Hands-on: The Scorpion King

We take a firsthand look at WayForward and Universal's side scroller based on the upcoming movie.

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Universal Interactive sent us an 80-percent-complete version of The Scorpion King for the GBA. The game is directly based on the upcoming movie of the same name, which was in turn written around some of the characters introduced in The Mummy Returns.You're put in the role of Mathayus, the legendary warrior played by the WWF's The Rock in the upcoming movie, and your job is to prevent the evil Menthu from realizing his dark plans.

The game is a side-scrolling hackfest, in the spirit of classic games like Valis and the original Castlevania. The environments are platform oriented, with enemies scattered gingerly throughout. The layout of the levels almost feels like something out of a Circle of the Moon-style 2D adventure, except that they're a whole lot more linear and have no real branching paths. The focus, really, is on combat and platforming, both of which seem to come in fairly symmetrical doses.

Mathayus has a handful of moves at his disposal, most of which are centered around combat. You'll start the game with access to two different weapon options--a pair of curved, sickle-like swords and a heavy straight-bladed sword. The former lets you execute a three-hit combo of sorts, while the latter outputs short, heavy, and more-damaging slashes. In any event, if you hold down the attack button for a couple of seconds, Mathayus will start whirling whatever blade(s) he has equipped. Depending on which of the two you're using, you'll be able to execute some kind of special attack. If you're using the sickles, you'll hurl them forward and damage whichever distant enemies they come into contact with. With the straight blade, on the other hand, you'll be able to perform advancing and retreating thrusts, as well as upward and downward thrusts. Further, if you press the down button while you're in the air, you'll perform a falling downward thrust, kind of like the one that Link was able to do in Zelda II.

Another neat combat-related function is designed around the Hero's Gauntlet--a mystical item that you acquire early on in the game. Every time you defeat a level boss, you'll "unlock" another one of the gauntlet's jeweled knuckles. For every knuckle you unlock, you'll get to power up your weapons by one degree. You actually do this by picking up some jewel power-ups that are dropped by enemies. Powered-up weapons will do more damage, and they'll also be swathed in flame.

Graphically, the game looks pretty nice. All of the major characters' sprites are extremely detailed and wonderfully animated. The same can be said for many of the game's enemies, but some have clearly been skimped on. The tile art is very nice, though, and there are quite a few little items strewn around to keep things feeling busy and interesting--items like piles of skulls, columns, and statues in the foreground and altars, temples, and pyramids in the background. If we have one complaint, it's that some of the foreground art is a bit too large and thus easy to get "lost" behind. This is especially annoying during combat. Overall, though, everything looks quite detailed, and the color palettes are suitably rich and vibrant.

The Scorpion King is scheduled for release sometime next quarter, so keep your eyes here for a full review soon.

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