13th Feb 2006 | 15:12
Yes, there was lots of preconceived fun with the name before it arrived, and to be fair we weren't expecting very much from Ankh. A point-and-click adventure in this day and age (strike one), an unheard of German developer and an unknown publisher (strike two). A title song-and-dance sequence that felt like a sub-par version of any Disney film you've been dragged to go and see by young 'uns (strike three and heeee's out of heeeerre).
But perseverance is a virtue apparently (just ask the French, still batting away and insisting they've got a 'proper' country and everything, bless 'em). And so, after several hours of play, I have to say I was warming to this cartoon romp through a decidedly historically inaccurate Ancient Egypt.
As far as the plot goes, we're dealing with the comic adventures of Egyptian teenager Assil and his attempts to rid himself of an ancient 'death curse' that was placed on him by a diseased mummy after he desecrated a burial tomb in a newly-built pyramid. This involves traversing the local Cairo marketplace, exploring the desert, breaking into a Pharaoh's palace, dealing with gods, guards, crocodiles and the usual assortment of quirky characters that generally made up the cast in these types of games circa the late '90s.
Apparently, Deck 13 has been 'assisted' by Telltale Studios, responsible for Bone: Out From Boneville, the new Sam & Max game and, tellingly, Escape From Monkey Island. Those Monkey Island inspirations are readily apparent. Pacing is impressive, with just enough of the game opening out in front of you at any one time to keep you interested. There's also a good sense of characterisation and setting being developed as you progress, along with an understanding that puzzle structure works best when it comes through interaction, dialogue and integration with the surroundings, rather than simply throwing a selection of parlour games and crate pushing around uninvolving FMV sequences.
Although Ankh is far from reaching the satire, wit, subtlety, ingeniousness, irony, surrealism and balls-out funniness of the venerable Monkey classics, it certainly isn't without a charm and appeal of its own. Sure, we're looking at a younger audience in terms of a lot of the humour, but there's just enough in the way of depth to push it more towards the cooler Dreamworks section of the animation spectrum rather than the cloying and sappy Disney end. It's the kind of game that a family can enjoy together, and perhaps is best in that sense. Ironic gen-Xers and urban wiggers probably won't get much from it, but then that's why games like Need For Speed and GTA exist.
There are faults with Ankh though, and enough to prevent it from reaching recommended status. For a start, it's not the most advanced game in terms of visual technology and the humour is sometimes forced. Also, the voice-acting is good but not great, and there isn't enough range in voice types either, giving the impression of only having two or three actors being used.
More than that, it's of limited appeal outside of a nowadays niche audience, especially as it fails to live up to the standards of the Monkey Island and Sam & Max games. But it is fun, and provided you approach it with a carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude and don't expect the greatest adventure ever told, you'll most likely get a fair slice of entertainment out of Ankh. More than you would by adding a 'w' anyway.