First posted on 15 May 2008. Last updated on 07 September 2009.
From the ancient Egypt comes the tale of Assil, the son of an architect of the Pharaoh. Assil has brought upon himself a death curse when he accidentally disturbs the tomb of a mummy while throwing a party inside a pyramid. His dad does not believe him and thinks that his rebellious son is just making up the story as an excuse to stay up all night. So, the young Assil must now go on a quest to save himself by reversing the curse. The trouble is that he has only 24 hours to lift the spell, or he will die.
To make matters worse, Assil also finds an ankh (an Egyptian cross), which he thinks is a bottle opener, inside the pyramid. The ankh, of course, turns out to be a sacred artifact, but Assil does not know of its origin, at least until others around him start trying to get their hands on it, by any means necessary.
Ankh is a comedy adventure game with humor that is in the classic style of the Monkey Island series. While the story itself is set in ancient times, it features plenty of flash-forward social commentaries and dialogs about modern-day paraphernalia that are not yet invented for its time. For example, when crossing the Nile, the ferryman comically offers Assil to shop duty free halfway across the river. The fourth wall is also broken occasionally in this game, just like a sitcom. An example is during the very first dialog when Assil asks if this is a game where you can die or get stuck in an unsolvable state. Of course, the answer is, as he touts, that only a bad game designer designs such a game (and Deck13 Interactive is definitely not a bad designer).
Halfway into the game, Assil meets and saves Thara, the daughter of an Arabian ambassador. Thara then becomes a playable character, and you must take control of both Assil and Thara to solve some puzzles together. This is a nice and rare feature, and unlike Day of the Tentacle where you also play several characters in turn, you play the different characters at the same location rather than at different locations in Ankh.
It is possible to die at the very end of the game. However, if you die, the game will automatically rewind to a point earlier on so you can try again. Assil will then state that he has just had a vision of what may happen if you repeat what you have just done. This gameplay gimmick is similar to that used in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, where most of the game is set as a flashback, so that if Guybrush dies, he simply states that his death is obviously not happening since he is now telling you the story. Ankh also makes a few other passing references to Monkey Island, such as a little sequence of a slightly modified version of its classic theme when opening a pirate treasure.
The interface in Ankh is simple. Left clicking with the mouse moves Assil or Thara to the pointed location. If the mouse cursor is at an object, the character will look at it or describe it. Right clicking with the mouse triggers the action to use an object, talk to the person, or pick up the object in focus. The inventory is located at the top of the screen where it can always be accessed easily. Conversations are handled using a familiar branch dialog system such that you simply select what line is to be spoken next.
The game features 3D characters that are rendered on static backgrounds. The characters and environments are drawn a bit cartoonish but are still detailed. Ankh includes full voiceovers for the characters. The game features a number of whimsical characters with equally whimsical names, such as Take Tut Cashun, Red Sea Aquarium, and The Shy Assassins. The voice acting for all the characters is good and sets the atmosphere for the game, with a clearly humorous attitude rather than a serious undertone. Unfortunately, the game locks up on a few instances when the dialog is skipped over very rapidly. There are also a few glitches in some scenes when playing as Thara, where her dialog is heard spoken in Assil's voice or no voiceover is heard at all. This is probably a production oversight in which not all the lines for both characters have been recorded. On the other hand, Ankh features a great and rich musical soundtrack.
The puzzles in Ankh are not challenging. Most solutions are pretty logical, but some are a bit difficult to spot while others are more straightforward. The ending in Ankh plays somewhat differently, like an action game, since you have to avoid from getting caught in a chase. If you fail, you will die but only need to retry backed up just a bit.
The retail version of Ankh is distributed by bhv Software in Europe and by Viva Media in America. The game is also distributed online via Telltale Games. In the latter, the game requires either online activation (so to reduce piracy) or an unique offline activation key that can be sent to you upon purchase. Either way, activation is only needed the first time; the game will work normally once activated.
Overall, Ankh is a comedy adventure game with its unique brand of mythical charm. Interestingly, the current release of Ankh is actually an extended remake of Ankh: The Tales of Mystery, an early game made by Deck13 Interactive (the same company was called Artex Software back then) for the ill-faded Acorn RISC OS back in 1998. In 2007, Ankh finally spawns its own sequel, named Ankh: Heart of Osiris, that continues the story set forth in the original game nearly a decade ago.