Review: Pharaoh Rebirth+

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There’s an odd little midpoint between traditional platformers and metroidvanias that doesn’t get explored very often. It’s where you have discrete levels to complete from start to finish, that also contain side areas gated by items or abilities. Generally the game is still doable from start to finish, but you can pad out your odds of success or trigger alternate endings by replaying old levels for further exploration. This is what Pharaoh Rebirth does, taking exceptionally metroidvania capabilities like gliding and grappling hooking, and giving them out during your linear campaign to be used in old and new areas alike. The structure makes for a game that’s just as long as you want it to be, though the way some of the challenges are posed, you might not want it to be all that long at all.

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Dr. Jonathan Banfield isn’t exactly the Indiana Jones action-archaeologist you’re expecting. Prior indiscretions with mystical artifacts cursed him with an anthropomorphic rabbit body (and his rival with that of a snapping turtle). Unwilling to let a little setback like that slow him down, he’s found his way into a lost Egyptian city. So has his rival, though, and in their struggle they release the great and terrible Sehur the First who curses them with death in just under seven days. The only way to break the curse is to scour Egyptian antiquity for a collection of holy grails, and to also beat the others searching for them to the punch. There’s plenty of sly dealings and double-crosses to watch out for here, not to mention loads of archaeological finds to unearth.

There’s a lot of plot here, more than you’re expecting I’d wager, and not all of it is welcome. Pharaoh Rebirth subscribes to the school of storytelling that steals control from the player every five minutes or so for a lengthy radio conversation. That’s not hyperbole either, and sometimes you’ll be treated to multiple interruptions in the same room. Your chats with your hacker buddy are filled with forced jokes and bad references, too, which had me skipping through dialogues I would normally have eaten up. The writing here is poor, caused or compounded by translation issues I couldn’t say, but I found it bad enough to actually detract from the experience.

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The overall experience is pretty solid, mind you, save for some irritating design missteps. Levels tend to be long and involved but laid out in a pretty logical way, and feature a good spread of setpieces. You may face a little confusion over what you can and can’t reach at first, as most of your future powers are not the kind that have discrete level features to work from. This only becomes a problem when trying to traverse deadly spikes or the upper reaches of a room, because falling and/or dying can waste a great deal of time. The powers themselves are not terribly unique, though they have some unique presentations owing to the nature of your character, like the glider that turns his bunny ears into an airplane.

I mentioned death because it’s something you’ll be encountering a lot in this game, and  in the most ignoble places. Enemies and bosses are fair and well thought-out, except when they bunch up around screen transitions or happen to catch you in a juggle because of how few invincibility frames you get when hit. Things do a lot of damage in this game, and instant death spikes rear their ugly heads in several places, so extra effort must be taken when navigating the levels. You can also look forward to changes in the formula, like controlling another character for one whole level, and contending with some frustrating on-rails segments.

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The core of Pharaoh Rebirth is solid, make no mistake. The adventure before you is vast and interesting, there are scads of powers and collectibles to hunt for, and the detailed pixel graphics and peppy music keep it feeling light. It’s just that there’s a lot of polish missing here, especially in the difficulty curve. Sometimes the feeling is so pronounced that this feels like a much lower-budget game than it looks, but there’s still enough right about it to recommend. If you like your heroes fuzzy, your artifacts in a museum, and you’re willing to battle through janky levels and frustration to see it done, then you might have a future with Pharaoh Rebirth.

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