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Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge
Score: 89%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: MumboJumbo
Developer: MumboJumbo
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
If you played the PC version of Luxor or Luxor 2, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect with Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge. Just as was the case with the previous iterations of Luxor, Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge is an action/puzzle game whose imagery, music and overall theme is steeped in all things Egyptian. The level names and designs are all Egyptian in nature and although they have different names (some do anyway) than the PC version, the 88 levels are all the same. The backgrounds are rich with detail and life, and special care seems to have been given to every facet of Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge. Birds will be flying about and water flows; little touches everywhere that make the game world seem very alive. Even the little gems and trinkets that rain down on your paddle in the form of power ups (blessings) and goodies are highly detailed and quite beautiful to look at, although with the frenetic pacing of Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge, I doubt you'll have much time to linger on the surroundings. One detractor, however, is the interface or lack thereof. In the PC version, you could always see how many Anhks and Coins you had collected and how many lives you had left. The U.I. has been completely eliminated in favor of an intricate mosaic which surrounds your playing field. While it's pretty, it's not very helpful. Worst of all, gone is your progress bar! So now, you'll never know just how many advancing rows of balls will be on the way. With the progress bar that the PC version had, at least you could see what was left and you could try to hold on until the end.

The background music is delightful and really helps to immerse you into the game. It sounds like a mix of Middle Eastern themes and Harry Potter. Sound effects appropriately clink when money and gem power ups fall, and there's a nice, satisfying pop when you explode a ball. When you shoot a ball into a place that is, shall we say, less than optimal, a sound much like breaking glass resounds - the game's aural way of saying you screwed up. When you get the Wild Ball, you'll hear the call of an eagle sound in the background - a nice touch. I will say this - playing Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge on my high def TV causes the game to lose something. Perhaps its because the game is stretched out or further away, but it just didn't seem as outstanding as it did when I played it on the PC.


Gameplay:
I have put in more than my share of time on the PC version, Luxor 2, so I can easily compare that game with the console revamp, Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge. I can say that I was both pleased and dismayed with the port. As I played, this game seemed identical to Luxor 2, just without the ease of motion of the mouse. However, as I progressed, I did see that there are slight differences in the two, albeit few and far between.

For starters, there is a background story to Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge, something about a god and a songstress. To be honest, I just zipped past this as I was anxious to get into the gameplay. Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge places you in control of an ornate paddle called a winged scarab, with balls of different colors that you can shoot towards a rapidly approaching row of more of these different colored balls, being pushed forward towards a temple by a tireless little bug. Basically, you shoot the correct color ball into two or more of the same color and these disappear. The goal is to destroy all of the balls prior to the bug guy reaching the temple's door. To help you along the way are numerous power ups that fall down as you destroy more balls. They may stop or slow down the progress of the line, or even reverse it altogether. A lightning strike may take out an entire group of balls or a color cloud may turn a whole area the color of the ball you shoot. The Wild Ball, accompanied by a feral sounding eagle screech, will act as a wild card to eliminate 2 matching balls. These almost always seemed to come up when you started a new string of balls. One power up I noticed missing was the Pharoah's daggers which simply allowed you to shoot the balls out of the way until your 10 daggers were used up. I imagine that they eliminated this power up because the daggers couldn't seem to keep up with the button presses. I discovered this during the Bonus Rounds when they were used.

With every group of levels that you defeat, you are given an opportunity to play a Bonus Round for extra points. There are two types of Bonus Rounds - one fun and one not fun at all. In one, you'll have daggers to take out the balls, so no matching is required, although fancy shooting can earn you extra points and a quicker clearing of the row. Take them all out and earn extra points. Then there's the type where you control the row of balls. You have no control over the paddle, but instead move the row of balls left or right in an attempt to match up with the paddle. I hated this bonus round and would often just let it do its own thing until it was over. Sadly, because the controller responds slower than the mouse on the PC version, it's tougher to get all of the balls cleared. The controller also shoots slower than mouse clicking, but more on that in Game Mechanics.

You can opt to play on Practice to beef up your skill on a specific level, Endless Tomb, if you want to torture yourself on the same level with endless rows of balls encroaching (but you can only play on levels you have previously unlocked in Adventure), or Adventure mode, which is the meat of the game. Here, you'll advance through level after level of well designed torture chambers of stress. It's a beautiful thing, actually. As you progress, your "rank" changes, starting with Farm Hand and rising to the ranks of Pharoah. What might sound like a relatively easy game is actually pretty tough since the rows of balls are fairly relentless and sometimes the rows of balls will come out from either side, tag teaming you. You'll have 88 levels (previously seen in the PC version, mind you) to work your way through, so there's a good bit of gameplay to be had here.

Lastly, you can earn up to 25 skill badges by completing certain things such as not approaching the danger zone of the temple or not dying in a level, etc. Think Xbox 360 Live achievements. While earning the badges seems to do little more than give you some bragging rights, it's a little something extra in the game.


Difficulty:
There are 3 difficulty levels - Casual Adventure, Gamer Adventure and Hardcore Gamer. On Casual Adventure, you can roll through the different levels pretty quickly. In fact, I got through the game without dying once on this level of difficulty. Crank it up to Gamer Adventure and you still have a healthy dose of challenge, but it's definitely doable. Take the plunge and play on Hardcore Adventure and you will have a fight on your hands. Things move more quickly and it is far more unforgivable.

Another factor that affects the level of difficulty is the fact that at times, the paddle doesn't seem to quite keep up. In other words, you can't physically grab all of the power ups because your paddle won't jump to the other side of the screen quickly enough. It's more frustrating than anything else, but worthy of note.


Game Mechanics:
Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge's controls are very simple to get the hang of. You'll use either the Left analog stick or the D-pad to control the paddle, moving it from left to right a la old school Breakout or Zuma, firing colored balls with your (X) button at the ever-advancing row of more colored balls. Either get them all eliminated or face certain death. I will say this - when I first popped Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge in, I wasn't too happy with it. Keep in mind I played Luxor 2 relentlessly on the PC, and still play it, for that matter. The response of the controls was much slower using the PS2 controller and I didn't like that at all. However, I stepped away from it for a few days and when I came back to it, I actually found that I adapted to the slowdown and was having a really good time with it. Not as much fun as the PC version, but still a good time.

Luxor: Pharoah's Challenge is a good choice if you are looking for a fun and challenging game with some nice graphics and polish, and all for the value price of around $20. If you are a fan of action/puzzle games and want a good value, there's plenty of gameplay to be found here. If you haven't yet played it on the PC, you'll probably enjoy it much more.


-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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