Every so often I play a computer game, and the thing that intrigues me the most about it is its name. Consider Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb from French developer Kheops Studio. In Europe the adventure was released as Cleopatra: A Queen’s Destiny. The odd thing about the name change is that the European version is actually more descriptive about what the game is all about. So was The Adventure Company worried that “A Queen’s Destiny” made the adventure sound too girly? Does “Riddle of the Tomb” invoke Indiana Jones and appeal to a wider audience? Is it just random? A marketing person would probably never tell me the real reason, but I always wonder.
Anyway, in Riddle of the Tomb you play an apprentice astrologer named Thomas. The game takes place in ancient Egypt, during the time when Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy were fighting for control of the kingdom. One day Cleopatra seeks out your master and asks him to divine whether an alliance between her and Caesar would be a good thing, but then Ptolemy’s forces find out and kidnap your master -- as well as his daughter, who happens to be your girlfriend. And so you have to rescue your friends, as well as help them to complete the divination.
Despite the title of the game, you don’t actually spend a lot of time in a tomb. Instead, most of the puzzles take place in your master’s workshop (where you have to operate some machinery), a library (where you have to track down a specific scroll) and a lighthouse (where you stage your daring rescue). If that doesn’t sound like a lot of locations, it’s not, and that’s the primary problem with the game. There just isn’t a lot of content to play through, and there are so many hints and so few options for the puzzles that they can’t help but be easy. Riddle of the Tomb barely took me more than five hours to complete.
One interesting thing that Kheops Studio did in the game is to require you to pick an astrological sign when you start out. The adventure takes place over a four-day period, and, depending on your sign, each day is either “good” or “bad.” If it’s a good day then nothing extra happens, but if it’s a bad day then certain puzzles require extra steps. For example, when you reach the lighthouse you have to use a trebuchet to break down a wall. If it’s a good day, then the stone you use as a missile doesn’t have any problems, and you can use it twice. But if it’s a bad day, then the stone shatters when you use it, and you have to find a new one. It’s a nice idea to give adventures some replay value, but, like I said earlier, Riddle of the Tomb is so easy, it doesn’t need “good” days. It needs “bad” and “really terribly awful” days so that players have some puzzles to think about.
The other main problem with Riddle of the Tomb is that it seems like it was hurried out the door. The lack of content is the primary evidence for this, but there are also numerous places where the game is sloppy. For example, at one point you need to fill a bucket with water. There’s a pool of water nearby, and the interface indicates that you can use the bucket on the pool, but if you click on the “wrong” place in the pool then you don’t get a response. Eventually you have to figure out that the pool has two hotspots, one for filling the bucket and the other for emptying it, and Kheops just neglected to provide a response if you try to empty the empty bucket. There’s also a nasty bug in the library where if you attempt to collect ingredients in the “wrong” way then it becomes impossible to finish the game -- but you might not discover this fact until hours later.
In some ways, Cleopatra: Riddle of the Tomb feels like a family-friendly, casual version of an adventure game. It’s engaging, it’s simple, and it’s short, and it has a premise that’s easy to identify with. If those are the sorts of things you look for in a game, then you might enjoy it. But when I play an adventure, I always hope for something that will challenge me, and Riddle of the Tomb didn’t do that at all, or even try, and so it’s a difficult game to recommend.