Following in the tradition of games such as Montezuma's Revenge, Earnest Evans, and Tomb Raiders, The Pharaoh’s Tomb is about an adventurer exploring an ancient tomb, avoiding harmful traps, dodging evil creatures, and grabbing as much treasure as he can get his greedy little paws on. So grab your brown fedora, dusty leather jacket (leaving the whip and pistol at home because our protagonist is unarmed) and prepare to wait for the best time to dash by the poison gas, a mummy, and some spikes.
These treasures belong in a museum...honest....
From the detailed decorations on the sarcophagus to the ancient hieroglyphs on the walls, the game presentation and graphics fit well with the ancient Egyptian theme. The background music is a peppy tune fit for a 1950s Mummy horror film. Although most of the other sound effects added to the experience, the creatures’ growling sounds were often too loud and repetitive.
The game objectives are easy to understand, even if you are the type to click “Start Game” before reading the instructions. Shiny, gold objects are good and you want to collect them. Glass pitchers containing a mysterious, green liquid are better because they can heal you. Most other things that move or glow are bad and will hurt you. To continue through the tomb, you must locate different-colored Ankhs to open doors of the same color. The map feature is a very nice, although I never used it much. The number of traps and creatures per room increases as you progress through the tomb, making the game difficulty slowly increase.
Hurry Up and Wait!
The first issue I had occurred just prior to starting the game when I read the blurb about it. In the last sentence, it says “Get out of the Tomb as fast as you can…….alive!!”
Of course, rushing through this game is the quickest way to die. It has no visible time limit or anything else to reinforce this statement. It is much better to enter a room and wait until you see an opening in the pattern of the traps and creatures. As you continue through the game, it can be a game of move, wait…move, wait…move…wait…. Although challenging, it can become rather repetitive, especially in the later levels where there are many traps and monsters and only a few truly safe spots on which to stand. However, the game controls can turn this otherwise nice game into a frustrating experience.
I Said Up-Left!
For me, isometric action games and keyboard controls usually equals frustration. In a joypad-controlled isometric game like Sega’s classic Landstalker, the game control worked well because it used the diagonals on the joypad to control the character. If I wanted to go up-left, I pressed the up-left corner of the joypad. Keyboard-controlled isometric games often are not as easy. In The Pharaoh’s Tomb, up is up-left, down is down-right, right is up-right, and left is down-left. I often found myself dying in this game, not because it was too difficult to dodge the enormous amount of creatures and traps in a room, but because I pressed the wrong key, walked right into a floor trap, and took massive damage. I had the same issue with the alternative controls (S, X, J, N). Both of these configurations never felt natural to me, and even after a lot of practice, I would eventually press the wrong key and die.
Like other isometric action games (including SEGA’s classic Landstalker), it is sometimes hard to tell your exact position on screen or what objects you are lined up with. In The Pharaoh’s Tomb, this can be especially annoying with traps like the gas trap, which can burn off most of your life if you happen to be in front of them. This game does have a system in place to help the player line up to things like passageways and doors. If you are not exactly lined up with bottom-right door but are walking into the bottom-right door frame, our brave adventurer will continue walking sideways until he enters the door.
To summarize: Pharaoh’s Tomb looks very good, and is easy to understand. However, the game control issues and game play style keeps it from become a truly exciting adventure game.