Publisher: Xider GamesDeveloper: VIS
It really is gratifying to see the point-and-click adventure undergo a renaissance, courtesy of the NDS. The genre was all-but dead a few years back, with very few new games appearing on any format, and even those adventure-gaming stalwarts at Revolution Software moved to a direct-control, 3D offering with the last Broken Sword game. Then along comes Nintendo’s dual-screen marvel, with its ideal-for-adventures touchscreen, and the genre is rediscovered.
Unfortunately, their developers have yet to rediscover the quality that produced the epic games of the past. Grateful as we are for Another Soul, The Secret Files of Tunguska and Hotel Dusk: Room 215, where’s the new Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky or Leisure Suit Larry? Perhaps I’m being unfair. There was a lot of dross around in the adventure game’s heyday, as well as the aforementioned classics; it’s just that the poor games have been forgotten while the gems are still fondly remembered. Even so, although solid enough in its own right, I can’t see anyone going misty-eyed over Ankh: Curse of the Scarab King ten years down the line.
Curse of the Scarab King is the fifth game in Xider’s comedy adventure Ankh series, and the first to make it to the NDS. The game begins with the mischievous but likable youngster Assil in a lot of trouble. After an illegal party in a pyramid, he’s locked in his bedroom by his angry father, who has grounded him for a week. Under normal circumstances, this would be no great disaster, but Assil has more problems than just being grounded. During the party a mummy was accidentally awakened. Angry at being roused from his slumber and having several of his precious urns smashed by the partygoers, he casts a curse on Assil, condemning him to death in a mere 24 hours. You must find the Pharaoh, the only person who can remove the curse, but first you must escape from your bedroom…
The move from the PC to the DS is not without its problems, but overall it works well. Viewed from a 3D isometric perspective, it’s pretty easy to guide Assil around the various locations using either the D-pad or the touchscreen, picking up objects, examining your surroundings and talking to the folks you meet along the way. Interacting with your environments is pretty simple too – click on an icon to Look, Talk, Pick Up or Use, and then click on the person or object you wish to interact with. It’s simple, but effective.
But even in the first location, Assil’s bedroom, the problems with this DS conversion are made clear. With the PC’s visuals reduced to the DS’s screen size, it’s frequently too difficult to tell what’s going on. A puzzle that’s perfectly clear and fair on a 20-inch monitor, or even a 13-inch laptop, becomes tedious and frustrating as you desperately scratch your head wondering what an object is, let alone what to do with it. This in turn opens the door for that perennial problem for adventure games, the try-everything syndrome, where you spend your time combining everything with everything else until something works rather than solving the puzzles with thought and intelligence.
That’s not to say Curse of the Scarab King is a disaster. Far from it. It’s genuinely funny, well presented cut scenes act as a ‘reward’ for completing a section or puzzle, there’s some great voice acting and sound effects and when you team up with another character for some combined puzzle-solving, things get very interesting indeed. Overall the game’s fun, but the fact that it could clearly be even more fun is seriously frustrating.
When things work, they work very well, but it’s a pity the move to the small screen wasn’t as smooth as it needed to be, introducing an element of frustration into what would otherwise be a really good game. Its recommended for adventure fans who can tolerate such foibles and idiosyncrasies, but if you’re the sort of person who’s likely to throw your DS against the wall when you miss the obvious through no fault of your own, leave it alone.