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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: May 4, 1998
In an era of high-powered computers, 3D accelerated video cards, and 3D surround sound, the action puzzle game has largely been cast aside by major computer game companies. Over the last few years, if we ignore clones of existing board games transported to the computer, there has only been a handful of games of this type released, and of those only a few — such as Lose Your Marbles, Gubble, and Icebreaker — have really provided high-quality entertainment. None of these has made a significant splash in terms of consumer sales (even Microsoft’s entry into the fray last year with its Puzzle Collection did not have a big impact), and indeed one would have to go all the way back to the emergence of Tetris in the late 1980s to find a real market winner here. While in the shareware world action puzzle games still emerge with great regularity, in the retail game world the preponderant assumption has been that buyers expect and demand more realism, immersion, and bells-and-whistles than this type of game can possibly provide.
Into this void a little company named Ambertec has just introduced a classic action puzzle game, Pharaoh’s Ascent. Founded in 1993, this is Ambertec’s first game, begun in January 1996 and completed in June 1997. The actual release of the game was delayed until now because of packaging and marketing problems. This history helps to explain why the system requirements are so minimal (not even a Pentium is needed!), and it also shows some of the stumbling blocks faced by a new small player with an unorthodox product in the highly competitive playing field of PC game sales.
The accompanying press materials indicate that the release is aimed at game players who seek a “nonviolent alternative” to first person shooters, replacing killing and reflex-oriented action with thinking about challenging puzzles and obstacles, emphasizing in particular an appeal to the female as well as male game audience. Stepping back for a moment to ponder this lofty goal, it seems to me that while most computer games today do indeed involve some thinking, logical puzzle games such as this one require special, more intense kind of mental gyrations than do most other types of games.
Boy, does this game ever live up to its promise of testing your brain power! In contrast to the usual trend of buying an action puzzle game and finding between 6 and 20 distinctly different puzzles inside (admittedly often with several variations of a theme adding to the actual number of puzzles), Pharaoh’s Ascent has an astounding total of 91 rooms of rather completely different puzzles, organized in 6 levels of a pyramid. If that is not enough for you, you can download a free add-on pack of five bonus rooms from Ambertec’s web site. It is truly amazing that such puzzle complexity and variety was created by a tiny development team in a relatively short period of time.
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