Today children, I shall perform a simple three into one trick. So, I shall take the 90's PC games Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, plus Disney's Aladdin movie and place them into this magic hat. Shake it around a bit, blow into it thrice times, and produce this very rare breed of video game...
That game is Ankh and it's the very opposite to what the majority of modern games have come to aspire to. Instant gratification, it seems, is an absolute necessity for many. Presuming an audience of dim-witted and impatient ruffians, excitement must be delivered in large dollops, from the outset. Ankh shuns such delirious demands and favours a classical-style adventure game not often seen in these big budget dominated days.
For those not familiar with the aforementioned games, Ankh is a point-and-click adventure game in the mould of those that were popular in the late eighties and early nineties. The emphasis is on observation and puzzle solving, plus an entertaining storyline with a refreshing lack of seriousness. As Assil, the teenager dealt a death curse and owner of a mysterious bottle opener, you won't be saving the earth from alien invaders, but you will deal with gods, baffle crocodiles and wash camels. As I've said, this isn't your run of the mill game.
Those with longer memories might be wondering what the movie Aladdin has to do with a point-and-click game? I'm sure most are familiar with the popular Disney film, and perhaps even the classic platformer from the mid nineties. The relevance here is that Ankh is set in ancient Egypt and the visuals certainly have that colourful Disney style of animation and artwork. That isn't to say the graphics are cel-shaded, but the character designs, settings and general feel of the game all share the same visual style. The environments are, on the whole, nicely detailed, although somewhat sparsely populated and restricted mostly to characters that actually have a role to play in the game.
Good looking but not demanding graphically, it is let down a little by a heavy 'bloom' effect that is seen when played with all the visual effects turned on. It's not an effect I am particularly fond of and generally Ankh looks sharper and better looking without it. However, this is a trifling complaint and one that doesn't take anything away from the experience. What is clear is the amount of hard work, love, care and attention that has gone into creating the game world. It doesn't have the most polygons or the best textures, but artistically the game is a shining light to follow.
Control wise there is nothing that any point and click veteran won't be familiar with. Click once to walk or twice to run and select and pick up items in much the same way. In this respect the point and click genre remains one of the least complicated of all genres. Your collected items are listed at the top of screen and all you have to do is select, move and combine to your desired effect. Even if you've never played a point-and-click title before the basic controls will pose few challenges.
For the most part objectives can be achieved in your own good time so you can do something right away, or leave it until later. This provides a certain freedom of choice, but it's not something that extends into the game's puzzles. The developers make a strong point to avoid tile puzzles and other such tedious tasks, however, every problem has one solution and one only, which is a shame because a variety of solutions would have lifted Ankh onto a much higher level. Hopefully this might be something that is incorporated into later iterations of the series. That said, occasionally Ankh does surprise the player with unexpected sections, providing some welcomed variety.
Some of the trickier problems, however, require a fiendishly keen eye and this will result in periods of frustrating wandering, hoping to trip over whatever it is you're looking for. Unfortunately, one such instance appears quite early in the game and, for first-time point-and-clickers, this may well prove off-putting. Ankh, with its traditional design style, is aimed squarely at an audience which is already experienced with the genre. Before diving into Ankh you would do well to acquaint yourself with Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Sam & Max and other classic LucasArts adventure titles. Not only will you grow accustomed to the point and click genre, you'll also have the chance to play some seminal works for next to nothing.
Ankh is a rare breed of computer game; a complete package of fine artwork, superb sound, ingenious puzzles and an amusing storyline which, I have tried to keep secret from you. You'll be hard pressed to find any game that combines such a strong storyline with the same whimsical and irreverent charm found in Ankh. Finding a score for this game has become a very difficult task. It is a well made and thoughtful title, but one which sticks religiously to very traditional methods. If you're a veteran and lover of point-and-click adventures then the score at this point is largely irrelevant as you're probably sold on it already. For those with no prior experience it's an altogether more complicated conundrum. Ankh deserves all the praise it receives but one can't help feel it will only come from those whose lives are not complete without a game like this.