February 22, 2001.
Riddle of the Sphinx™ review by: Kirk Hiner on AppleLinks.com
I think the good folks at Omni Creative Group must’ve been watching the same PBS specials as I. But unlike me, when no answers were provided, they come up with some of their own. Then they decided to share them with us in Riddle of the Sphinx (ROTS). Five years in the making, ROTS is certainly a labor love, having been put together almost solely by Jeffrey and Karen Tobler. They even designed their website for cryin-out-loud. Would that I had the talent (and the five years) to put together a project like this…
The hard part of Riddle of the Sphinx isn’t solving the puzzles, you see, it’s finding them. There really aren’t too many directions you can go in the game, but the exploration still seems to take forever. It got to the point that every time there was a fork in the road, I’d save the game. This way, if I wasn’t yet equipped to solve the puzzle at the end, I wouldn’t have to return all the way to the fork to take the proper path. I mean, Lara Croft didn’t have to use a helicopter to get from the Sphinx to the Pyramids, so why should I?
But again, I must point out this game had to be made this way. This was a conscious decision on the part of the developers to make the game as realistic as possible, and that means accurate proportions of the “known” chambers within the Pyramids. And it’s not like the Tobler’s weren’t sympathetic to your plight. The traditional adventure game interface does include the traditional warp option whereby gamers can immediately zip to certain areas that have already been explored.
And besides, you don’t want to get there too quickly or you may miss the strikingly rendered environments. You know designers are dedicated when they bother to make even blank, barren rooms and corridors look as realistic as those with all the “booty.” Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the puzzles were so hard to find in this game…they didn’t stand out because everything looked great. Even the virtual screens (a Dreamcatcher staple, it seems, in which some areas become 360 degree virtual panoramas instead of the traditional “click and move” HyperCard like interface) kept some of their luster while spinning and settled back into the detailed renderings no matter where I stopped the pan.
As for the riddle itself, unlike all the history books and TV specials, this game does provide a payoff. This is important, because after fumbling through dozens of puzzles and even dying a few times (“I grabbed the wrong tablet again!?”), I certainly deserved it. The Tobler’s answer to the riddle is along the lines of what we wish those documentary scientists would find (or…perhaps not; sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone), and hey, they even left it open for a sequel…albeit in an annoyingly Myst-like fashion.
But aside from that, Riddle of the Sphinx is very well done, and I tip my adventure hat to Jeff and Karen Tobler (as well as the rest of their crew). The pacing is slow and the lack of stimuli is sometimes maddening, but it seems to me that this is how real excavations are as well. The adventuring gaming crowd is proud but small, and ROTS probably won’t win over any new converts. But those who are already here with us should agree that the five year wait was worth it.