The least likely film tie-in of the year is surprising in more ways than one: it’s actually a pretty good Metroidvania game.
Judging by its box office performance we know we’re not the only ones that didn’t see the new Mummy film this summer. The trailers looked pretty horrible and frankly we felt bad for Tom Cruise, no matter how many tens of millions he must’ve been paid for propping up the movie. The budget for this video game tie-in clearly couldn’t stretch to including him, so instead you get to fight the forces of evil with nameless grunts – who are a lot cheaper in terms of both money and lives.
The reason this game caught our eye, beyond the peculiarity of its licence, is that it’s by Shantae developer WayForward. The small Californian studio has been going for over a decade now, alternating between work-for-hire projects and their own more personal titles. Whichever it is though they usually always get to demonstrate their mastery of pixel artwork, with some of the best 2D visuals and animation in the business.
We’re not sure how they convinced Universal Studios that had any relevance to a dumb popcorn movie like The Mummy but at least it gives the game a wonderfully distinctive, 16-bit vibe. WayForward always have a penchant for Metroidvanias and so given the horror theme what they’ve created is something that looks and plays very much like Castlevania itself.
If you’re familiar with WayForward’s full gameography you’ll quickly begin to realise that this is actually very similar to DS game Aliens: Infestation, to the point where it works almost as an unofficial sequel. The undead stand in for the xenomorphs, and spiders (or are they scarabs?) replace facehuggers, but other than that the set-up and control system is very similar.
As obscure as Aliens: Infestation is, if you’ve played a 2D Metroidvania before then you’ll immediately get the gist of what’s going on in The Mummy. Your nameless grunt explores various underground crypts, caves, and underground stations (a lot of the story is set in England, it seems) while slowly accruing new abilities that allow them to enter previously inaccessible parts of the map.
In most Metroidvanias these abilities come in the form of amazing magic powers or super advanced sci-fi gadgets, but the problem here, as in Aliens: Infestation, is that you’re just an ordinary soldier and so instead most of your power-ups are dull-but-useful traversal abilities like a better jump, or being able to grab onto the ceiling or abseil downwards.
Although the steals from Castlevania are hilariously blatant (there’s a clock tower level that we’re willing to bet is not in the film but looks like it’s straight out of Super Castlevania IV) the gameplay isn’t quite the clone it appears. It’s a lot more action-based than many of its peers and uses a similar aiming mechanism to Metroid: Samus Returns – although it only works in eight directions rather than a smooth 360 degrees.
The range of weapons is fun and impressive, but you’re only able to carry two at a time. That may seem restrictive but there’s a good reason for it, in that if you die you really do die. Or rather your corpse is reanimated as an enemy and, rather like Ubisoft’s Zombi, you have to fight it to get all your stuff back when you return as another character.
We’d love to say that The Mummy Demastered takes a bland, corporate-made movie and turns it into a thrilling retro video game but unfortunately this review doesn’t have quite that fairy tale of an ending. If you know WayForward you’ll know that as well as pixel artwork and equally retro soundtracks (the one here is particularly good) the other thing they’re known for is sky high difficulty levels. Sometimes, as in the Shantae games, they’re able to keep themselves under control but here they just go all out and it almost ruins the game.
More: Games news
Having to fight your own undead corpse is a fun idea but it makes an already difficult experience unfairly punishing. Although we enjoyed the challenge we still ended up getting extremely frustrated, and more casual gamers are going to be turned off very quickly. Surprisingly, the save points for the boss battles are a lot fairer, although the fights themselves are just as hard as you’d expect.
Everything about the game seems to be the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a tie-in to a popcorn summer movie, in that it’s a game that will only be appreciated by those that enjoy the harsh difficulty and the constant references to things that don’t have anything to do with the film. We suppose the chances of there being any Mummy fans to upset is pretty remote, but whatever the reasoning behind it we at least are glad the game exists.
The Mummy Demastered
In Short: It’s more an unofficial Castlevania game than a movie tie-in, but if you can handle the high difficultly level this is an effective substitute for the real thing.
Pros: Fantastic 16-bit visuals and music, with clever level design and great boss battles. Fun range of weapons, and the more action-orientated tone works well.
Cons: The game is punishingly hard, even without the reanimating corpse gimmick. Necessarily dull upgrade abilities.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Release Date: 24th October 2017
Age Rating: 12