I was a good two hours into The Mummy Demastered before I died for the first time. I was fighting the game’s second boss, a massive fire-breathing lizard with an uncanny resemblance to Metroid‘s Kraig, when my agent met his end. Minutes later, I was in control of a different, far weaker agent, and desperately trying to prevent my fallen comrade from ending this new agent’s life.
Developer WayForward’s The Mummy Demastered puts players in control of the agents that work for Prodigium, the organization from The Mummy movie starring Tom Cruise that released earlier this year. Your mission: hunt down and kill the undead Egyptian princess Ahmanet by any means necessary. Like any good undead ruler, Princess Ahmanet can raise and control the dead. So any time one of the player’s agents die, they are brought back as the mindless slave of Ahmanet. When the player “respawns,” they are actually being given control of the next agent. The previous agent remains where he fell, an undead soldier that will try to kill any of his old teammates on sight.
Unfortunately, that is not even the worst part. The Mummy Demastered is a side-scrolling shooter with some diabolical twists to the Metroidvania formula. Fans of the genre will be familiar with the never-ending rooms of enemies, larger than life bosses, and a world composed of twisting catacombs. More than one path is usually available for the player to take to their target, and certain corridors and caves can only be explored if the player’s agent has access to certain abilities and weaponry.
More than once, I spent over an hour going the “wrong way,” only to encounter a type of enemy I was ill-prepared to face, stumble upon a new type of weapon that would make future bosses a breeze, or come to the realization I was traveling in one big circle. The main difference between The Mummy Demastered and other Metroidvania titles is how the game handles death. Whatever weapons, grenades, and gear that the player’s agent has on them is lost upon that agent’s death, and kept by the undead agent until he is killed.
If the player is holding their most powerful weapons and dies to a boss halfway through the battle, not only does the player have to trudge all the way back to the boss’s lair with their second-most powerful equipment, but the entrance will be guarded by an undead agent who’s decked out with far more fire power. The most terrifying part of this whole system is the health. Much like Metroid, the agents can find collectibles that add another 100 points of health, but, as these are equipment too, they are all lost upon death and given to the undead agent. There was a moment, late in the game, when I had to struggle against both some of the most powerful enemies the game had to offer and my past self, and I only had a fraction of my health to rely on. I could pretty much be killed in seconds. It was an uphill battle that almost convinced me to just quit the game.
There are whole sections of the world that I avoid entirely now, because I have died in that spot so many times trying to get my gear back, that half a dozen undead agents now call that corner of the world their home. Some of my most prized weapons are in those corners but they are now just out of reach. Every time I tried to go back and reclaim what was once mine, I simply added to the growing zombie army. Occasionally, I would find a new secret that revealed a new type of weapon that gave me the confidence to return to spots of small resistance, but any area that has more than six undead agents has been, essentially, quarantined.
If this was the only challenge players had to face, The Mummy Demastered would not be so bad. However, the game itself is just hard. This death mechanic just rockets the difficulty up to near impossible. I have thrown my Switch down in disgust more than once trying to beat this game’s story, and there were a few days where I just stopped playing entirely because I was sure, without a doubt, that I had died too many times and lost too many weapons and the game was now just impossible to beat.
This year, I have encountered some truly stress-inducing games that tried both my patience and my sanity, but The Mummy Demastered just broke my will. The only reason, and I mean only reason, I beat this game at all is because I needed to for this review. Otherwise, I would have stopped long ago. This game crumples your spirit in a way that not many games are able to do. I cannot stress this enough, The Mummy Demastered is not for players looking for a 2D Metroid game, as this game is far more difficult. The Mummy Demastered is for players who just beat Samus Returns on Fusion mode and thought to themselves, “Wow, that was way too easy.”
Enemies engage the agents with a deliberate slowness that betrays just how brutal their attacks are. For context, most enemies in the game can take out ten to thirty of an agent’s health points, but most enemies only drops five point health orbs when they are killed. A few drop the larger, twenty point orbs, but they are few and far between. Most firefights end with the player having less health than when they entered the room, forcing players to adopt a slower approach to combat. Carefully moving forward is a lot less risky than charging across the screen. This does not always work though, as some enemies and bosses hide within the background of the world. Even the most average looking room could be a death trap waiting to happen.
In a normal game, these deaths would be a valuable learning experience for the player, but in The Mummy Demastered, the death mechanic prevents the player from having such a luxury. Exploring the unknown is incredibly stressful, made all the more worse that the player can only save from certain rooms and most of them are a good 20-40 minute journey apart and hidden behind walls that can only be destroyed by specific types of weapons. Dying to an unseen enemy could mean losing nearly an hour of progress, all the gear and health the player’s agent currently has, and the means of saving anywhere else. Falling to an enemy in The Mummy Demastered is one of the most demoralizing experiences I have had in gaming in years. It feels worse than losing tens of thousands of souls in Dark Souls.
Platforming offers its own set of challenges, because apparently WayForward thought that The Mummy Demastered just was not hard enough. Thankfully, the controls are solid, and the agents run and jump exactly as the player expects. Unfortunately, that expectation is that of a cumbersome soldier who leaps about as gracefully as a newborn deer and flinches away when struck by the slightest inconvenience. More than once, the player will be forced to navigate moving platforms, while threading the needle between flying enemies, projectiles, and explosive traps, which is really hard when the agents lack the agility of characters like Mega Man and Samus.
However, the game establishes very early on that this is just how the agents move. The player needs to find a way to make it work. Falling to the bottom of a room for the ninth time, after trying for fifteen minutes to reach the top, was something that I just had to chalk up to my own miscalculation. It did not make it any less frustrating, but at least I knew that it was not the game’s fault that I was having such a hard time.
The many weapons that dot The Mummy Demasterd’s world offer plenty of different tactical approaches to the game’s many conflicts. Each agent is only permitted to hold three weapons (one of which is always the game’s starting weapon) and one type of grenade at a time, adding a level of strategy to what the player wants to take with them and providing a safety net to ensure that death will never result in the loss of every piece of the player’s arsenal. Except for the starting weapon, every piece of equipment at the agents’ disposal has limited ammunition. Killing enemies yields more, and certain power ups will expand how much ammo each agent can carry. Most enemies drop ammo though, more so than health, so the player will never have to really worry about running out of ways to kill something.
Despite how challenging it is to navigate The Mummy Demastered’s cruel and unforgiving world, the music is spot on. Long before the player is trapped within the endless cycle of death, the music of the game’s title menu drag the player back to a time of Super Metroid and A Link to the Past. Each environment within the world has its own distinct musical accompaniment, and, even now, I find myself absentmindedly humming a few of them. The creepier ones still haunt my nightmares.
I will give The Mummy Demastered this: never before have I seen a game beat both Metroid and Castlevania at their own formula, and deliver a superb example of how dread can horrify the player into struggling with something that should be easy. This game does a damn good job at really making the player weigh the pros and cons of whether or not to journey forward and find a place to save or retreat to familiar territory and recover health and ammo. This game broke me, in a way that I assume some twisted gamers might actually crave, but ultimately I cannot fully support something that works so hard to make sure the player is not having a good time.
The Mummy Demastered delivers a unique death mechanic to the tried-and-true Metroidvania formula, which eventually works against the game and makes it near impossible to beat. Both the controls and music are fantastic though, and if save points were only ten minutes apart (as opposed to half an hour), I think this game’s difficulty would have been much more fair and manageable. Is it impossible to beat the game? No. But the game is criminally unfair and will test the player’s patience as much as their ability.