked with finding the legendary Blade of Osiris in order to defeat the dark god Set. Naturally, things go a bit wrong when the two are attacked by giant laser beams from an ominous looking tower. Horus goes missing and Sphinx is forced to use a mysterious portal that leads to who knows where.
A magical place where people levitate keys for fun.
Meanwhile, an Egyptian prince called Tutankhamen is about to celebrate his birthday. While doing the normal pre-birthday ritual of exploring all the hidden passages in his palace, he stumbles upon a dastardly plot to use Tutankhamen’s body to be a host for Set to inhabit. It’s all too late for this to be stopped though and the prince is subsequently mummified and killed. That definitely puts it up there in the “Worst Birthday Ever” category.
The story isn’t really all that. It’s serviceable enough, but outside of a few small twists I saw coming a mile off, there’s not much that’s going to have you thinking about it after you’re done. Characters that you meet are basically there to guide you to your next objective or to provide services or challenge you with minigames anyway and that’s fine.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy plays fairly similar to the 3D Zelda titles of the time. You explore a variety of places and dungeons, find items to use and puzzles to solve. As expected, there’s a whole bunch of enemies that try to get in your way and will probably have to be batted away with your Sword. Unfortunately, I found the combat in this game to be pretty sub-par. Sphinx doesn’t have a wide variety of attacks to utilise. He’s restricted to a basic 3 hit combo, a wide ranging backhand slash and a slam attack that you earn early on in the game. However, there’s no kind of targeting system for when you’re in a fight. This meant that I found myself struggling with the camera just as much as with the monsters, and it certainly isn’t a great camera to begin with. The controls also take a bit of getting used to; Sphinx’s movement can feel a bit stiff at times. It’s nothing too bad and after a few hours, I had grown accustomed to how the mechanics work. Mind you, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the game supported gyroscopic controls for aiming projectiles and touch screen usage for moving the camera in handheld mode.
While the majority of the game has you play as Sphinx, every now and again, you’ll play as the recently deceased Prince Tutankhamen. His corpse gets reanimated and he gets to explore Set’s lair to find information and items that can help Sphinx on his quest. He’s still technically dead though and thus, doesn’t have a health bar of any kind. This results in an interesting gameplay loop of using the many traps Set has placed for intruders to alter the state of the dead prince so he can solve puzzles. Tutankhamen can be set on fire, electrically charged, flattened and even cut into three separate mummies. If you’ve ever played Wario Land 2 or 3, you’ll get what to expect from here.
Something tells me this mummy has a real bone to pick with someone.
Honestly, these mummy sections are my favourite part of the game and I kinda wish more of the game had them. By the time I got to the end of the game, I was constantly thinking to myself, “When can I play as the mummy again?” You could see it as the main star getting outshone by a supporting role, but I like to think of it as a clever idea that saves the whole game from mediocrity. The game as a whole is pretty lengthy, with a number of sidequests to keep the completionists out there busy.
Visually speaking, the game looks a little dated. It’s to be expected from a 15 year old game, and no amount of HD remastering is going to completely hide that. It’s certainly not an ugly game for its time. Characters tend to have exaggerated animations, which certainly helps with the cartoony feel of the game, and anyone can tell you that a cartoon art style will always age nicer than a more realistic looking one. The game manages to look good in either handheld or docked mode thanks to its bright colours and large, clear text.
Sphinx didn't appreciate the wisecrack about his lack of shoes.
The music is pretty forgettable throughout though. Average Egyptian sounding songs that won’t really stick in your head after you’re done with the game. The game does take a cue from The Wind Waker and have music play whenever you successfully land a hit on an enemy, but other than that, nothing really wowed me in the sound department. That said, don’t go expecting any voice acting for dialogue either, you’re getting mouth flapping in complete silence here.
All in all, if you’re like me and the latest Zelda didn’t really scratch that old school 3D Zelda itch, you could do a lot worse than play through Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. It does what it sets out to do rather competently and if you’re willing to overlook some more old-fashioned game design choices, there’s a good time here. Only good mind you, and not much more.
N-Europe Final Verdict
While it has aged a bit since its original Gamecube release, Sphinx’s adventure might just entertain those old-school Zelda fans that are willing to overlook the shortcomings.
Mummy sections are very fun and cleverly implemented.
Plenty of sidequests and secrets to keep you busy.
Pleasantly surprising Gyro control implementation.
The camera controls can be a bit awkward.
The harder combat can be more frustrating than fun.
The game can’t avoid looking a bit dated at times.