Review: Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy (Switch)

A 15 year-old game, back from the dead.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 02/06/2019 06:30 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Clever platformer; nifty story; remake has gotten an HD facelift
Poison Mushroom for...
A straight port of an old game, including the original’s flaws

Back in 2004 or 2005, I found myself wandering through a GameStop looking for a game to play on my little black GameCube. It was the heyday of the PlayStation 2-Xbox-GameCube console wars, but third party titles had started to dry up for Nintendo’s system. While browsing, I spotted a used copy of Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy— a multiplatform title available on all three systems of the time— in the bargain bin. I took a chance on the game and wasn’t disappointed; it wasn’t perfect, but I liked it enough to finish it. As a decent but not great game, I figured that it was one of those titles destined to wind up among the footnotes of gaming history. Imagine my surprise, then, to see the game get a re-release some 15 years later.

Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy for Nintendo Switch is a mostly straight-up port of the 2003 title of the same name. It was released on PC in 2017 and on Switch in 2019, making Nintendo’s system the only current console it is available on. It can be purchased either as a physical copy or digital download, both for $29.99. The game is a 3D third-person adventure-platformer with puzzle elements, in the same vein as the 3D Zelda games and cult favorite Beyond Good and Evil, the latter of which was released at almost the same time as Sphinx. If you remember games where you earned money and health by breaking pots, acquired objects to increase the icon bar, and had to solve random lever puzzles, you’ll feel right at home.

As the title suggests, the game follows the exploits of a hero named Sphinx and another hero (sort of) that is a cursed mummy. Set in a mythological version of Egypt, the early part of the game shows the two heroes getting entangled in a plot involving ancient evils, while the rest of the game is an ever-expanding series of adventures. What makes the game novel, even by today’s standards, is the way the gameplay differs between the two characters: Sphinx is an agile fighter who runs, jumps, and slashes his way through various levels, while the Mummy, who is essentially indestructible, must crawl, shimmy, sneak, and solve his way through the levels he faces. For much of the game, the two plotlines run parallel, often impacting one another in indirect rather than direct ways.

The Switch port of this 2003 game is, by and large, a straight port. There are no additional plotlines, no extra content, and no bonus material. The only thing that really sets the 2019 Switch version apart from the 2003 original is remastered HD graphics. That’s not automatically bad, as the core game is decent. The visuals, for example, show excellent art design that has aged well. The character designs are memorable, movements are fluid, and some of the cut scenes show some clever choreography. It’s apparent in a few places that the HD remaster masks a lack of detail you might find in other HD games, but the game’s cartoon style covers that sin better than some other games might.

There are other strengths, too. Character controls are tight and responsive, and some of the platforming and combat can be a lot of fun. The puzzles are typically thought-provoking without being overbearing, and the alternating play between Sphinx and the Mummy helps keep things fresh. There are the requisite collectibles and other side tasks that also add value to the main quest.

But, just as the some good things were ported over, so too were the original game’s warts. The camera, for example, can be a battle in some places; it can be freely rotated with the right stick, but in the heat of combat it doesn’t reorient itself well to face enemies, which means players have to rotate the camera even as they are hacking at an enemy or grabbing a rope. This could have been fixed easily with a lock-on mechanism— a common thing at the time the game was developed— but it doesn’t have one, and one wasn’t added during the port. The game also uses an old-school object-based save system, where you have to locate statues and use them to save the game. Those save locations are usually close at hand, but not always, meaning that players may have long dungeon sessions between saves. Switch’s ability to sleep is very helpful here, but it also means you won’t be able to change over to other games for a while if you’re caught in certain locations.

The audio is a mixed bag, and not always for the reasons one might think. The music is actually good, but it’s nagged by some bugs that will distort the audio at certain times, and not always for obvious reasons. It seems to me this might also have been a problem on GameCube, but it was a long time ago so I’m not certain. On the voicework end, there isn’t really any: the only talking in the game consists of a few generic phrases. In 2003 it was not uncommon; today seeing lots of text accompanied by a short exclamation is dated.

Maybe that final point is symbolic of the problems that come with Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy; it was a solid game in the early 2000s, but it’s not a first-rate game today, and the game’s publisher opted not to make any improvements to bring it up to date beyond an HD remaster. That in and of itself isn’t a deal-breaker, as there are many old games seeing new life on the eShop, but it does make the $30 opening price tag— more than I paid for the original back in the 2000s— seem high, especially for a game whose original shortcomings were not addressed. If you like early 2000s 3D third person platformers, this is worth a look, but be aware that it isn’t as modern as the current promotional material might make it out to be.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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