Leave this Mummy under Wraps
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor for the DS is based on the blockbuster movie of the same name. The problem is that the movie is a visually intense action thriller. The game just can’t live up to it, and doesn’t. It doesn’t stand a chance on a handheld, simply due to the lack of processing power. In such a case, it’s almost unfair to compare it to the movie, but it seems that it’s what the powers-that-be wanted.
They could have simply changed the name to something like The Mummy: Dragon’s Revenge, or something similar. Then the developers could focus the gameplay on what the system does best such as puzzle solving and platforming; something to supplement the movie, not replicate it. It’s this attempt to turn the game into an interactive movie that sees it fail miserably. The game has some decent elements, but there’s nothing original in terms of gameplay. It’s obviously forced to tie-in with the cutscenes that are based on the movie, and in this case, it’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole.
A simplified action/adventure game, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor contains elements of platforming, puzzle solving, and combat. It could be said that it’s little more than a basic Tomb Raider-style game. A lot of the game consists of finding ways to get in and out of various tombs, while dealing with the various enemies, traps, and obstacles that you’ll find in your way. There is a lot of box moving and switch flipping, as you attempt to reach higher platforms to locate special switches that will open secret passageways. You will also find an assortment of Chinese-style hieroglyphics that you’ll jot down in your notebook, which will come in handy later for code breaking that will give you access to doors and other passageways. It’s a slightly interesting concept, but it requires that you have your pen filled with ink all of the time, which is little more than padded busy-work. Overall, the gameplay elements become redundant quickly. And then there’s the combat.
Fighting and shooting is a main staple of the game, as you defend yourself against hordes of enemies, which all the look the same. In an effort to simplify things, there is only one combat button. That’s easy enough, but the D-pad is not responsive or accurate enough when you are flanked by enemies. Positioning your character to face each enemy is crucial for the collision detection system to trigger properly. It’s not very forgiving and you’ll have to spin your character around as fast as possible and stop at the exact spot to deliver your attack. If you over or undershoot the perfect position, you’re going to take some hits. This, of course, will require that you top up your health, but the game won’t let you out of some stages until you’ve killed a specified number of enemies. Another problem is the relatively small character models that are difficult to see. The camera gives you a semi-isometric perspective and tries to fit too much of the environment on the screen at one time. This relatively wide-shot should be tightened, even at the expense of not being able to see some of the enemies lurking in the wings.
To extend what is essentially a short game, other questionable challenges have been implemented such as time limits. Some stages will require that you complete certain challenges within a give time limit. Of course, the average player will require several attempts to complete these tasks, thereby artificially increasing the length of the game. Arguably, these additions make the game more challenging, but I prefer to use the word “frustrating.”
Using weapons is also maddening. If the enemies are all coming at you single-file, then it’s not a problem, but if they are coming at you from different angles, it can be quite a pain. In order to change the direction of the guns, which include a rifle and dual pistols, you have to use the stylus on the touch screen to select the weapon and then aim it. This technique requires that you to take a finger off of the firing or combat button. This momentarily leaves you vulnerable to attack. Not only that, but it makes the entire control system feel awkward. As in real life, shooting, kicking, and punching should be a pleasurable pastime.
There is a serious shortage of moves. You will be required to climb on things, or grasp certain objects. Although the weapons and the saves are selected for you automatically, there are no context-sensitive moves. That means if you go and stand directly in front of a ladder, you will have to push the climb button (x) to initiate the climbing move. Instead of acquiring more moves as the game progresses, it becomes evident that the developers were running out of time to release the game to coincide with the release of the movie. The last half of the gameplay relies more and more on combat to pick up the slack. The linear path serves as a corridor from which to give you the “bum’s rush” to the end of the game. It shouldn’t take more than an afternoon to get through this game, and there’s absolutely no reason to play through it again.
The cutscenes are impressive. They are well rendered with great voice acting. The sound effects and the in-game soundtrack are also of high quality, although the in-game voices are little more than some grunts, groans, and some endlessly repeated phrases. As I mentioned, the characters appear small onscreen, although I can see why the developers would choose to include so much of the environment onscreen. It’s breathtaking. The detail and depth is fantastic. The levels are rich and varied. I wish they could be more interactive. I would like to explore them instead of being forced down the fixed path. As nice as they are, they are little more than paintings.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor is a text-book example of a rushed movie tie-in that does nothing for either the movie or the gaming industry. Leave this Mummy in its wrapper.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Great environments, but they take up too much screen real estate. 2.3 Control
Awkward combat and weapon use. The D-pad is not very accurate. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Cutscenes are filled with movie-quality voiceovers and soundtrack. 2.0
Below average action game. No replay value at all.
2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.