Luxor: Pharaoh's Challenge Review
The last blockbuster puzzle title may have been Tetris, as advances in the industry have allowed developers to do things with video games we never would've dreamed possible back in the mid-'80s. Hence, simpler genres like this one have fallen by the wayside, especially on the home consoles. The PSP has a ton of ‘em, but then again, it makes much more sense to have a nice, addictive little puzzle game while on the go. Many of the latest puzzle games we've seen on the PS2 have actually been PSP ports, and Luxor: Pharaoh's Challenge is one of them, which doesn't necessarily mean anything. Sometimes, when you use the word "port," one almost immediately expects something inferior to the original version. But it's not very difficult to port over puzzle titles, considering they don't involve cutting edge visuals or any hard-to-emulate cut-scenes and CGI. All in all, Mumbo Jumbo delivers a game that is very, very similar to the PSP version, but the core gameplay isn't really enough to impress anybody.
As we just said, the graphics are never a major factor of puzzle games, so this analysis of the visuals is merely obligatory. Sure, there's a great deal of color (you'll be seeing little colorful balls in your sleep, if you play enough) and some of the different levels are ingeniously designed, but that's about where it ends. Unfortunately, while the advertisement for this game boasts "88 different levels," they recycle many levels over and over again, starting on Chapter 4. Had they gone out of their way to include 88 completely different puzzle maps, it would've added a great deal to the visual presentation. There's really nothing outside the gameplay levels besides some very basic storyline screens, where the generic and entirely boring plot scrolls by in standard script form. We're more than willing to award a few more points thanks to the genuinely interesting design of some of the maps, but there really isn't much else to talk about. One of these days, a puzzle game will actually "wow" us with surprisingly solid visuals, but don't expect that out of Pharaoh's Challenge. Just be happy the graphics aren't a prime focal point and regard the game for what it is: a semi-entertaining yet repetitive puzzle experience. We'll elaborate on that last bit in just a moment.
We'll cut the graphics some slack, but we really can't do that with the sound. There's just no excuse for sound that's this bland and uninspiring; the gameplay effects are nothing more than standard, run-of-the-mill, and the soundtrack - while appropriate for the atmosphere - never...well, forgive the pun, but it never gets on track. They keep using a lot of the same music throughout the game, and it starts to grow very tiresome before you even advance past the first stage. There's a lot of repetitiveness going on in Luxor, but it's most painfully evident with this category. One would expect some of the special "abilities" to resonate with clear - but most importantly, various - sound, like when you get one of those Bombs or Lightning Balls. And while the ensuing effect is clear, the impact lacks any sort of satisfaction. We realize we're not playing an action game where the sound is crucial to drawing the player into the experience, but even so... They really could've done a lot more with the sound, and for the record, if we heard one more coyote howl after stringing together a couple chains, we were gonna wack out.
We can explain the gameplay quickly and efficiently: if you're familiar with the likes of Bust-a-Move, you'll remember the concept of shooting little colored balls up into the grid. This is very similar, in that you assemble three balls of the same color to make the set disappear, so it's all about timing and hand-eye-coordination. The only difference is that this "grid" moves around the screen in a line, and sometimes, there are two different lines. You need to aim and fire with a keen eye, and the bigger the set, the bigger the results. In other words, knocking off 6 or 7 balls of the same color will yield special balls and other automatically-triggered bonuses. For example, the line of balls will often retreat a good long ways if you can string together a couple major chains, or it may even come to a screeching halt for a few moments. It's your job to eliminate every line of balls before they reach your home pyramid, which basically means instant death. This may sound challenging on the surface, but after moving through the first three stages (each stage includes 5-7 different levels) and never dying once, we have to conclude this is a pretty easy game.
Unfortunately, just when you think the challenge is going to increase, all they do is start over with the same maps you've seen before and add a special skill or another ball. The actual gameplay itself is great fun, but because it's so repetitive, the enjoyment factor tends to wane after only a few hours of play. Of course, a game like this is probably best suited for a quick throw-in-and-play for a few minutes, so perhaps we're being a little too hard on Luxor's lack of longevity. But even so, if you're a puzzle veteran, you probably won't find much difficulty with this title. We're used to Super Bust-a-Move 2 (big fan of that one) so maybe we had the advantage going in, considering the similarity of the two gameplay foundations. For those of you who are looking for a simple and mostly engaging game, this budget-priced game might fit the bill. The best part of the whole game is, as mentioned before, the levels themselves. You'll be watching strings of balls on everything from Egyptian lace backgrounds to more complicated setups with interlinking paths. They didn't make enough of ‘em, but the ones they do have will often make you smile with their originality. It's just too bad that this is the only true highlight of Luxor, because the depth of the gameplay isn't what we were expecting; we had hoped for something more...progressive.
Basically, we just kept doing the same thing over and over again, and we never really faced a steep challenge. All you really have to do is be fast and accurate, which isn't really that tough, especially if you have a background in games like these. You get a small thrill when you squeeze in a pinpoint-accurate shot, and the faster you move, the better of you'll be (usually). Sometimes, though, it's more about being patient and picking your spots rather than firing away like a madman. You will unlock a variety of "Blessings" throughout the adventure - they're like trophies or awards you get for completing a certain task, like going 10 rounds in a row without dying - and you can even change between two balls when playing. This almost makes it too easy, though, because being able to switch between two colors opens up a ton of possibilities you wouldn't normally find in Bust-a-Move, for instance. Having breezed through our own play session, we can't imagine many players having difficulty with this one, which could be a blessing or a curse.
Luxor: Pharaoh's Challenge is a fun puzzler that falls well short in a variety of areas. There just isn't anywhere near enough depth or diversity, the challenge is light, and the repetition puts a serious crimp in the experience. It'll be entertaining for a while, but there are better PS2 puzzlers out there, and most of them are budget-priced like this one.
3/5/2008 Ben Dutka