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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Mystery of the Mummy

Mystery of the Mummy (Game release date: 2002)
Pleasant but unexciting 3D adventure fails to live up to its promise of Sherlock Holmesian mystery

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Highlights: Kid-friendly, some
clever puzzles
Lowlights: No interactiveness, clumsy gameplay, random inventory combination,
poor use of Sherlock Holmes as protagonist

Mystery of the Mummy is purportedly a Sherlock Holmes game, though the only evidence of this within the game itself is the intellectual British aplomb of the narrator and the movie cutscenes. The gameplay is utterly standard graphic adventure fare that evokes nothing of Sherlock Holmes at all. It's completely beyond credulity to imagine Holmes creeping through a haunted mansion, rummaging through drawers for household objects he might want to stuff in his pockets. Holmes would be examining smudged fingerprints on the sarcophagi and making deductions about which suspects couldn't possibly have left them. In Mystery of the Mummy, you don't even get to meet the suspects till the game is practically over, and you don't get to discover any clues or make any deductions. Like 7th Guest before it, Mystery of the Mummy is really just a puzzle game, not a mystery game, and stumbling around the spooky mansion bumping into secret doors and wondering whether the living dead are for real or not is more Scooby-Doo than Sherlock Holmes.

As puzzle games go, though, this would still be a worthy example if it weren't for two big flaws: pointless timed sequences, and contrived inventory puzzles. I'm not a fan of timed sequences in the first place, but in moderation, they do at least make a certain amount of sense in a mystery thriller. There's no excuse for timed sequences in a pure puzzle game; none. Can you really imagine sprinting through Myst to finish an Age before time runs out and you have to reload? And as for the inventory puzzles, too many of the ones in Mystery of the Mummy boil down to using a random object on another random object for no predictable reason. Why would Sherlock Holmes--or anyone else for that matter--use a fork on a painting, just because he happened to have found a fork? At one point I found a padlock that the narrator explained was rusty and could be broken. Sensibly enough, I tried to use a hammer to break it, to no avail. My five-year-old son suggested "Try the screwdriver!", because it was the only other thing in my inventory that he recognized by name, basically. And lo and behold, Sherlock broke the padlock with the screwdriver. He needed the hammer for a later task, you see. Inventory items are one-shot in this game.

This episode leads me to another point, though: my two sons loved this game. It was creepy without being gory, they could handle the controls themselves, and they don't mind pixel-hunting or random inventory-guessing a bit. It even got one of them interested in mummies and Egypt. In fact, if it wasn't for the timed sequences and the sheer difficulty of three of the puzzles, I'd be declaring this a major find for the under-ten set. As it is, you'll have to play it with them. Still, though, its appeal to youngsters is a bright spot in this otherwise unexceptional game. Two others are its price ($20 straight from the company--most games cost twice that) and its glitch-free gameplay.

Style: Mystery of the Mummy is a puzzle adventure game with a 3D first-person view of the environment and a point-and-click interface. The plot is a mystery, with supernatural elements. The game features several timed sequences, though little manual dexterity is required. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: Mystery of the Mummy has had one sequel, Secret of the Silver Earring. I haven't played it yet, but apparently it achieves a much more Holmesian feel (the murder investigation being primary, puzzles secondary) but still suffers from unnecessarily timed puzzles (including mazes). Anyway, there is no connection between the two besides the use of Sherlock Holmes as protagonist, so each stands alone perfectly well. If you don't mind DOS abandonware, the 1992 game Case of the Serrated Scalpel was the best Sherlock Holmes game I've ever played.

Finding Mystery of the Mummy: This is a relatively recent game which can still be found in some software stores. Here it is for sale on Amazon.

Getting Mystery of the Mummy to Work: I didn't encounter any problems running Mystery of the Mummy except for glitchy sound in the final cutscene, and that annoyance that can be easily eliminated (see here for how to fix that problem.) Supposedly this game is compatible with Vista, but like all games released before about 2007, you may need to use XP compatibility mode to make it work properly.

Hints For Mystery of the Mummy: I do not have a walkthrough page for Mystery of the Mummy myself (it is a very linear plot and would not benefit much from my low-spoiler treatment). I do have a page of Mystery of the Mummy Hints listing all the timed sequences in the game and how to avoid being hosed by them. If you're stuck on a specific puzzle, there is a terrific hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on.

Pitfalls In Mystery of the Mummy: There is one point in the game at which you can become stuck, die, and need to reload an earlier game due to not having found an object in timely enough fashion (no warning is issued about this, so it's an easy mistake to make). There are also several realtime sequences including one with a very short time limit and one where you have to finish a long and complicated puzzle before time runs out. You can visit my hints page to see how to specifically avoid these pitfalls, if you like.

Game Length: 20 hours or so, a bit on the short side for a graphic adventure.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated E (for everyone 6 and up) and contains nothing objectionable, though it's possible for Sherlock Holmes to die if certain puzzles aren't completed quickly enough, which may frustrate younger players.

Lora's Mystery of the Mummy Review: (So-so)

Plot and Quests: The mystery plot is pretty good, but the player has no input into it whatsoever, which can be frustrating. Basically, if you solve enough puzzles, you will be rewarded with a video that advances the story for you. There are no quests in this game, just puzzles.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: There's a good variety here: spatial puzzles, word puzzles, inventory puzzles, and sliders, some more challenging than others. The random and timed elements of several puzzles detracted from the enjoyment somewhat.
Characters: There aren't any, really. This is a solitary game, and the narrator rarely imposes opinions on the gamer. Watson puts in only a perfunctory appearance near the end, and characterization of the NPC's happens only through poorly translated letters.
Gameworld: The mansion has a nicely creepy feel to it and the Egyptology made for an interesting theme, but none of it had anything to do with Sherlock Holmes, and Mystery of the Mummy would have been less forced and more fun if it had a new protagonist better suited to the action of the game.
Gameplay: Generally OK, but damaged by a few serious problems: only six, unnamable savegames in a game that expects you to reload frequently in order to win is unacceptable in this day and age, the handling of timed sequences is flawed, and players' inability to take part in interrogations themselves is baffling.
Interface: Serviceable 3D point-and-click interface. The rotation speed sometimes induced vertigo, but was at least smooth. Inventory management was so-so, and I frequently wished I could have examined objects in inventory. Poor translations occasionally interfered with the game's comprehensibility.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): OK, but nothing special. The rooms are drawn fairly well and the cutscene videos are excellent. There isn't enough contrast in either audio or visuals and there's no way to change this, so you frequently have to squint to find small objects in the darkness or strain to hear Holmes' comments over the background music. I thought the voice acting was fine, but the mood never really rose to the level of suspense, and imposing arbitrary time limits upon the players does not compensate for this.

Lora's Recommendations: Mystery of the Mummy is a passable game overall, but a fairly bad Sherlock Holmes game in particular. If you don't mind realtime challenges, then its sequel, Secret of the Silver Earring, may be a better bet; in that game, you get to travel around London, interact with Sherlock Holmes regulars and Irregulars, and solve a mystery in addition to the puzzles. Other mystery adventures that were significantly better than Mystery of the Mummy include Sanitarium, The Last Express, and The Black Mirror. If you see Mystery of the Mummy on sale for six bucks at your local store, though, like I did, you could do worse than picking it up. I spent more than that on "Centipede" games as a kid, after all. Mystery of the Mummy is way better than Centipede.

If You Loved Mystery of the Mummy: You might also like its sequel, Secret of the Silver Earring. If you haven't yet, you should probably play the Myst series of games (Myst, Riven, Exile, and Revelation). All four of these serve up puzzles that are even better than Mystery of the Mummy's, and with no realtime annoyances, to boot. If what you're craving is a game where you really can solve a mystery, though, my top recommendations for you are the surreal psychological thriller Sanitarium, the art-nouveau mystery game Last Express, and the dark horror mystery The Black Mirror. In all three of those games, you can take an active role in the investigation of an interesting mystery and even, if you are clever, figure it out before the protagonist does. Finally, if what you liked most about Mystery of the Mummy was its creepy yet non-gory appeal for your children, try picking them up one of the Nancy Drew adventure games, like this one; they're great fun for parents and kids to play together.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Mystery of the Mummy could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!

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