Pharaoh's Ascent Download (1997 Puzzle Game)

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Despite the fancy opening cinematic sequence and the bullet points on the back of the box that repeatedly describe the same features in slightly different terms, Pharaoh's Ascent is simply a collection of puzzles. Although not inherently dishonest, the box cover art and the glowing hype leads you to believe the game is about an exciting journey of a pharaoh on his quest to ascend to heaven, when, in fact, it isn't.

While the game is a total failure in terms of eliciting a response from your adrenal glands, it does have a couple of positive points. The evil god Set has filled your tomb with crazy traps and intellectual tricks, and the sheer number of rooms is fairly impressive. As the staunch enemy of the pharaohs, Set's barrier between you and heaven ensures that, if you should fail, the tomb will be your eternal resting-place. As play progresses, the puzzles in the 91 rooms become more difficult, assuring plenty of playing time.

The visual presentation is very interesting, with stone blocks, ladders, spiders, mummies and everything else with which you interact in the foreground, while the background consists of beautiful pictures of Egyptian landscapes or tombs. As you push the movable stones around, the pictures are slowly revealed and provide their own interest, especially to fans of the ancient Egyptian era.

Generally, puzzles are interesting and challenging, with the more difficult requiring experimentation and a healthy dose of logic to solve. Pharaoh's Ascent is a nice diversion with limited innovation, but certainly not the "action" title its publisher makes it out to be.

Graphics: The backgrounds are interesting, but the graphics are a bit blocky and grainy.

Sound: Sounds are average at best, with nothing innovative or memorable.

Enjoyment: The puzzles are challenging and varied, although some can be extremely difficult to solve. Often solutions come only after repeated failures.

Replay Value: With 91 puzzle rooms, the game can be long. Factor in the varying "paths" on the ascent, and replay value is moderate.

Pharaoh's Ascent is one of the most challenging and most innovative arcade-style puzzle games ever made - too bad the game remains unknown to most gamers due to limited on-line-only distribution on a shareware basis. The plot: you are an Egyptian soul who is going on a journey after death towards the Kingdom of Osiris. Egyptian God Set himself has set before you traps, trials, and evil monsters to stump even the most veteran puzzler.

Your job is to get past all of them and take your place by the side of Osiris. But this won't be just some puzzle solving mental exercise. In addition to arranging pillars in Tetris tradition, you will have to jump, dodge, and run your way past everything from the undead to menacing spiders - in the best Lode Runner tradition, only many times more difficult.

In contrast to most reflex-oriented puzzlers that offer either only a dozen levels, or hundreds of levels that resemble one another, Pharaoh's Ascent offers 91 rooms, each of which contains a unique set of puzzles and challenges. These rooms are organized in 6 levels of a pyramid: as you move up the levels of the pyramid, the puzzles become more difficult, requiring new skills beyond the ones you used on the last level. The puzzles require a combination of wit, timing, and reflexes: you will often have to carefully arrange pillars and stones, and move the support block to take down the whole thing at the right time. At the same time, you must kill or avoid enemies, and open up the way to get the keyhole that will open up the next room. You will sometimes have to push rather than destroy blocks to make a staircase to the upper level. The possibilities increase with higher levels, and pretty soon you will find yourself cursing and gritting your teeth at the sheer challenge - yet you will keep trying nonetheless. It took me dozens of tries to pass some low-level rooms, and while it was frustrating, solving each room is very satisfying. Fortunately, the game provides automatic online hints if you get stuck in the room for too long: each room has three incremental solutions that eventually solves the whole puzzle.

If you enjoy Lode Runner, Deadly Rooms of Death, or other fiendish puzzle games, Pharaoh's Ascent is a must-have addition to your collection. Despite some amateurish graphics and drab palette, this game from a very small shareware team has a lot of heart - and enough challenge to make you lose a few billion braincells and sleep.


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