No one really remembers Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, which makes it rather odd property to raise from dead. Originally released on the GameCube back in the early 2000s, it came out during the renaissance for action platformers, with the likes of Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper and Jak & Daxter cementing PS2 as the place to be. Add in the fact it was an original IP from a now-defunct developer that mostly worked on ports of other games or licensed tie-ins, and Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, despite its quality, slowly sank through the sands of time and memory.
But that’s just the thing. Developer Eurocom may have earned a name for itself by working on Harry Potter games or James Bond entries that ranged from decent to abysmal, but for a short time, it produced something genuinely great. Thankfully, THQ Nordic picked up the rights to this forgotten gem and now it’s been given a lick of HD paint and adjusted to fit the widescreen ratios of modern gaming. It’s still got some of its original faults – this isn’t a full remaster, after all – but it doesn’t take long to realise why Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy is such an underrated addition to a populous genre.
As its title so cryptically conceals, you’ll be spending most of your time playing as Sphinx, a free-spirited demigod and... well, a mummy. When our deified hero is warned that the evil god Set is planning to plunge the world into darkness, he heads to the realm of mortals to foil his plans. Elsewhere, Prince Tutankhamen (yes, that Tutankhamen) has stumbled on a secret conspiracy headed up his older brother, Akhenaten, and is captured and forced into a black magic ritual. Sphinx arrives and interrupts the dodgy ceremony, but not before poor old Tut is turned into an undead monster and transported to Sphinx’s realm.
With his thin body and long strides, Sphinx moves and controls a lot like Jak from the Jak & Daxter games, only with a little less bounce. You’ll start off with only a single jump and no means of protecting yourself (bar throwing rocks), but you’ll soon collect trinkets and tools as you go, including the rather useful Blade of Osiris, as well as the ability to double jump and brandish a handy shield. Rather than resigning Tut to being a carry-around sidekick (a la Daxter or Clank), the game gives the titular cursed mummy his own unique sections.
While Sphinx takes up a majority of the game with his emphasis on exploration, combat and platforming, Tut is more focused on stealth and puzzle solving. Since he’s technically dead, our mummified hero can take far more damage than Sphinx and can utilise special routes (such as sarcophagi that transport you to secret locations). The puzzles are still pretty obtuse, but in an age where everything is signposted and over-tutorialised, this is a characteristic from yesteryear that serves as a real positive for Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy's overall adventure. Matched with the impressive restoration applied to its visuals and you’re getting an action-platforming classic that suits Switch’s plethora of remastered hits to a tee.
As is the case with many other HD remasters, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy isn’t perfect and brings with it its own set of legacy issues. A dodgy camera – the bane of almost every 3D platformer – rears its ugly head here as well, too often getting stuck in the scenery or taking too long to right itself when transitioning from one level in an area to another. It can make platforming a little tricky at times, but considering how good Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy looks thanks to its HD lick of paint (it was a pretty decent looking game the first time around) and the smoothness of its performance on Switch, it’s a problem you’ll learn to live with if the genre means enough to you.
The gaping distances between save points – another wonderful tactic from the 'old platformer playbook' – haven’t been addressed either. Not that we expected them to be, but without any form of autosave to rely on, it’s easy to lose 20-30 minutes of progress when you mistime a jump and plunge into lava, or get blown to smithereens by an exploding, two-legged goblin. It was a problem the first time around, and in an age of autosave saturation, newcomers might find this manual malarkey a bitter pill to swallow.
While its platforming mechanics are still a tad unpredictable at times – and the huge gaps between save points still rankle – Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy’s quality nonetheless shines through. Weaving melee combat, environmental puzzles and plenty of platforms with a fun and interesting take on Egyptian mythology, it’s an action-platformer that really holds up well, despite the years on its clock. Its camera might still be a bit rubbish, but with a new lick of HD paint, this is a hidden gem that deserves a little time in the limelight.