Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy
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|Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy|
European cover art
August 19, 2004
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a third person action-adventure video game inspired by the mythology of Ancient Egypt for the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube consoles. The game was developed by Eurocom and published by THQ. It was released on November 10, 2003, in North America and on February 20, 2004 in the PAL region. A mobile version was released on August 19, 2004.
In Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, the player falls into the role of a demi-god, Sphinx, and the undead corpse of Tutankhamen. Sphinx's role is one of a brave warrior who battles fearsome monsters and relies on raw power to complete tasks. Tutenkhanmen, also known as the Mummy, revolves around puzzle-solving and logical thinking to outwit his foes.
The fantasy land of Egypt in which the game is set is in a period of turmoil when we are introduced to Sphinx, one of the main protagonists. He and his colleague Horus are given the task of retrieving the Blade of Osiris, a legendary sword. They are taken to Uruk, "the land of darkness", by their master Imhotep where they eventually find the Blade. Horus is attacked and supposedly killed by a deadly ray that protects The Castle of Uruk, a mysterious building that houses evil. Sphinx retrieves the Blade, but while trying to escape is also attacked by the ray. He is forced to travel to an unknown location through the use of a portal system.
Meanwhile, the young Prince Tutenkhamen of Luxor celebrates his birthday. His older brother, Akhenaten, captures him and performs a bizarre ritual that turns him into an undead mummy. Sphinx arrives and interrupts the ritual, causing Tutenkhamen and Akhenaten to be teleported to The Castle of Uruk. Sphinx learns that fragments of Tutenkhamen's soul are stored in Canopic Vases, and takes on the task of recollecting them to restore him to his former self. In the Castle, Akhenaten gloats that the recent events were nothing but a minor setback. We then learn that "Akhenaten" is in fact the dark god Set in disguise, and that the real Akhenaten was mummified in the same way as Tutenkhamen to allow Set to assume his form. However, because of Sphinx's actions he cannot disguise himself as Tutenkhamen.
Sphinx and Imhotep devise a plan to use the Mummy/Tutenkhamen's immortality to their benefit; a single Canopic Vase is able to bring him to life for a short while, but he still remains practically dead allowing him to safely venture the trap-riddled Castle of Uruk, as nobody has ever done before. Imhotep creates Bas-ket, who can sneak inside the castle to deliver the Vases to the Mummy. Throughout the story, the Mummy exploits his inability to be killed to survive the traps and retrieve valuable items to aid Sphinx in his quest. In return, Sphinx finds more Canopic Vases over the course of the game and uses Bas-ket to send them to his undead ally.
During his time in Heliopolis, Sphinx learns that the god Anubis has caused great suffering to the people of the land; most prominently, he cast many of them into stone statues. Sphinx's heroic nature appeals to Anubis, and gradually allows him to free the people from their stone curse. However, the tasks given to Sphinx become more dangerous over time. Anubis asks him to retrieve "Sacred Crowns", immensely powerful objects once used by the gods of Egypt.
The first crown to retrieve is the Sacred Crown of Abydos, a land barraged by various disasters and troubles (though not apparent at first, the chaos is the work of Set). Most recently, the Mayor falls very ill and the Crown almost falls into the hands of his traitorous aides. Sphinx is able to save him and in return is rewarded with the crown.
Each crown presents a greater challenge for Sphinx than the previous; he battles and defeats the fearsome Geb Queen for possession of the Sacred Crown of Uruk, and the pharaoh of Heliopolis for the Crown of Heliopolis. As Sphinx proves his might to Anubis, the enigmatic god reveals he cast the people of Heliopolis into stone to protect them from the darkness that will soon descend upon Egypt at the hands of Set.
The Mummy discovers The Sacred Crown of Set, the final crown, in the depths of The Castle of Uruk. He takes it and this greatly weakens the ray protecting the castle. Bas-ket is able to escape with the crown, but Set catches the Mummy and paralyses him.
With all four Sacred Crowns, Anubis is able to Summon Osiris, another god who reveals he and Set were once a single form named Ra. Set, however, became greedy and stole power from Osiris to take over Egypt. Osiris uses the last of his power to transport Sphinx past the defenses of The Castle of Uruk, where he challenges Set for the fate of all Egypt. Set takes on his "true form"; a hideous monster with immense power, but Sphinx is able to defeat him. Set is not destroyed, indeed Imhotep appears and tells Sphinx that this is not in his destiny. Instead, Osiris arrives and forcibly reunites himself with the weakened Set and Ra is formed once again. Ra gives the Mummy the last Canopic Vase, but the Mummy tragically falls and breaks it. The game ends with a cliffhanger as Imhotep states there may be other ways to help Tutenkhamen regain his human form.
The game was first announced by THQ on February 19, 2003, under the working title Sphinx. Touted as a PlayStation 2 and GameCube title, it would ultimately launch on the Xbox, as well. Eurocom developed the game over a period of roughly three years, including time spent creating the title's original engine. The design for Sphinx himself changed greatly over time, from a young child of about six to his final form as a teenager. In creating the two differing styles of gameplay, the developers took inspiration from exploration and puzzle-solving in past games, such as the Zelda series. During development, the role of the cursed mummy, Tutankhamen, increased in prominence. Early Sphinx featured a 70/30 split of play time between Sphinx and Tutankhamen, which was adjusted in the latter's favor in response to positive reactions to the character. In line with this shift, the game's title was changed from the earlier Sphinx and the Shadow of Set shortly before release. This development title had still been in use when THQ began providing demo discs for the PlayStation 2 version online.
It was originally intended that Sphinx transform into a mythical sphinx—a winged lion with human features. Flying sequences were to comprise around 30% of Sphinx (the character)'s gameplay. These sections were triggered by reaching specific points in the game, one such area involving "flying through [...] tubes trying to get to a fortress, with many different obstacles on the way". A pre-production concept animation showcased the sphinx idea, and character designer Juan Solís produced models for the character's sphinx form, which ultimately went unused. Early media about the game also indicated that several further regions of Egypt would be included. IGN described the game's "seven worlds", including "the jungles, swamps and lakes of Sakkara" and "the underwater city of Akaria," neither of which featured in the final game. In pre-release interviews, THQ's Rob Loftus stated that Eurocom would be taking "full advantage" of the GameCube hardware, which would be evident in that version's improved lighting features.
THQ Wireless published a Java version for mobile phones, developed by Humagade. As in the console game, players alternately control Sphinx and Tutankhamen (the mummy) in action and puzzle-solving scenarios, respectively. Players seek out Tutankhamen's preserved organs in order to restore him to life while tracking the evil Set through the city of Uruk.
Using one of the save points in the Mummy section immediately following a particular cut scene can cause a door to be permanently sealed if play is not immediately continued. This traps the player, preventing further progress with no way to reverse the action. This forces the player to start over from a point fairly deep into the game.
Sphinx was well received by much of the gaming community. IGN gave the game 8.5/10, calling it a "fun, challenging action-adventure serv[ing] up a semi-non-linear experience complete with huge worlds to explore, difficult and satisfying puzzles, entertaining weapon and item advancements". It was praised by critics for its unique characters and compelling storyline. The game's graphics were also highly praised for their quality. However, some criticism was directed at the lack of voice-acting to coincide with the text-heavy dialogue. Commercially, the game performed poorly, with "sluggish sales [...] across all systems".
The mobile release received a more muted response, though still generally positive, with a 70.50% aggregate score on GameRankings. IGN's Levi Buchanan admired the game's graphics, but criticised the "freaky" isometric controls for not being "as user-friendly as they need to be", overall feeling the game was "a pretty good purchase for fans of the original console game or in the hunt for an adventure title." Reviewing the title for GameSpot, Carrie Gouskos enjoyed the game's adherence to the style of the console title, saying it did "a good job of maintaining the look and personality of the franchise", but called the controls "uncomfortable", the sound "not that interesting" and said the gameplay "doesn't have great longevity", overall finding it frustrating for anyone but players seeking "a simple little action game [or] particular fan[s] of the series".
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