A Mummy’s Curse
The late 80s and early 90s saw a prolific era for adventure games, though interest had all but died out last generation. With the personalized and intuitive interface of the Nintendo DS, however, we’ve seen something of a resurgence of the genre. The Adventure Company now throws their hat into the ring with a port of a not-so-classic tale based on the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Does this mystery unfold in a new way fans can now better appreciate?
Originally released for PC back in the early part of 2003, Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy didn’t exactly captivate audiences or endear itself to critics. It received lukewarm reviews for offering a somewhat tepid story and gameplay that was often comprised of more item hunting than puzzle solving. Unfortunately, little has changed with the DS version, and though Mystery of the Mummy does have its charm, the biggest mystery is why it has been resurrected.
The game gets underway when Holmes is called upon by his in-law-to-be, Elizabeth Montcalfe, to aid in finding her missing (and presumed dead) father. Most of the story is told by way of letters and other documents Holmes collects throughout the game, as well as his occasional mumblings to himself. Therein lies what is perhaps the most likable element of the game, as the voice actor makes a nice fit for this fabled and dry-witted detective.
For the duration of the game, you’ll make your way through various parts of the Montcalfe estate in search of clues regarding the mysterious disappearance of Elizabeth’s father. The old man’s archeological findings in Egypt unearthed more than mere treasure, and now it seems the curse of an ancient culture has converged upon the mansion.
Mystery of the Mummy is played from a first-person perspective, using pre-rendered backgrounds to present a sort of pseudo-3D world. You use the stylus for pretty much everything in the game, including examining all areas of a given room. By sliding the stylus along the touch screen, you move the view just like in a traditional first-person shooter on DS. Movement from area to area, however, does not animate in real-time, since environments are comprised of still images.
During your investigations, there are several different icons that pop up onscreen, cuing you to different actions you can engage. For instance, an eye is seen when merely perusing the environment looking for clues, though an open-hand icon will been seen if you’re able to move to another area of a room; a closed hand appears when you can interact with objects, and a hand with a wrench is seen when you need to use an item in your inventory to interact with an object within the environment.
Though this is a solo tour for Holmes (no Watson, I’m afraid), he’ll constantly mutter things to himself, offering clues to the player as to how best to proceed. Since you’ll rarely encounter other characters, having Holmes speculate aloud helps to keep things interesting. Most of the actual gameplay is otherwise comprised of simply finding various items needed to progress to the next level/area of the mansion.
The two screens are broken up into a view of the environment and Holmes’ inventory. You can switch the screens easily at any time, allowing you to make use of items you’ve collected along the way. Most times your way will be blocked by a locked door, and you’ll have to engage in a bit of scavenging, as well as make use of collected items to solve simple puzzles. One of the early puzzles, for example, tasks you with finding various emblems, which must then be placed into a board in a certain order; you’ll need to first understand their relevance in order to know where each emblem is to be inserted. Some of the game’s latter puzzles require the player to think well outside the box in terms of utilizing items to meet your needs, and long-time adventure fans may well get a kick out of some of the more obscure challenges.
Holmes is also equipped with a notepad, which can be used to write down clues and ideas to aid you in solving puzzles. It’s a handy device that fits right at home on DS, but you likely won’t make great use of it, since the game has its own, quite generous clue system already in place. Diehard adventure fans might be able to muster the willpower to keep from prying into the game’s Clues section, but it’s an element that will likely spoil the fun for most other players.
It’s a shame the developers have so little faith in their audience, as the rest of the game has a lot of charm. It’s definitely not an innovative adventure, but for a bit of gumshoeing on the go, Mystery of the Mummy has a solid formula. The controls work well, and being able to save at any time throughout the story is a welcome option. Additionally, there are some fun (though no longer new) uses of the DS’ unique functionality sprinkled throughout the game.
The game’s presentation also isn’t too shabby, tossing a handful of attractive cutscenes in from time to time that highlight climactic events in the story. The panoramic views of each room are a decent fit for DS, though the artwork appears a tad blurry and distorted up close. The main thing the game suffers from, however, is a sense of lifelessness due to the lack of any real-time animation. The voice work helps to make up for that, though sound effects are fairly Spartan. The music is also somewhat unremarkable, and segues when going from investigating a room to sifting through the menu selection are abrupt, causing themes to get lopped off.
Though Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy didn’t make a big splash on PC years back, it has a certain something that works on DS. The puzzles are mostly “elementary,” though, and the clue system is pretty much a joke. It’s already a short game, and with the liberties taken in helping the player, you can easily zip through it in a mere two-hour’s time. Considering the game hasn’t really evolved from PC to DS, it’s not an adventure we suggest you run out to explore. If you’re planning a road trip and have always loved the dry tales of this particular mystery-solving savant, then perhaps it’s worth a rent. For everyone else, hang tight until the release of the next Professor Layton.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
The hand-drawn art looks decent on DS, but the lack of real-time animation makes the game feel stale. Cutscenes are a nice treat, though. 4.0 Control
SIt’s a bit disorienting at first controlling the view from the first-person, but everything works as it should. There is a very small handful of clever uses of the touch screen, but it’s a fairly conservative game overall. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are lackluster, but it’s nice to have Holmes offering clues and such throughout the game. 2.4
The puzzles are decent – some better than others – and the atmosphere is fitting. The game is extremely short, however, and the clue system will ensure that most players will be able to zip through the entire adventure in about two hours.
2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.