Overall Score 90%
Ancient Quest of Saqqarah
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. If those wizards at Codeminion ever turned their attention to something a little more absorbing than marble poppers and tile matches, the result could well be spectacularly successful. Such is their attention to detail in their previous games, that we've come to expect awesome graphics and sounds, as well as addictive features like player awards and easter eggs, professional presentation and excellent post-release support from all future offerings. Ancient Quest of Saqqarah does not disappoint on any of these points. It is however, after all is said and done, a tile matching puzzle game. Go to any of the casual games portal sites like Big Fish Games or Reflexive and you will find more of these types of games than you could shake a 17 jewel combo at. Obviously, Codeminion is of the opinion that the world needs more of them.
In fairness, it is the best of the genre that I have experienced. The gameplay is exceedingly simple, yet because Saqqarah is such a magnificently presented game, I find myself playing level after level, just needing to finish off that next set of puzzles or just wanting to add that next trophy to my collection. Addictive is an understatement, and that is coming from a reviewer that would like to experience another tile matching puzzler as much as I'd like drill a hole in my head.
The player needs to restore the temples (and thus the power) of 7 ancient Egyptian gods in order to keep the evil god Seth imprisoned in a subterranean cavern far below the ancient pyramid of Saqqarah. Each of the 7 guardian god's temples requires 24 puzzle levels to be cleared in 4 stages. After each stage of 6 puzzles, the player can unleash their accumulated scarab power and partially restore a statue. The way that these and other rewards are strategically positioned at half hour intervals in the gameplay is key to the addictive nature of Saqqarah. There's always something that needs to be completed.
Each of the guardian god's temple's puzzles are slightly different in nature. In all temples the level is cleared when the segmented game boards are all successfully illuminated. Each segment needs to have at least a 3 tile combo matched around each of its borders to be cleared. Temple variations include a tile in hand that can be swapped for any other on the board, swapping adjacent tiles, or tracing out desired combos with the mouse. Most temples present very little in the way of mentally challenging tasks, and on default difficulty the game is a breeze. The exception for me was the temple of Thot, in which allocated tiles need to be freely arranged on the board such that all tiles are adjacent to like-coloured neighbours, and all segments illuminated. These logic puzzles seem somewhat out of place in a game where the only real barrier to success is time spent. Thot's puzzles can be frustratingly difficult and therefore quite satisfying when solved.
Khufu the magical talking blue ape is on hand to assist the player by casting spells. If the player manages to make a combo of 4 or more tiles, they fall to the floor and are swept away by the aptly named Sweeper the scarab beetle. As Sweeper's stockpile grows, the magic meter increases until the point where Khufu's magic is unleashed, the stockpile returns to zero and the process repeats. As the player progresses through each of the temple's levels, Khufu's magic increases in power to deal with obstacles and blockages imposed by Seth. It's not rocket science - the game is exceedingly accessible and casual in nature.
Saqqarah is a beautiful looking and sounding game. The characterisations are excellent, and voice acting is well above par for similar titles. Brilliant use of vibrant colours, particle and lighting effects, high detail models, great atmospheric music that is complimentary to the theme of the game yet cleverly unintrusive, and sound effects that will make you want to turn your PC's speakers up to 11. Every detail has been painstakingly and lovingly created; the quality of the production shines through at every turn.
I would honestly give my back teeth to see Codeminion try their hand at something a little edgier. Saqqarah is very good, and already making an appearance on at least one of the big casual games portals. I know that developers need to make money, and this game is about as safe as Codeminion is going to get. It will sell well for an indie, and they obviously know what they are good at. I cannot honestly recommend it as a game that I would buy as a player, but as a reviewer looking at it on an objective level against our set criteria, it is extremely difficult to fault.
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