The Mummy Demastered
Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Released: October 24, 2017
As a long time fan of the Shantae game series, I was intrigued by the idea of the developers, WayForward, making a game about shooting zombies in the sewers of London. They have a trusted history of creating worthwhile and engaging 2D platformers, and this dark, disconcerting environment was an enjoyable contrast to the bright and bouncy style of Shantae.
While The Mummy Demastered was developed and published by WayForward, this was all done in partnership with Universal Studios (as made apparent by the loading screen in the beginning of the game). This is due to the game being a movie tie-in to the recent The Mummy reboot starring Tom Cruise. Fortunately, the quality of the 2 couldn't be farther apart. The game uses the same basic plot of the movie, meaning the same antagonist and location. Outside of that, however, they share nearly no other similarities.
If you asked someone to describe The Mummy Demastered in one word, almost everyone would say "Metroidvania". The Mummy Demastered has taken much of what made games like Metroid and Castlevania into the icons they are and mixed them up with modern game techniques to create the best 2017 representation of 1995.
Due to clauses in the actors contract forbidding his image be used outside of the movie itself, the player doesnt control Tom Cruise. You control a "Prodigium Agent", a field operative of a special anti-evil task force called Prodigium. Operating as a nameless soldier clad in semi-futuristic armor is akin to the Spartans from Halo, or the Doom Marine, but more disposable. The player is tasked with exploring the underground of London while shooting at a roster of critters and creatures that grow as you progress. The map is segmented into rooms and hallways. Your map will expand as you explore these rooms, though you can come across special map items that reveal a portion of the local areas to you.
The structure of the world is one of 3 ways where the Metroidvania aspect shines brightest. You can explore the world you're in at your own pace and direction. While the game will noticeably aim you in the desired direction, how you get there is entirely up to you. The other 2 similarities simply being upgrades and doors. As the player explores, they can discover powerups that augment their gameplay abilities, i.e. increased jump height, the ability to sink in water, and the removal of damage knockback. These new upgrades would allow the player to then access areas that were once considered out of reach. The last similarity is the most simple: the player unlocks a series of explosives that can be used to blast away doors to gain access to more new areas.
I could spend forever explaining all of the small ways that The Mummy Demastered reminds me of old Metroid games, so let's focus on what makes it stand out as its own entity instead.
The weapon variety was larger than I had expected. You start out with a standard submachine gun and can discover up to 7 other weapons. Aside from the Assault Rifle acting simply as a more powerful base gun, all the others were unique in how they operated. Do you like to deal large damage as close range? You might like the flamethrower and the shotgun. If you prefer to only shoot once, then the Mercury Harpoon or the Rocket Launcher might be more up your alley. Choosing a weapon feels more like a personal preference than an upgrade system, making it all the more unfortunate that you have a limited amount of ammunition for anything other than the submachine gun. While initially, that would mean having to be conservative with your shots, the map was sprinkled with upgrades to your ammo capacity. It wasn't too long before the limited ammo capacity was only important during boss battles. The locations in which you find these ammo upgrades retain their usefulness. You can come back to them later to restore yourself to maximum ammo capacity, as well as swap your weapon selection out for any others you have unlocked. This was a nice way of making the world I was exploring work a bit more towards my benefit, instead of the usual growing opposition.
The greatest satisfaction I would achieve from this world wasn't from ammo spots, but the artistic design. The game takes place in London, though you can't tell most of the time. You begin the game descending into the depth of a cavern full of grossly rotting rats and bats. The shades of blue were perfectly pixelated to fit the cold and hard atmosphere of these caves. As the sharp blues switch to the warm formation of brick, entering the man-made sewer underground of London feels new and exciting. Each new zone I explored was visually unique, in both color and concept. The bright hues of the London streets area held an excellent contrast to when I climbed through the polished bronze inner clockwork of Big Ben. When playing through this area, it didn't immediately occur to me that I was scaling a national landmark, and the revelation was one of the hallmark moments in my final thoughts of the game. The art throughout the game made it easy to distinguish the beginning of the game from the end. This made for some minor nostalgia when returning to earlier areas when I was naive and ill-equipped.
The audio of the game was equally fantastic. The low bitrate instruments and brooding composition sounded like the love child of a Gameboy and Jerry Goldsmith. The musical style was very 80's centric, pulling inspiration from the soundtracks to movies and videogames of that era. The sound effects, while not so obvious, were satisfying. The pop of your weapons and the explosion of grenades had the power behind them one would need to combat the skittering and retching sounds of the hostile monsters. It's important to any game that it's pleasing to the players ears, and this game did a fantastic job of achieving that.
The world changes around you as you progress, though not for the better. When you defeat the boss of a zone, that zone is then populated with an increased number of enemies. Many of these new enemies are also stronger and more dangerous than the ones previously native to their respective zones. While I found the evolution of these areas fascinating, it didn't feel good. When I struggle against a tough boss, having trekked through difficult terrain and monster to get there, I wanted to feel proud and accomplished by it. The progression of the story is, of course, the main satisfaction of beating these bosses, but when I turn around to see the zone I had just finished exploring has become harder, I feel punished for succeeding.
The greatest frustration of them all wasn't the evolving world, or the sarcophagus ghosts appearing in the London streets (popping out of the ground and shooting a spirit at you before you can even jump) -- it was the second boss. All the other bosses I encountered in the game felt great, the challenge of each felt appropriate to the skills I'd developed and the resources available to me, except for the second boss. During this fight, the left side of the screen is taken up by a large dragon-like creature as it shoots fireballs at the player on the right. The player has to be in the best position to be able to shoot at the dragon without being struck by the fireball, transitioning to differently shaped terrain as you progressed.
The main frustrations that lie here are with the fireballs. Even after I had a firm understanding of what I needed to do, the fire was either too fast for me to dodge quickly enough, or the fire that splashes down and covers the ground would jump out in an unpredictable manner, resulting in damage taken. The level of randomness to the fire's splash made it impossible to determine a safe spot to stand. This forced me to worry more about where I was positioned than about shooting the enemy. Even then, I found myself meeting my ends to this fire more than at any other point in the game. With an unskippable beginning cutscene, and the time consuming respawn system, this particular boss battle became the only part of the game I can safely say made me angry.
What's so bad about respawning, you may ask? When you die, you don't simply start again at your last save point, with your health and ammo at the capacity it was when you saved, but it acts as a continuation. Pulling from WayForwards previous game, Aliens Infestation for Nintendo DS, the player respawns at the last save point as a "new agent" with one block of health and none of the previously unlocked weapons. The player has to find the dead body of their last life (now a hostile zombie) and defeat them in order to regain their belongings and life/ammo capacity.
When I first discovered this feature, I thought it was great. A different approach to the standard fail state in most games was a refreshing change of pace. It wasn't without flaw, however. Ammo locations scattered around the map made it easy to replenish your reserves, but this didn't help with health. The deeper into the game you get, the more health upgrades you can find, and the greater your maximum health becomes. Dying to a boss battle means having to go back and forth between rooms to defeat small monsters and nearby crates to replenish health, 5 points at a time. I grew to dread the lengthy grind every time I was bested by a difficult boss.
While death was a time consuming bother, it wasn't a frequent one. I died a total of 11 times throughout my playthrough (6 of which were to that dragon boss). The game remained a growing challenge to me as I progressed without ever pushing the difficulty curve so high that I was unable to continue throughout the map. Nearly all of my deaths were at the hand of one boss or the other.
In the end, despite trials with Boss 2, the bosses were one of my favorite aspects of the game. It wasn't hard to see how well designed they were, and how well they represented the game as a whole. Each one had a theme and style related to the area you had to traverse to get to them. As you dealt damage, they would gradually shift in hue to become red. This was an excellent way of showing the player that the endless shooting into their large, intimidating forms had a legitimate effect on them. As you damaged them, they would enter new phases in their behavior. These new phases held onto the core concepts of each and introduced new behavior to enhance those concepts. They were difficult without being annoying (with the exception of the dragon). There were 5 of them total, evenly spread through the game. The spacing between them was just enough for me to enjoy the exploration of the new area and to develop and upgrade myself with more health, ammo, and weapons so that I would be ready to take the next boss on.
It took me a little over 6 hours to complete the game. I discovered 93% of the map and only 53% of the items and upgrades. The minimal story was just enough to justify the motivation of the game, which was fine by me, since a majority of my time playing was spent enjoying the gameplay. Progressing and strengthening as a player while the world I explored became harder let gameplay be challenging without being too difficult. The world and its bosses were creative. Taking all of this and wrapping it in the eye-catching art design and frisson inducing music made for one impressive package. The $20 price tag and wide availability makes the game ideal even with its flaws.
This game is rated 8/10. You don't have to be a nostalgic fan of retro games to be able to enjoy what makes this fun, though it helps. You wont miss anything if you play this game without seeing the movie it's based from. If you are looking for an engaging platformer with non-serious creepy tones, then I recommend you give The Mummy Demastered a try.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4. A review copy was provided to me by WayForward.