Everygamegoing26th August 2018
Published in EGG #013: Acorn Electron
Some games call for arcade skill. They challenge you to skirt around tsunamis of bullets whilst hitting the Big Boss in a four pixel wide danger zone. Some other games call for brainpower. They challenge you to work out which of nine numbers is missing from a row, column or box. Some games call for a combination of arcade skill and brainpower. They challenge you to drop tetrominoes into place so that you keep the playing area clear no matter what shape you are presented with next. Some games are like Pharoah's Tomb. They appear to require skill but are, in reality, unbelievably stupid.
The mission here is to enter The Great Pyramid and recover the Mask of the Pharoah, but this is where all simplicity ends. While loading, the game presents you with a list of game controls including A for Arrows, B for Backwards, C for Cross, L for Lance and S for Sword. These shortcuts are presumably supposed to feel intuitive, with the player choosing the first letter of the "action" he wants to perform. However, if you can move left, right, forward or back, it would have been much more logical to map these controls to the regular ZX*? combination that is familiar to all Electron games players. Cross, for example, is a highly ambiguous action. It actually means take a Holy Cross out of your inventory, not cross a bridge or a cavern!
When the game starts, you are presented with a monochrome entrance hall with the sign 'Goods For Sale' but, if you try, you are told you have zero coins to buy them with. Not a great start. After twiddling your thumbs for a while, you may well wearily plod into this pyramid of doom, regardless of your lack of weapons or food, simply for want of anything else to do. At this point either one of two things will happen. Either you'll be presented with a green door and a bunch of letters, or a load of yellow dots will appear with a suitably dramatic message yelling "Quick, quick, quick! Use the cursor keys to collect gold!"
The green door represents the typical sort of, ahem, challenges that Pharoah's Tomb believes are a test of your brain. The trouble is that every anagram it presents you with is a magic word (Zap, Abracadabra, Shazam) and, even if you are foxed by one or more of them initially, once you've worked them all out, these doors need not exist for all the challenge they actually present.
The rush to collect gold (or in a variant of the game, silver) coins looks like the sort of game you might create yourself with a handbook on the Acorn Electron Basic language and a spare ten minutes. In short, it is totally laughable for a full-price game (£9.95 price tag on release) and its appearance at random only once you start your quest just makes its inclusion all the more mysterious. You need the gold coins to buy the Arrows, Lance and other weapons, but you can't buy these without the random appearance of the gold and silver games, leading to a frantic game of hopscotch back and forth through the first three rooms of the pyramid every time you play.
None of this required nonsense is, naturally enough, detailed or even hinted at by the woeful list of game controls that masquerade as the instructions.
The next thing to point out is that the green door anagram puzzles are buggy. The code doesn't keep any record of places on the screen where it has already placed a letter and often places another letter on top of it. This can result in some quite baffling conundrums for the unwary with a three-letter word to be put together from just P and A. The Z has been obscured by the letter A, you see. Typing "ZAP" will stick work to open the door, but such bugs really prove to you the low level of programming under the hood.
Persevere, hop back and forth, buy some weapons and you will eventually encounter one of the pyramid's denizens, which include Hydras, Harpies, Vampires and Mummies. Buy a Holy Cross at the Entrance and this immediately defeats the Vampire, but the others must be taken on through bewildering sub-games. Tapping A, for example, gives you a completely blank screen with the enemy hopping up and down on the right. On the left, a 'bow and arrows', represented by the minus and greater than symbols (!) jumps down from the top to the bottom of the screen. If you hammer the Return key (just pressing it often doesn't work!), an 'arrow' slowly travels the width of the screen and strikes your enemy with a rather pathetic sounding crunch.
If you don't have any arrows, then tapping L will use your lances instead - exactly the same so-called game, but played vertically rather than horizontally.
Enemies take a random amount of hits to die, and have no health meter. You can't tell therefore whether they are on the verge of giving up the ghost or able to continue "weakening" you indefinitely. Likewise for your own health. How much damage are you actually incurring each time the screen flashes and you are told "You are weakened"? You'll only find out when you, inevitably, die. Again, if there is any strategy to be employed in when to fight and when to flee, the instructions are silent on it. Indeed, they don't even tell you how to fight!
There are other points I could make about (according to the cover art) "Pharaoahs Tomb"... but, when a game is this embarrassingly bad, why even bother? This is the Electron equivalent of Big Rigs, the type of 'game' that you give to your kid brother to play, telling him it's a masterpiece of surrealist art, and then record his expression on a webcam as he realises the patently obvious truth that it's actually a load of old rubbish.
Pharoah's Tomb, rather incredibly, had the same style of box art as Chuckie Egg and Cylon Attack and, probably based on their reputations alone, sold quite well. Electron User, just as incredibly, thought it was "great fun" at the time. It's not, it's a stinker and you certainly don't need or want it in your collection unless your collection is one of crap games. Expect to pay £1 or less. Definitely don't pay more.