The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor for the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2 has all the ingredients of a successful third-person adventure game. And at first glance, it seems to get the recipe right, but the devil is in the details. As you venture further into this game, small and large issues continue arising until ultimately, it becomes clear that this mummy has served up one truly rotten dish.
The game faithfully follows the story of the third Mummy film, telling its tale with attractive hand-drawn artwork and narration from the dignified voice of Michelle Yeoh. You'll play as Rick O'Connell, as well as his son Alex, who must stop the evil Emperor Han from raising his Terracotta Army and conquering the world. The adventure takes you from ancient tombs to the snowy Himalayas and the Great Wall of China. Sadly, whatever joy may have been found in exploring these exotic environments is hampered by the invisible walls you'll frequently run up against.
Rick and Alex are constantly being assailed by enemies--human and ceramic. The O'Connells are brawlers, so they have a host of quick and dirty melee attacks at their disposal to deal with their foes. The variety of moves initially seems pretty cool. It's actually pointless, however, as the combat in the game is so simple that it hardly matters what tactic you use. Your enemies will just stand there and take it regardless. The O'Connells also have pistols, tommy guns, and shotguns, which add another level of silliness to the action. Many of your assailants will come at you with swords in hand, but they pose little threat. It's always a piece of cake to kill them from a safe distance with one of your guns, and, after all, it's what Indiana Jones would do.
Like any adventurer worth his or her salt, you'll also spend some time shimmying along ledges and making death-defying leaps, though these leaps place a little too much emphasis on death for their own good. It's often hard to distinguish a usable ledge from the background. What's worse, the camera, which you have no control over, doesn't give you a good view of what's ahead; thus, these sequences are exercises in trial and error. You'll often blindly jump to a ledge only to find that there's a spinning blade there with your name on it.
If the reason everyone really wanted to be an adventurer was for the thrill of pulling levers and opening doors, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor might have been onto something. Each time you encounter a door, lever, or other mechanism, you take control of your character's hands and input a series of gestures. On the Wii, this is done by moving the Nunchuk and Wii Remote, while on the PS2, you use the thumbsticks. Both methods work equally well. But these sequences are just tedious exercises and happen so frequently that they really break up the flow of the action, making the game feel more like a crank-turning simulator at times than a thrilling adventure.
The game also features a boss battle that is so unspeakably horrible that it alone would be reason to stay away from this game. At the end of the game's fifth level, the shape-shifting emperor takes on the form of a lionlike creature that frequently tries to pounce on you and emits shock waves that must be leapt over. The problem with the battle is that you'll spend most of your time wrestling with the game's controls, which are fine for taking on the soldiers the game throws at you but are wholly inadequate for this kind of action. You need to lock on to the boss to fire at him effectively, but then, you need to release the lock in order to jump over the shock waves, and if he chooses that moment to leap behind you, you won't see the shock waves approaching. Furthermore, if you happen to be reloading your gun when the shock waves approach, you won't be able to jump at all.
The Wii version is a bit sharper than its PS2 counterpart, but aside from that, the game looks pretty much identical on both consoles. The environments are varied and nicely detailed, though frequent collision-detection issues can be distracting. The music and sound effects are decent, while the voice acting is actually pretty good, with Brendan Fraser delivering his lines with particular enthusiasm. Unfortunately, though they may be good for a chuckle or two at first, these one-liners repeat so frequently that they end up being more annoying than humorous.
Tomb of the Dragon Emperor's six levels will take most players somewhere around five hours to complete. There are a bunch of unlockables in the form of concept art and the like that you get for finding hidden artifacts scattered throughout the levels, but it's hard to imagine anyone being compelled to go after that stuff. There's something especially disappointing about failures like this. All the elements are here. But every last one of them is handled so poorly that the end result is a game even the bravest of adventurers should run from...screaming.