Metroidvanias sure are different these days!
The death march of the licensed game is well underway. Long gone are the early 2000s, in which every movie, television show, and children’s toy had a title churned out for contemporary consoles and handhelds. These days, such games are restricted to surefire hits, such as the eternal Lego Star Wars franchise, or giant blockbusters in the vein of Insomniac’s imminent Spider-Man title. That said, it’s not impossible for less-expected licensed titles to find release. It happened in 2011 with Aliens: Isolation, a left-field Aliens spinoff Metroidvania for the DS. This odd but not unwelcome title was developed by Shantae creators WayForward, and, although somewhat unknown, is rightly considered one of the best Alien/Aliens-related games of all time.
So why is this relevant? An understanding of licensed games, but especially Aliens: Infestation, is crucial context for The Mummy Demastered. WayForward has touted The Mummy as a spiritual successor to Aliens, and this rings true in practically every aspect. Much like Aliens: Infestation, The Mummy Demastered is an unexpected Metroidvania adaptation of an unexpected franchise, in this case the heinous Tom Cruise The Mummy reboot. Both games feature a retro aesthetic, and both feature a compelling twist on the standard Metroidvania formula – but we’ll get to that later. Finally, just like Aliens: Infestation, The Mummy Demastered is a flawed but ultimately delightful game that, unfortunately, few will likely play, but many should probably try.
If you’re a fan of the Metroidvania genre, you’ll know exactly what to expect from The Mummy Demastered. The game is a good experience, but it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, especially when the general progression feels a lot like Super Metroid. You play as a member of the Prodigium, a monster-hunting organization sent to stop the titular mummy, Princess Ahmanet. You explore a map, collect upgrades, and put down no end of creatures that go bump in the night. There are various distinct areas, complete with hidden secrets, but there’s not a heavy focus placed on backtracking through the levels. You discover scrolls that grant you powerful abilities and allow you further traversal – pretty standard stuff.
Although the bones are basic, the flesh is fresh. Much like Aliens: Infestation, The Mummy Demastered puts a spin on the proceedings that breathes new life into an ancient body. In Aliens, death was permanent, and any of your four marines who perished under xenomorph claws would need to be replenished by locating a new recruit within the level. The Mummy, in contrast, posits that death is not the end. In these horrid halls, passing from this mortal coil simply provides a new challenge: upon dying, you take control of a new Prodigium agent, and must kill your now-possessed former self in order to regain your upgrades and equipment. No rest for the wicked…or the cursed, perhaps.
While this “other end of the gun” mechanic is The Mummy Demastered’s most compelling feature, these unholy resurrections are often its greatest frustration as well. Early on, it’s easy to die in a particularly challenging room, then find yourself facing this trial again, except with less gear and the addition of your malevolent past self. The game isn’t deeply challenging for those with Metroidvania experience, and the fights with your murderous husks certainly aren’t white-knucklers, but it’s a nagging cycle to die in a boss fight, trek back, kill your (old) self, and then have to grind for health and ammo to face the boss proper again. The resurrection mechanic in The Mummy Demastered is a fantastic idea, but it represents the most basic form of the feature; something unique that hasn’t yet worked out the kinks.
Although death proves irritating for a different reason in The Mummy Demastered, it’s certainly not so egregious as to ruin the experience. In addition to this interesting tweak, the game enhances its simple structure through its sound and aesthetic, both absolutely top-notch for a throwback Metroidvania. With the eponymous antagonist wreaking havoc somewhere in England, The Mummy Demastered uses this as an excuse to deliver deliciously pixelated gothic castles, dank subway tunnels, and enemies that are a little generic, but ghoulish nonetheless. This is all buoyed by the retro soundtrack, which is the stuff of legend, and almost undoubtedly The Mummy Demastered’s strongest element.
I was invested in the game from square one, but I didn’t truly appreciate the full package until I hit the first boss. Trudging through stacks of skulls in caverns oozing green poison, I came across Princess Ahmanet, now regenerated from her sickly skeletal form. She claims she’ll bring a “spectacle of terror” upon the world, and glowing with power, her arms thrust into the air. The earth rumbles, a giant spider emerges from the ceiling, the apocalyptic, electronic funeral organ boss fight music kicks in, and I lose my damn mind. In a year when an actual Metroid game was released and succeeded thanks to tight gameplay renovations, it’s nice to see a Metroidvania that might not be as solid in the mechanics department go the extra mile in terms of audio and visuals.
The Mummy Demastered wants to flash you back to the Metroidvania games of old, and in that, it largely succeeds. Conjuring up an ideal retro era which might not have ever existed, but is tantalizing nonetheless, The Mummy Demastered’s devotion to its own atmosphere is so complete that it’s easy to get lost in. Combine these trappings with a mostly compelling death mechanic, and you get an experience that isn’t perfect, but is more than worthwhile for fans of the genre. It’s also simple enough for newcomers to Metroidvania, as it dodges the dated esotericism of installments such as the aforementioned Super Metroid. Throw it all together on the Switch, and you’ve got a mobile monster mash that’s way better than I’m assuming Tom Cruise’s The Mummy deserves. Maybe licensed games haven’t been put in their tomb after all.