Curse of the Lost Tomb is actually your gain

Posted: July 8, 2009 in Physics, Platformer

The iPhone/iPod Touch is the perfect platform for playing marble and labyrinth-type games that use accelerometer and tilt controls. In the iTunes store, there are various choices if you’re seeking a ball rolling experience. But a problem that is not so uncommon is what I like to call wacked ball physics syndrome where the ball or marble doesn’t act or react like it would in the real world. This usually negatively impacts the maneuvering and ball physics during gameplay. That’s why I was happily surprised and impressed by Curse of the Lost Tomb, a polished take on the ball rolling category that not only offers realistic and challenging gameplay, but comes with an intriguing storyline surrounded by buried treasure.

The game succeeds in creating not only a realistic experience, but a fun one as well. The concept is nothing new—roll a marble around various levels collecting objects and cross the finish line as fast as you can to unlock new objects. The game has 20 levels that you unlock as mazes are completed. With detailed 3D environments covering everything from the hanging shadows to the tiles on the floor, the game looks great. The mazes begin very simply where you maneuver through tight spaces, but they become much more elaborate as you progress. And a soothing Middle Eastern-type soundtrack rounds out the presentation.

That’s not the inspired part though. This is…the game is designed around the Ancient Egypt theme so each of the mazes is really passageways through a pharaoh’s tomb. As you maneuver through the narrow passages which by the fall off into nowhere, you’ll come across old vases, pits and giant swinging hammers that stand in your way. In addition, quicksand and mummies are big gotchas so you’ll need to figure ways around them as well. One more thing worth mentioning is the calibration function. Literally, it’s a marble on a tile floor which you roll around to the proper calibration angle.

What I especially like about Curse of the Lost Tomb is the storyline, which obviously involves hidden treasure. As you travel through the mazes, special vases contain gold that you can smash to collect. Besides using the spot-on accelerometer controls, you can tap on the ball to create a shockwave. This shockwave can destroy vases, and it can also temporarily hold back mummies.

The folklore around Egyptian tombs is hidden passages, and there’s no shortage of those. Often stone doors will prevent your ball from entry, and in order to unlock these doors, special fire pits are located at random spots. The objective is to light your ball with the fire, and once that is done, maneuver the ball towards special torches which must be lit to unlock the doors. Unlock them and they can lead to the treasure and exit or along another passageway. There are even spots where stones need to be moved to reveal hidden coins. It’s really a well-designed mechanic in the game that adds yet another wrinkle. Other challenges exist as well, but those are best discovered on your own.

At the end a successfully completed maze, a statistics page appears showing score, coins collected and time. Based on how quickly you finish certain mazes, complete a series of mazes or number of coins collected will unlock additional balls for your use. These include a soccer ball, skull and a goldfish, and they do come in handy in later stages.

While the 20 levels sound minimal, the replay value comes from unlocking items as well high scores on the online scoreboard. The dev has already mentioned additional levels, and I can only guess at how creative and elaborate those will be. Something the dev may want to consider is enhancing the achievement system to offer different types of treasure based on the time it takes to complete a maze similar to a gold, silver and bronze award set up. Multiple camera angles may be a good way to further show off the mazes because you definitely want to take the time to see the details.

As I mentioned in the beginning, there are a handful of worthwhile maze and labyrinth games in the iTunes store, and Curse of the Lost Tomb belongs on that list. While the mazes are challenging, they are not frustratingly impossible. The accelerometer controls are great, and anyone who enjoys this type of game or is looking to try should be able to pick this up and play with a minimal learning curve. If you’re looking for a challenging, entertaining, and great looking game, Curse of the Lost Tomb is a definitely worth it.

Albie Meter: 4 stars (recommended for maze lovers looking for a slightly new take on the category; polished and complete game that should appeal to many)

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