Thursday, January 8, 2009

Luxor 4: Quest for the Afterlife Review

I'm sure most of you, at some point, have heard of Zuma? The casual puzzle game had a stone frog that shot colored balls out of its mouth, and matching with other colored balls caused them to disappear. It was something of a phenomenon for awhile. I personally never cared for it, having only played it a few times, but my wife was really into it at the time.

While not the first game of this genre (that'd probably be Puzz Loop, aka Ballistic), it and games like Bejeweled ignited something a of a casual games renaissance (no doubt spurred along by new platforms for casual games, including iPods, the Xbox Live Arcade, and the Nintendo DS). And given Zuma's popularity, it was bound to inspire a few similar games.

One such game was Luxor. Luxor traded Zuma's Incan inspiration for an Egyptian one. And while both games are played by shooting colored balls at a track of colored balls to make matches and eliminated all the balls on the track before the balls get to a certain point, Luxor made one big change. In Zuma, the frog is fixed to a certain point on the board, and rotates to aim a shot. In Luxor, the shooter is always at the bottom of the screen and always shoots straight up, but the shooter can move left or right across the entire screen. The difference is subtle, to be sure, but in my opinion made Luxor a much more fun game. Still, casual games have never really been my thing, so I was content to play them on my laptops, which couldn't run serious games, whenever I found myself stuck with a bit of time to kill.

Since the first Luxor game, we've had numbered and unnumbered sequels, Xbox Live Arcade, PS2, PSP, and Nintendo DS versions, and a Mahjong spin-off. The most recent Luxor, Quest for the Afterlife, is the first one to make me take the series seriously.

The basic gameplay is identical to the previous Luxor games. Perhaps taking a cue from the successful game Puzzle Quest, though, Quest for the Afterlife ties the gameplay together with a simple store with simple goals.

Nefertiti and her husband, Akhenaten, are historically known for changing Egyptian religion from a polytheistic one to the monotheistic worship one Aten. The game's plot centers around priests of the old gods stealing some of Nefertiti's artifacts, as well as the canopic jars containing the remains of Akhenaten, and then scattering all over the world. Nefertiti charges the player with reclaiming the jars to secure Akhenaten's place in the afterlife. There is a map of the world, and the player travels from city to city, playing tradition Luxor puzzles along the way. Regaining Nefertiti's artifacts give the player abilities (like instant travel to other cities, or double points).

The story is enough to motivate me to play, but Quest for the Afterlife is still, ultimately, a casual game. While not the kind of game I'll sit for hours and really get into, it's fun enough that I'll play a few rounds when I want to have a little fun but lack the time to play a more serious game.

Final Score: B-

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