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The Backseat Game Designer: Mystery of the Mummy

This is the addendum to my Mystery of the Mummy Review in which I put all my opinions that contain spoilers. If you haven't finished playing Mystery of the Mummy yet, you don't want to read this page. Please go back to the regular review site, where I promise to tell you everything you need to decide whether or not to play this game without giving away any of its plot.

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These Backseat Game Designers pages are primarily a place for me to put all my game commentary that was too revealing for the regular reviews, as well as a place to tell everyone exactly how *I* would have done the game so much better. Hey, who knows, maybe a game designer'll be Googling for the title of some recent hits, read this page, and be inspired to write a really kickass graphic adventure my kids'll enjoy as much as this one. Ah, well, maybe it'll amuse my friends, anyway. Here's all the news about Mystery of the Mummy that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Personal Reactions

Truthfully, I really did not enjoy this game very much. Timed sequences are a pain in my ass under even the best of circumstances, and the ones in this game are badly done (see below). The dark screens made pixel-hunting annoying, and the dialogue was hard to hear and irregularly captioned. And conceptually speaking, I was disappointed that the game set me up to expect a Sherlock Holmes mystery investigation (including a screenshot on the box of Holmes talking to Watson, Montcalfe and Elisabeth in the final cutscene with the misleading caption "Interesting characters to interact with") and then delivered only a standard puzzle-adventure devoid of any character interaction or powers of deduction at all.

It wasn't a bad game, though. Some of the puzzles were interesting, and it wins points from me for having an easy-to-use interface and bug-free operation. It was kid-friendly and had very few frustrating or annoying parts (I've played games that have made me want to slap the monitor in fury for wasting my time on them, and Mystery of the Mummy was not one of them.) More than anything else, this played like what it is: a first attempt at a Sherlock Holmes game by a neophyte gaming company. It was definitely worth the six bucks I spent on it, but the game designers will have some convincing to do to get me to pay full price for their next feature.

Plot Holes

Some of these may have been due to translation issues--this game was an import from the Ukraine (I think), and details may have gotten lost in the conversion to English. If this is the case, I'd be grateful if someone who played the original version would clue me in as to what us Anglophones are missing regarding these open questions. (-:

1) There were a number of inventory items that never seemed to serve any purpose at all. The coin with a scorpion on it from Level One (which later disappeared, even more perplexingly); the bandage; and the ribbon with Elisabeth's name on it.
2) The riddle about the Hindu caste system did not make sense. "The last will be the first" is clear enough, but what the heck were "five fingers in one hand" and "one is cut, but still present" supposed to mean? Could the latter have been referring to the bizarre way the puzzle finished before you put the last coin in place? Why FIVE fingers, then, since there were four coins (only three of which were used)?
3) The tossing of the final coin in the middle column made even less sense. Why did Sherlock Holmes say "Brahmin must be the key to this mystery?" No, it isn't. Brahmin is never mentioned again, nor is India.
4) The note "S=clockwise, D=anti-clockwise" was thoroughly useless to English speakers, who were left to guess which key to turn in which direction by pure trial and error. I'm going to take the hazy guess that this might have been a partially translated puzzle, since the keys were labeled "C" and "G," which make "S" and "D" sounds in the Cyrillic alphabet.
5) I was left scratching my head over the riddle inscribed on the door out of the room with the moving floor. Not over the answer--it's a classic riddle (some variant on the "poor men have it, rich men lack it, dead men need it, eat it and you will die" riddle, whose answer is of course "nothing.") No, the problem here is what the riddle had to do with anything. There was no way to give the game an answer. This must have been a puzzle/quest that was never implemented, or something.
6) As far as I could tell there was no clue associated with the water-measuring puzzle--no indication within the game that your task was to measure out four units of water. From Holmes' reactions, it seems like he expected the player to know how much water would solve the puzzle, and simply work at acquiring it. Unless I missed a telltale scrap of paper somewhere, this was not the case.
7) What did the message that said "Egypt Will Help You" have to do with anything? Was this another mis-translated clue?
8) It's annoying that there are so many puzzles blocking your way, yet somehow, the other characters in the game have already been in most of the new locations you discover. How? How did all the sliders reset? Who put the scarab on top of the ceiling fan?
9) Though Holmes' summation at the end is welcome, it doesn't really answer many of the details of the mystery. First of all, why did anyone think Montcalfe had killed himself in the first place? Second, where DID the Khaesepath mummy go? And third, which of the three people freely roaming the mansion this entire game was responsible for each of the baffling moments in it? Whose bed and supper was that down in the winecellar, for example: Montcalfe/Mummy's, or Parkey/Fake Butler's? Who wrote the "open your door to me" letter, Elisabeth or her father? Which of them locked those doors after the bomb went off? Who burned the note in the foyer, and why?

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave Mystery of the Mummy a 4.5 out of 10 (rating: so-so). So, what would have taken this game to the next level? The biggest thing that leaps to mind is the terrible use of timing in this game. The puzzles should all have been untimed (timed slider puzzles are both irrational and annoying; puzzle games are only fun to play in the first place because they challenge you to pore over a conundrum till you get it right, and being distracted from that by a ticking clock detracts significantly from the game). Other, more appropriate timed challenges, like the one with the scorpions, should have had a streamlined reload system like the one in Sanitarium, which allowed you to automatically start a timed challenge over from the beginning if you got it wrong. Again, if the fun comes from the puzzles, why harass players with multiple aggravating reloads, replays, and rewatched cutscenes? Second, the savegame interface in general was unconscionable--any adventure game with an insufficient number of savegame slots automatically sucks, because players will wind up either saving too infrequently or else overwriting a savegame they really needed (like one from before they realized the torches were on a timer). Either way gamers will be forced to replay and rewatch long boring stretches of the game. Savegames should always be nameable, too; I hate the recent trend away from this. And third, one-shot inventory items are lame in the first place, but this game not only discards nearly every object you find once Holmes has used it once, it actually calls attention to this fact by forcing you to find a SECOND COPY of the SAME OBJECT because you've already 'used' the first one. It's utterly ridiculous for Sherlock Holmes to throw away a perfectly good hammer once he's opened a box with it, only to have to cast around for a second hammer when presented with another nailed-shut box a few rooms further on.

Mystery of the Mummy also shares many of the flaws common to the entire puzzle-adventure genre at this point in time: completely linear plot, no character interaction, one and only one way to complete each challenge, and puzzles that have no believable relationship to the environment they're set in (why does solving slider puzzles always make doors open in puzzle games anyway, when the mechanics of that would be so difficult to design and a combination lock would be about 10,000 times more secure?) But Mystery of the Mummy also has a much more fundamental problem working against it: Sherlock Holmes happens to be a terrible choice for a graphic-adventure action hero. There's a reason these games all feature protagonists who are for one reason or another neophyte adventurers. If your character was Superman, it would be impossible to suspend your disbelief sufficiently to send him pixel-hunting around town for a flathead screwdriver with which to pop a locked door's hinges; Superman could just kick that door down, or look through it with his X-ray vision. Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant, well-traveled, multitalented and extremely experienced detective, and he wouldn't put up with this use-random-item-A-on-random-object-B crap. In the great old DOS game "Case of the Serrated Scalpel," you could actually use Sherlock Holmes to examine evidence and make deductions; I can still recall tracking down an informant by the macassar oil he left behind on a chair doily. Not in this game. At one point early on, Holmes is unable to light a fire with newspaper and a box of matches unless he first finds some whiskey to douse the wood with. Sherlock Holmes? For crying out loud, I learned to do that in the GIRL SCOUTS, and the world's greatest detective is helpless without lighter fluid? There's no reason for this hero to have been Sherlock Holmes in the first place, and the game would actually have been better if he was some earnest nobody of a young British lord being manipulated by his in-laws yet persevering; but if it had to be Sherlock Holmes, then there should have been more exploitation of his well-established talents of observation, deduction, interrogation and intelligence, and a lot less walking around cramming his trenchcoat pockets with everything that wasn't nailed down and sticking forks into paintings to see if it makes anything happen.

Best Quest: The elements quest wasn't bad. I actually figured out that elements were required from the game clues and went off looking for some dirt, which is a big improvement over most inventory quests (which consist of clicking random inventory objects on things until something happens). It required more suspension of disbelief than I had to spare to believe that there was actually some non-magical mechanism for determining what substance had just been tossed into each of the receptacles, but except for that gameworld discrepancy, it was a good quest idea.
Lamest Quest: Trapping the two scorpions. Any quest which relies on your having to die and reload several times simply in order to figure out what you need to do to succeed is a bad quest. It's also ridiculous in concept: Sherlock Holmes, intrepid detective, slain repeatedly by a bug. (Yes, I know it's actually an arachnid; it's close enough.) Look, when I lived in Arizona, I had a friend who killed a scorpion in his basement with a shovel. He didn't even bother calling the exterminator. They're not that dangerous, at least not in small numbers; and they're little. If Sherlock Holmes had used the other end of the bucket, he could have squashed them and explored the room at his leisure. These should really have been asps or some other believably deadly animal.
Best Puzzle: The code behind the shield, where you had to sort out the first letter from each word, then the second letter from each word, and so on. This made me think, yet had a reasonable solution.
Lamest Puzzle: The room that kept teleporting you to other locations whenever you took a step. This was totally non-believable for the gameworld, and the design of the puzzle wouldn't even have made sense in a fantasy game. You're completely reduced to trial and error.
Best Plot Twist: Discovering that the butler had resigned--after having already been let into the house by somebody claiming to be the butler. (-:
Lamest Plot Twist: Finding the tub still full of leftover water from Lord Montcalfe's bath. There MUST have been a less gross way to imply that the mummy was a human being. :P
High Point: Passing back through all the rooms from earlier in the game after the first bomb detonated, and seeing all the interesting destruction that had been wrought on each by-now familiar room. That was really well-done.
Low Point: Having to wave the cursor over about 100 bottles in the wine cellar, from three angles apiece, to find the five take-able ones. I want that fifteen minutes of my life back.

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