One of the best ways to appreciate Shakespeare – sorry for this opening sentence – is to look at his contemporaries. They’re a bit like Shakespeare, but they’re not quite as good. Take Webster! Webster’s fascinating because he’s so dark and grimy, but he’s also less gifted than Shakespeare at the stuff that you don’t even realise Shakespeare is good at – dialogue that subtly cues you in to what the scene setting is, poetic rhythms where the stresses always end up in the right places.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy – which I love – is a bit like Webster, and the Shakespeare in this horrible tortured analogy is Zelda. Both games give you worlds that steadily open up as you engage in ARPG combat and solve puzzles, but Zelda’s just…a little bit better. If you have to go up two towers, say, and activate two switches to open a single door, Zelda will make the second tower a subtle spin on the first. With Sphinx, you’ll just be doing the same stuff twice. Equally, Zelda will mix up combat and puzzling till the whole thing just sings in the flow from one to another. Sphinx is a bit more stilted.
But I do love it! Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy takes one of the most intriguing moments in Ancient Egyptian history – the whole Akhenaten, let’s-change-everything-and-try-out-monotheism moment – and turns it into a breezy Zelda-alike. This was great news for people who didn’t have Nintendo consoles. But it was also great news for people who did, because the game is lovely in its own right.
Sphinx gets the combat and exploration, wading through a beautiful open-ish world of sands and oases and wonderfully lit temples. There’s a lovely sense of scale, and mystery and genuine wonder – Ancient Egypt really is a fantastic setting. Meanwhile, the Mummy gets to handle stealthy puzzley sections, which generally involve Loony Tunes stuff like him being zapped or flattened or pushed around in a variety of other ways. This was the great era of buddy-buddy platformers. There’s a lovely sense of character to both leads, and a nice pace as you switch back and forth.
So it’s not Zelda. But what else is? Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is special enough on its own. I love Ancient Egypt and I love the Zelda template. And wow – this came to Switch quite recently! Time for me to head back to the sands, I think.