Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 978-1-840468-02-1
Fantasy, 2001 (Reissue)
I don’t know why but gamebooks very rarely get the ancient Egyptian setting done right. For some reason, writers coming up with an Egyptian setting always cannot see past smelly mummies and pyramids, resulting in often tedious pyramid dungeon crawls littered with scorpions, cobras, mummies, and lots of jewelery. Given that many of these authors love having heroes run around, lost, in musty pyramids, I always get this feeling that if I have read one adventure set in a setting modeled after ancient Egypt, I have read them all.
Curse of the Mummy isn’t bucking the trend anytime soon. You, the hero, are washed ashore on the Bay of Elkor after the ship you boarded had been seized by marauding pirates. Ironically, you are on your way to the biggest pirate den in Titan, Port Blacksand. You should have been given an option to ask for a lift, really. Anyway, you now need to get enough dough to buy passage to your destination.
It isn’t long before you are hired to accompany an archeologist to locate the tomb of Akharis, a pharaoh from the ancient civilization of Djarat. The Cult of the Cobra is planning to resurrect this demon-worshiping tyrant of a pharaoh, so it is up to you to put a stop to the plans… if you can find the tomb, that is. Alas, your employer is not long for this world as he soon meets the fate typical of any foolhardy NPC accompanying a gamebook hero on an adventure.
There is a sense of been-there, done-that when I begin playing, because this story is full of unimaginative Egypt-inspired fantasy clichés. Scorpions, pyramids, crocodiles, cat-headed women, sphinxes, mummy mania – they are all here. Can’t Mr Green include these elements in a less tired manner? The game offers some riddles and puzzles, but these aren’t particularly challenging. Unfortunately, the author has this charming idea that if you cannot answer these riddles and puzzles, you will lose, either immediately or eventually.
It isn’t enough that the setting is generic and therefore as boring as mud, the story also lacks a proper sense of realism. For example, we have menageries of crocodiles, scorpions, monsters, and such in the inevitable pyramid dungeon crawl waiting to violate every orifice in your body, but I have to wonder – how do these creatures survive in there? The sheer number of those crocodiles in a trap, for example, makes it impossible that these animals can survive without cannibalizing each other unless there is a steady stream of cows falling from an opening in the roof into these crocodiles’ hideout.
When you get into the pyramid, have fun with the boring dungeon crawl where you will end up rolling your eyes and making turns at random.
But that’s not the worst thing about this story. Mr Green designed this gamebook like your favorite nightmare RPG Dungeon Master. He doesn’t treat his readers as players, he treats them as enemies to be pulverized, beaten, and battered until these hapless players are begging for mercy on the ground.
As I’ve mentioned, if you demonstrate that you are not as good as Mr Green in mathematics and map-reading, you lose. If you fail to collect a whole bunch of items – and there are quite of number of them – during your random wandering, you die most embarrassingly, your virile and muscular body torn to pieces by smelly dust-covered corpses. If you take a wrong turn, you lose. If by chance you manage to find all the super secret items the first time around and remember details about them that you are not clued in to remember, and outsmart Mr Green’s tricky IQ tests as well, you then meet several monsters with ridiculously high statistics to duke it out with.
And even if you manage to escape these creatures with your limbs intact, you face Akharis for what seems like 300 times. These fights will see you hemorrhage skill points like mad and even better, there is a time limit to win these battles. If you finally defeat Akharis-3000, Mr Green will give a scream of outrage and, like any tyrannical Dungeon Master would, pull a stunt where everybody dies unless you get lucky in a die roll.
And throughout it all, you collect Poison points like crazy. Apparently you, as a hero, have managed to build up some immunity to poison throughout your years of adventuring, but in the Desert of Skulls, we have a poison overkill that you have to suffer through. Every weapon wielded by the enemy is poisoned. Every attack round you lose to an enemy could very well add 1 to 3 Poison points to your score. And if your Poison score reaches 18, you die.
Boring story, dull dungeon crawl, and insanely tough villains all make Curse of the Mummy seem like the scribbling of an enraged Dungeon Master that managed to find its way to publication. If you still insist on tackling the curse of boredom and frustration that is this gamebook, be my guest and enjoy the hundreds of ways Mr Green has devised for your hero to meet a most undignified end to some moldy rotten corpses.