It's a rarity these days to find a truly compelling multiplatform action adventure game in the vein of the Legend of Zelda series, but that's exactly what Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is. Developed by Eurocom Entertainment and available for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, Sphinx is based on various aspects of Egyptian history and mythology and features a gameplay experience that can easily be compared to the style of the recent entries in the Zelda series, with lots of intriguing puzzles, challenging dungeons, and solid combat. This is not to say that Sphinx is quite up to the level of the Zelda franchise--not by a long shot. But what Eurocom has created here is a fine starting point for what could become a long, fruitful series.
The title of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy refers to its two featured characters. At the beginning of the game, we meet Sphinx, a tail-sporting demigod who is an apprentice to a powerful magician known as Imhotep, who warns Sphinx of an impending evil that is growing within the dark city of Uruk. Meanwhile, not far away, in the kingdom of Luxor, a young prince by the name of Tutankhamen is about to celebrate his birthday with a party thrown by his sinister older brother. Unfortunately, before the celebration, Tut stumbles upon an evil conspiracy against him, engineered by his brother. Before he can do anything about it, Tut is captured and transformed into a lifeless mummy during a botched ceremony--one that was fouled up at the hands of Sphinx. Here is where the paths of the two characters meet, and from there on out, it's up to the two of them to rid the world of the evil, impending threat.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy doesn't actually take place within any specific period of Egyptian history; rather, it weaves its own hybrid storyline within a world that is decidedly more fantasy oriented, but with an Egyptian twist. Along the way, you'll find other immediately recognizable Egyptians, like the princess Nefertiti and the god Anubis. Beings from all walks of life inhabit the world of Sphinx, from humans, to demigods, to other unidentifiable races of people. Nearly every character in the game plays some part in Sphinx and Tut's quest, which really adds a lot of depth to the surrounding world.
But enough about side characters--Sphinx and Tut are the ones that matter most. Creating a game based on multiple lead characters can be a bit tricky. If they are too different from each other, the game will feel disjointed, but if they are designed too similarly, the game will feel monotonous. In Sphinx, both characters have a unique set of abilities and attributes, but at the same time, they feel just enough like each another to keep the flow of the game under control. You'll spend the bulk of the game playing as Sphinx, the more traditional herolike character of the two. Sphinx starts off a little on the weak side, but he can gradually be turned into a true badass as he picks up new weapons (such as the fabled Blade of Osiris and a blowpipe that can shoot darts) and acquires new moves (such as a double-jump maneuver or the ability to swim underwater faster than normal), which he gains by picking up magical trinkets.
When you first begin to play as Tut, he'll be in his normal human form. Soon enough, however, he'll be turned into the cursed mummy. The mummy doesn't have any attacks to speak of and is far more useful for solving complex puzzles. Because the mummy is, for all intents and purposes, dead, he can't be harmed and can take any amount of punishment you dish out. Many of the mummy's puzzles require him to perform tasks such as burning away a wooden gate or fence, fitting through an extremely tight space, or even finding a way to hit multiple switches in multiple locations at the same time. To solve these, the mummy can simply set himself on fire, get crushed between two massive walls, or be sliced into multiple iterations, respectively. The goofy nature of the mummy sections brings pure comic relief to the otherwise straightforward action adventure plotline, and these sections can be quite amusing while still maintaining intelligent puzzle-solving gameplay.
Puzzle-solving is a major factor in Sphinx's overall gameplay, and both characters do their share. Aside from the aforementioned switch-hitting and tight-space-navigating puzzles, numerous jump puzzles will present themselves, including moving platforms that you can dangle off of and narrow ledges that you must sidle around. For the most part, the puzzles are pretty intuitive, and though some exploration will likely be necessary in certain dungeons, in general you should find Sphinx's puzzles challenging, rather than frustrating.
This is not to say that everything in Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy works as well as it should. Certain aspects feel a little on the underdeveloped side, and the game is not entirely devoid of filler. For starters, the combat system, while clearly modeled after that of games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, isn't quite as good as it could be. This is largely because the game lacks any form of a targeting system. This wouldn't be such a problem, except that the game's free-form camera setup makes it difficult to set up a decent visual angle and navigate where the closest bad guy is. Another problem is the game's sometimes achingly slow pacing. Sphinx features a pretty lengthy quest, but the story itself takes at least a couple of hours to really hit its stride, and not all of the game's missions really hold up. Occasionally the game will rely a little too heavily on fetch-quest-like missions and goals that feature a significant amount of backtracking, which drags out the pacing even further. There aren't a lot of side quests either, so the bulk of the game is pretty linear, despite how exploratory in nature some of the different environments are. These problems certainly detract from the game, but there are more than enough cool puzzles and enjoyable missions to keep things fresh and fun.
Graphically, Sphinx is very impressive. One of the best aspects of Sphinx's visual presentation is the character design, which has a somewhat cartoonish, exaggerated look. One of the biggest character highlights has to be the comical-looking mummy, who lumbers around in a gangly and clumsy manner (sort of like a mummified Don Knotts) and shows off some great facial expressions. In fact, nearly every character in the game boasts a highly expressive face. Tut in his human form shows his naïve and innocent nature solely through his facial movements, and Sphinx's coy and confident demeanor is evident in his subtle smirks. Another big point in the game's favor is the various environments, which, though not rich with lush textures or ridiculously high polygon counts, are very detailed and set the game's stage extremely well. Dungeons and temples look appropriately dank and cavernous, whereas the outdoor areas are widespread, with nice varieties of terrain. The game runs at a very solid 60 frames per second and rarely hiccups or drops. As mentioned before, the game's free-roaming camera isn't without its framing issues, and occasionally objects will get in the way of the camera's path, causing it to bug out slightly, but for the most part, it's a pretty controllable camera.
Sphinx's sound design isn't quite as impressive as the rest of the game, but it still holds its own. The music is nicely orchestrated and is well suited for its contextual situations, giving you that properly uneasy feeling when traipsing through a dark dungeon and stepping up the drama during a key fight sequence. The music is well complemented by some solid sound effects, all of which work quite well within the context of the game. The one big knock against Sphinx is that it really features no voice acting at all. Dialogue is handled through captioned text at the bottom of the screen during cutscenes, and though other games have managed to get by just fine with this method, in Sphinx, it just doesn't seem to work quite as well, possibly because the short, repetitive sound samples used to try to mimic voices for the characters just aren't very good.
One of the best things about Sphinx is how much each version of the game feels like it belongs on its respective system, rather than simply being a quick and cheap port. All three versions look and play great, and no version shows any real sign of weakness over the other three. If a best version of the three had to be picked, the GameCube version seems to be the strongest overall. Although the Xbox version does look just a bit crisper, the GameCube version matches up in practically every visual capacity, and some of the more minor visual effects actually look a little better on the GameCube. Additionally, the GameCube controller seems to work the best with Sphinx's control scheme, since it's heavily based on the Legend of Zelda item-equipping system, where you assign various weapons and items to whichever button you please. This is not to say that this scheme doesn't work with the PS2 and Xbox iterations, but it just feels a little more natural on the GameCube.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy strikes a great balance between its fantasy and Egyptian-history-based elements to create a world that is rich with character, color, and originality, and its unique method of puzzle-solving makes it an easy recommendation to any fan of the genre. Topping it all off are its superb graphics, which really hammer home the overall level of quality to be found in the game. Although it is certainly not devoid of flaws, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is a great game that any action adventure fan should not pass up.