In January, the zombie returned.
For the third year in a row, Capcom ruled the first month of the calendar year, this time with a remake (reenvisioning? Remix? REmake?) of their seminal 1998 horror hit, Resident Evil 2.
But, the mummy returned, too.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, a 2003 3D puzzle-platformer, published originally by THQ and revived by THQ Nordic, made its Switch debut on January 29.
Both of these games are excellent. Resident Evil 2 is genuinely frightening; a survival horror game that, true to the genre’s and the original game’s roots, derives tension as much from inventory management and ammo scarcity as from jerkily shuffling zombies and eerily fast lickers.
The chaos of this no good, very bad night in Raccoon City is amplified by how clean and clear the world otherwise is. The police station looks like it was designed with a protractor, a ruler and graph paper as symmetrical and right-angled as anything in gaming. The graphics are impeccably crisp. The map is impressively communicative, effortlessly expressing just how much of a room’s resources you’ve managed to exploit.
Whereas the original Resident Evil 2 milked scares from the challenge of controlling its unwieldy, tank-like characters, this new Resident Evil 2 is always perfectly readable; perfectly clear. You will never die because the controls got in your way. It looks, plays perfectly.
So then, this Resident Evil 2, like the zombies that haunt its halls, has been resurrected but isn’t quite the same. It’s still RE2, to be sure, but, also, it isn’t.
Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, on the other hand, is basically identical to the game it was in 2003. The textures are smoother, the colors are brighter, the frame rate is faster. But, if you, like me, need to watch a YouTube walkthrough on occasion to bypass some of Sphinx’s more esoteric puzzles, you will see the same game represented in 10-year-old gameplay videos. The animations are the same, the movement is the same, the character models are the same. It’s functionally identical; the original just looks like you’re watching the remaster on an old VHS tape. (Also, the Papyrus font that developer Eurocom used for the UI in the original has been mercifully excised in favor of something less clip art-y).
Basically, THQ Nordic changed almost nothing and released a PS2 game on Switch. And, surprisingly, it 100 percent works.
If you never played Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, let me explain the basics. Gameplay is split pretty evenly between sections starting each of the two title characters: Sphinx, a young catman with a lion’s mane and tail; and the Cursed Mummy who, underneath the bandages, is Tutankhamun, the real-life Egyptian prince mummified as a teenager. In the game, Tut has been betrayed by the dark god, Set, masquerading as his jealous older brother. Sphinx and the Mummy work together, though in separate locations, to collect the scattered pieces of Tut’s soul and take down Set.
And, boy oh boy is it excellent. I went into Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy with fondness, having played and enjoyed the GameCube version with a little help from a Nintendo Power walkthrough a decade-and-a-half ago. But, I also went in with trepidation, aware of how some of my PS2-era faves, like Sonic Adventure 2, have aged into near unplayability.
This is not a problem here. Despite somewhat stiff camera controls and a complete lack of autosaves, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy holds up (and better than many of its contemporaries that are heralded as classics). The Mummy sections are especially good, thrusting our TP-covered hero into Zelda-like puzzle boxes and then reframing his deadness as an asset. Tut can’t feel anything, so most puzzles involve burning him, electrocuting him, flattening him or slicing him into thirds. Eurocom got an incredible amount of mileage out of causing the Cursed Mummy creative bodily harm.
The Mummy—the monster at the core of this game—then is an excellent illustration for the way this reissue fits in in its new home on Switch. Like a mummification, this remaster hasn’t fundamentally altered what was there. Instead, THQ Nordic set out to preserve Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy. And while many of its contemporaries have suffered the effects of decomposition—politely, some of them are beginning to stink—this Mummy is, for all intents and purposes, alive and kicking. Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy didn’t need major updates; it’s still a good-ass video game.
Just like the horror canon, video games need both: zombies and mummies. The industry is better for it when publishers like Capcom invest the resources to make their old games palatable for a new audience with new tastes. And, in the case of RE2, they’ve been richly rewarded for their efforts, with the remake quickly outselling Resident Evil 7 on Steam. But, the industry also needs to get better at making mummies. Many classic games are unplayable, not because their gameplay ideas have aged poorly, but because their rights holders have failed to put in the effort to preserve their slice of history and, in some cases, actively prevented fans from preserving them on their behalf. We don’t have libraries for games. We can’t just play Tennis for Two. The industry is at best forgetful of its own history and at worst actively seeks to destroy it.
We need more Mummies; presented flaws and all to the game playing public. Some stink; but others, underneath the bandages, are somehow still fresh.