DreamCatcher Games, the self-appointed savior of the adventure game genre in the United States, has an erratic track record. It not only serves as a window for some of Europe's worst adventure games to make their way into the United States, but it also serves as a means for independent developers to get their games published. Riddle of the Sphinx falls into the latter category. And, like Traitor's Gate before it, Riddle of the Sphinx is a game that makes up for its technical shortcomings with a great location and an impressive amount of detail.
Riddle of the Sphinx is neither a remake of the confounding game by Imagic for the Atari 2600 nor a retelling of Oedipus saving Thebes. Instead, the game takes the plot from Infocom's text-based Infidel and adds a few twists. The game takes place in the modern day, and you play as an archaeologist visiting the dig site of your mentor, Sir Gil Blythe Geoffreys. Geoffreys has vanished just before making a great discovery regarding an artifact buried in a secret chamber in the Sphinx. He has left behind clues that you must decipher in order to finish his work. The story is little more than a clothesline on which to hang puzzles, but it serves its purpose and even manages to be involving, especially when you're listening to the tapes Geoffreys has left behind for you.
Geoffreys' voice is provided by Jeffrey S. Tobler who, along with his wife Karen, did almost all of the programming, art, and design for Riddle of the Sphinx. There are a few ancillary members of their design team, and quite a few of them also have the last name Tobler. But for the most part, this is a two-person show. It's a labor of love, and it shows. The personal nature is both what makes the game seem rudimentary and what makes it great - this isn't the kind of game you get when someone is concerned about the bottom line. Perhaps it's no surprise that the end result is really good. In particular, the voice of Geoffreys is more believable than most of the voice work in bigger-budget games. His notes to you are delivered so convincingly and naturalistically that it seems at times as if David Mamet were directing the dialogue.
Likewise, the graphics and sound are well suited to the game. The score is subtle and atmospheric, while the sparse sound effects are, if not particularly noteworthy, at least nonintrusive. The graphics make up in detail what they lack in quality. That's not to say the art direction is bad, but the low-resolution graphics do seem a bit dated. The Toblers have used Macromedia Director as the backbone of the game, and the graphic quality suffers slightly as a result. But despite the technical drawbacks, the design is great, and it features realistic environments and believable settings.
Riddle of the Sphinx follows the same sort of format as the classic Myst - you read a lot of notes and use the clues found therein to solve the numerous puzzles that await you in the locations you'll visit. The puzzles are challenging but logical. The clues are there, but they aren't obvious. Occasionally, the game does get slightly ridiculous. One puzzle early on requires you to control a mobile camera as it travels through a small tunnel. That tunnel is so long that you'll undoubtedly think you've done something wrong - but you must hold the "forward" button on the controls for what seems like minutes. Luckily, moments like these are rare, and the puzzles will certainly be enjoyable to those who loved or even liked Myst and the higher-quality games it inspired.
The obvious amount of research that informs Riddle of the Sphinx makes it a perfect choice for those with an interest in Egyptology or just good old-fashioned puzzle solving. The subject matter is old hat - there have been many games with the same setting. But the Toblers have added an amount of depth and detail that makes the setting seem fresh, so that adventure gamers who haven't tired of wandering empty landscapes in search of cryptic clues will doubtless be challenged and entertained by Riddle of the Sphinx.