Ankh: Reverse the Curse
Teenagers, it seems, are the same the world over: rebellious, accident prone, impetuous, curious about the apposite text (curse this family friendly spelling checker) and think they are invincible. And ever has it been so, if the latest story from ancient Egypt is anything to go by.
Take this strange tale of Assil, teenage son of an important architect. He 'borrows' the keys to the Scarab King's tomb and leads his friends past all the traps to a secluded spot where they won't be observed by pesky adults. They planned to party with a few beers but didn't plan far enough ahead to bring a bottle opener. Then, quite by accident. Assil breaks a few old urns and disturbs a sleeping mummy. Now the mummy's pretty peeved about the desecration of his tomb and roars out that the breaking of six urns is punishable by ... a warning. Lucky for Assil, not too bad ... but his reprieve is short lived when his honest friend blurts out that there were seven, not six broken urns. The punishment is instantly upgraded to a death curse!
Worse is to come, for the death curse can only be lifted by the Pharaoh and, on Assil's return home, his father thinks the story of a curse is far too fanciful for words. Assil is grounded for a whole week ... no point in arguing.
So begins the story of Ankh: Reverse the Curse. Assil must find a way to leave his house without being spotted. He needs to get an audience with the Pharaoh to get the curse lifted and, as is the manner of such things, it won't be all that easy. Fortunately, it will be a lot of fun.
It's a light-hearted romp through ancient Egypt where anachronisms abound and absurdities are the norm. This allows for some delightfully playful solutions to puzzles, a lot of smiles, and a few good belly laughs. Ah Egypt, land of wonders and mystery. Sail the Nile, but please don't feed the crocodiles. Though they are mostly harmless, one of them isn't. See the magnificent Sphinx before the ravages of time and erosion despoil its... er ... beauty. Visit the bazaars of Cairo and haggle with the merchants, sample Olga's famed fish burgers ... on second thought, better not. Wander aimlessly around the desert (don't tell me you didn't find a map) and buy souvenirs of your journey. Yes, all this and more awaits you as you step back in time to help Assil out of his desperate predicament.
Ankh: Reverse the Curse is a third person perspective adventure game where you control the actions of Assil as he sets about trying to get an audience with the Pharoah. On the way he will have many tasks to perform and obstacles to overcome. Later in the game, which is played out over five chapters, Assil will have an ally in the form of Thara, the feisty, rebellious daughter of the Arabian Ambassador. You'll be able to switch between the two characters to solve some puzzles where two heads are better than one. The first four chapters are solid adventuring fare but I was a little disappointed in the last chapter in that it had fewer puzzles and less interaction apart from conversations. Because of this the ending seemed a little rushed as the game pulls you along to the climax.
It's an inventory-based adventure in the classic style, so there are lots of items to find and use, and some need to be combined in your inventory. Gather the ingredients to make a delicious but illegal cocktail, make a disguise, operate the camel wash, and the list goes on. Though they are always comical and require a little inventiveness, you don't need to stretch your imagination too far to get things done. You do need to keep your eyes open though, and there's a good deal of walking back and forth between locations. Assil will run if you double click the left mouse button. There is a map for reference, which covers the desert area, maybe a little of the trudging could have been eliminated if the map was usable for instant transport to more locations.
Your inventory sits at the top of the screen and remains open, so you can tell what you've got at a glance. The point and click interface is so easy to use that, as the manual points out, you don't really need a manual. The cursor icon changes as you move it around the screen and generally defaults to the most appropriate action such as examine, talk, walk or use. Clicking the left mouse button when the cursor is over an item will get you a description, right clicking will enable you to carry out an action if possible.
It is very intuitive although the use of the right mouse button for performing actions caught me out a few times, especially at the beginning. However, this is no big issue and you do quickly get used to it. Pressing the Tab key brings up a list of Assil's current objectives to keep you on track and completed tasks are crossed out. This ease and friendliness, combined with a puzzle difficulty that ranges from easy to moderate, makes Ankh: Reverse the Curse ideal for new adventure game players, but all fans of this style of adventure game will enjoy it for its sense of fun.
There are a lot of characters to meet on this journey and they are all chatty and larger than life and are mostly there to hold you up for a while and make your journey interesting. Firstly there's Tarok and Blackeye, the assassins, who have some hilarious dialogue about walkthroughs and dead ends and dying in adventure games. They manage to relieve you of your only coin so you'll need to get it back. Then there's the half-blind tailor, the slave and his master, the palace guards, Israelite hippies and lots more. Conversation is a big part of the game so talk to everyone, they're bound to have something important to impart. It might be as simple as giving them something they want so that they will help you in turn, or you may have to distract or deceive them somehow to get what you want.
The voice acting in this North American version is very good, hammed up, of course, but it works. I especially liked the palace guard with his dramatic declarations of fearlessness. You can enable subtitles for all dialogue and descriptions and Assil's responses appear at the bottom of the screen for you to select. It's worth checking out some of the more outrageous responses for a laugh. You can simply click through conversations you have already heard. As the game is from a German developer there is going to be some lip-synching issues with an English version, but it's mostly well handled and didn't detract from the game at all. The translation into English is also very well done.
Graphically, Ankh looks great with lots of vivid colour and some excellent and entertaining animations and cut scenes. The 3D cartoon-style graphics immediately telegraph that the game is going to be fun, and it is! The music, too, fits perfectly and the theme song that introduces the game really sets the scene. It's a springy sing-along little number accompanied by gyrating characters, you just have to laugh.
Ankh: Reverse the Curse is definitely one for fans of humorous graphic adventures. It pays homage to the LucasArts classics and you will find references to familiar situations and characters that no doubt inspired the making of this game. Even if you miss the references you will still have a thoroughly good time.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2006.
All rights reserved.
Windows, Pentium 1.5 GHz (2.4 GHz or better recommended), 256MB RAM (512MB recommended), GeForce3 with 64MB VRAM or better (DirectX9 graphics card eg ATI Radeon 9700, GeForce 5800 with 128MB VRAM recommended), 800MB of free hard disc space, mouse.