"If you've played a lot of puzzle games besides Tetris, you've probably encountered one where your goal is to stop colored marbles from rolling too far along a winding track. This is typically accomplished by tossing a few marbles of your own so that three of a single color end up next to each other, flash and then disappear. Sometimes, a chain reaction is possible, with multiple groups vanishing at once. Sound familiar?"
If you've played a lot of puzzle games besides Tetris, you've probably encountered one where your goal is to stop colored marbles from rolling too far along a winding track. This is typically accomplished by tossing a few marbles of your own so that three of a single color end up next to each other, flash and then disappear. Sometimes, a chain reaction is possible, with multiple groups vanishing at once. Sound familiar? It's a common style of game and has gone by a few different names throughout the years. MumboJumbo calls it LUXOR and has used it as the basis for an entire franchise.
LUXOR: Pharaoh's Challenge, as you might have guessed, is the latest in the series. Like previous installments, it features an Egyptian theme, complete with ethnic music and lots of artwork that looks like someone ripped it off a pyramid wall. There's also a story you can gradually piece together.
Once upon a time, a songstress died and advanced to the afterlife, where she found herself awaiting judgment. She knew she hadn't followed the true path throughout her time on Earth, so she was prepared for a second death when suddenly a powerful entity intervened and said that she would spend her eternity in paradise, without being properly judged. Startled, the young woman asked why such an honor was being bestowed upon her, at which point her savior began to tell a complicated tale...
As you play LUXOR and advance through the numerous stages, you'll slowly piece together the story the songstress was told, one insignificant chunk at a time. The tale is clearly meant to serve as incentive to work through the lengthy quest, but the presentation is horrid. Huge letters slowly scroll up the screen and they're not really formatted in any obvious fashion. Since only a little bit is revealed at once, it's easy to lose track of what's happening. Familiar names from Egyptian mythology like Osiris and Set figure prominently in the proceedings, but there are few illustrations available to make the tale dramatic. The result is that you'll probably find yourself just pressing the 'X' button to skip ahead to the next puzzles.
Fortunately, the game itself is more fun than the story it contains. There are quite a few different levels to play through, many with unique designs that will keep you frantically tossing marbles during almost every second of play. Even when a design repeats, there are complications that make things more difficult the second time around. As you advance deeper into the story, you have to clear more marbles to finish each area and everything seems to happen quickly. Not only that, but new marble types are added to the mix. The differences aren't significant, but they definitely test your ability to think on your feet.
Power-ups add some variety, and are available in two forms. The first type is common enough that you'll likely find yourself using it without even realizing it. As you clear away the marbles, you'll sometimes wind up launching special ones into the play area. When activated, these can do neat things like turning a set of several marbles a certain color, or zapping the track in a vertical column that could clear half the debris from the screen. At first you'll probably use the abilities the moment they are presented to you, but savvy players will often delay activation until the perfect moment, then turn a near-disaster into sweet victory just in the nick of time. The strategy involved is a welcome change from the typical Tetris clone, where goodies can't be saved for a rainy day.
Besides power-ups that are activated briefly during play, you'll also find more permanent abilities called “Blessings” that must be unlocked as you progress through the game. Up to three can be equipped at once from the pause menu before or during a stage. They have helpful effects like displaying an on-screen indicator that lets you know where your shots will land (though it's only an approximation and not particularly useful in the more advanced episodes), or slowing how quickly the marbles move along the track. Some also increase the score you can achieve by a set percentage. The developers were smart to set things up in this manner, since it allows players to customize the game to suit their play style. Most people probably won't have trouble getting around 2/3 of the way through it without using the blessings, but after that they're pretty much a necessity.
If you're not the sort that likes to play through story modes and the blessings don't interest you, there's also an “Endless” mode that lets you play in an environment of your choosing for as long as you can keep the marbles at bay. That differs from the other setting, where stages end once you accomplish certain goals. It's a nice option, since you can focus entirely on building up your score as everything grows increasingly hectic. However, the objective-oriented “Story” mode is probably better for someone who just wants to play a quick game.
No matter which mode you play, LUXOR: Pharaoh's Challenge is a pleasant time killer. It's not the sort of title that will keep you engaged for hours on end, but it's simple enough in design that puzzle fanatics will probably find themselves turning to it quite regularly when they want something a little different from the norm. If you haven't given the series a shot yet, there's no time like the present to find out what you've been missing. As an added bonus, its price tag is quite low. It looks like the songstress isn't the only one with friends in high places...
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 29, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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