Riddle of the Sphinx

2000 Omni Creative Group
Designed by Jeffrey S. Tobler, Karen E. Tobler
Reviewed 2002 April 30

Rating -2 Linearity wide
Reasonability reasonable Connectivity moderate
Difficulty challenging Relevance moderate
Interface 1st paned simple Real-time minor

Your colleague Dr. Geoffreys calls you to his dig at the Sphinx. When you arrive you find that disaster has struck: Geoffreys is missing, presumed dead, and his crew are gone. However, he has left you a note exhorting you to follow his work, to discover what's inside the Sphinx.

The story is just an excuse to explain your presence at the Sphinx site. Once you get into the pyramid, the story is irrelevant, you're just trying to see what's beyond the next blocked door. When you finally complete the final puzzle, you get treated with a lengthy cut-scene dumping more irrelevant story on you. You might find the story interesting, but it doesn't have anything to do with the events of the game. It features one of the designers, so maybe it's a vanity clip -- oh well, he deserves it.

In other words, this is really a puzzle game. The opening challenges are regular adventure, but once you get past the secret doors everything is too contrived and magical to be contextual. The challenges are designed to be puzzles, and work by unexplained magic. The whole setting is magical: lit torches are everywhere, evidently burning for 4000 years; machinery all works, even though sand has gotten into everything; hundreds of generations of snakes have somehow managed to live and perform guard duty.

Unlike most puzzle games, however, the challenges are well connected to each other, not just a collection of stand-alone puzzles. You have to discover widely scattered clues and associate several of them together to find the solution to the various obstacles. The clues are sometimes subtle, so it's easy to get stuck. They're all out in the open, though, and the solutions are all very reasonable.

The challenges are arranged non-linearly. With the widely scattered clues and the connections between challenges, it feels as if the whole pyramid/sphinx complex is one big puzzle.

A tendency towards tedium is one recurring problem in the challenge design. A few challenges require you to repeat something several times more than is fun or interesting. There's one rather obnoxious maze, annoying because the navigation interface is too crude for that challenge.

A mixture of slide-show and 360-degree nodes is used. Following the tedium problem above, there are many instances of long sequences of boring slide-shows nodes, and too few free spinning nodes. For example, you might have to click through a dozen fixed-view nodes to get through a tunnel through rock, but when you're before a magnificent statue you can't spin your view to see the whole thing. The navigation sometimes gets confusing because there is not always a direct way back to the previous node.

Why is it so many games have a hard time implementing a good inventory interface? Enough games have done it right that it isn't a secret. This isn't the worst one foisted on adventurers, but it's clunkier than it should be.

The overly contrived context and lack of driving plot prevents Riddle of the Sphinx from having the emotional grip of a good adventure game, but the intricate design of the challenges and their clues avoids the sterility that afflicts most puzzle games. It's a bit lacking in difficulty to be a great puzzle game, but it has enough ambience and grandeur to please explorers.

Beware! Here are some spoiler-ridden notes on the game. They're only recommended for people who have played the game and want to see some of my rationale for my evaluations.
David Tanguay's Game Reviews
Here's a description of all the gobbledygook in these reviews. It's also a bit of an essay on the nature of adventure games.