Ankh: Curse of the Scarab King DS Review
Point and click adventures can be great fun, and some have cult followings, the Monkey Island series springs to mind as the most famous, or infamous. And with the Nintendo DS’s touch screen interface being so perfectly suited to the genre there’s a whole back catalogue of games just waiting to be ported over. Unfortunately there’s no sign of such classics making there way on to Nintendo’s handheld, but the comparatively recent PC game Ankh, has been ported over perfectly with the added subtitle Curse of the Scarab King.
As you’d expect from the name, the game is set in ancient Egypt. You play the part of Assil, teenage son of the architect who built the Sphinx. After stealing his fathers keys and sneaking off in to a pyramid with some of his friends for a little underage drinking he ends up disturbing a mummy and getting a death curse. If that wasn’t enough of a problem in itself your dad isn’t best pleased that you’ve been ‘borrowing’ his keys either, so even though you’ve only hours to live, you’re confined to your bedroom for the next seven days. So, the scene is set for the start of your adventure, an adventure that will take you through the bazaars of Cairo, the desert, under the Nile, the Pharaoh’s palace, inside the Sphinx and the Underworld. It can be quite a lengthy adventure especially when, as is common with games of this type, you don’t have a clue what you’re supposed to do to complete the tasks given you. But if you poke about enough, collect all the objects you can find, try combining possibilities and do some serious thinking you’ll be out of your bedroom in no time and on your way.
The game’s interface of point and click translates very well to the DS’s touch screen, just drag the stylus around to guide Assil and point at objects or people to interact with them. You get four action icons at the bottom left-hand corner of the touch screen to interact with, all presented as hieroglyphs. You can look, pick up, grab, or talk to people, not all these actions work with every item. It’s up to you to figure out what is the best action to take, for instance a lever cannot be picked up or talked to. There are plenty of things to interact with in the game, it’s just a matter of spotting them as they are not highlighted from the games background in any way. This is where the the handheld version falls a little short of the PC counterpart; the screen is quite a bit smaller it can be hard to spot items, and even harder to interact with them on occasion. Quite a few times I spent ages running around looking for something it was suggested I needed and went past it more than a few times without spotting it. Other times I’d be trying to interact with objects I was obviously meant to for ages without success when all of a sudden it’d work when I was just about to give up on it. I found this all quite frustrating, and nearly threw my DS at the wall on more than one occasion.
When things do work though, they work quite well, items are stored in your inventory at the top left-hand corner of the touch screen, and can be combined with other items in your inventory and on screen to create other items or achieve results. And you get some nice cut scenes when you complete a task or talk to other characters presented in a very Disneyesque style. In fact the presentation is top notch all round. The developers have done a great job of compressing a PC game onto the DS without losing its graphical charm; there’s plenty of nice voice work and sound effects, to go with the suitable music. Later in the game you’ll even team up with another character, the Pharaohs daughter, and be able to switch between characters to solve puzzles that need you to be in two places at once. This is a nice touch and adds some complexity to the puzzles later on in the game. Not that they are too easy to start with, a lot of the game’s puzzles will have you scratching your head for quite a while.
The problems themselves though can be quite a mixed bag, sometimes it’s just a matter of finding what you need and a bit of lateral thinking. But at other times you aren’t given a clue what you’re meant to do, let alone how or what you’ll need to do it with. In these instances it’s just a matter of collecting every possible item and using trial and error to complete a puzzle. Needless to say, the game’s occasional hit and miss control system doesn’t help in these situations – sometimes having to try endless permutations over and over in the hope that you’ll get it right, which can be more than a little frustrating. But, with some perseverance and patience you can get your way through, and the relief you feel at finding the right combination to complete some of the more obscure puzzles can be quite satisfying, almost as much as if you had worked it out for yourself.
It is nice that people are actually bringing over some of these old point and click adventures to handhelds to give them a fresh lease of life. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t done slightly better. Frustrations aside though, it’s not a bad little game if you’re a fan of the genre and should keep you occupied for a good amount of time, even if some of it has you banging your head against the wall.