As a fan of the literary Sherlock Holmes (read all the stories, been to the museum at 221b Baker Street and have the keyring to prove it), I was keen to check out Sherlock Holmes: The Mystery of the Mummy, a Nintendo DS port of Frogwares’ first Sherlock Holmes game. I played the 2003 original on PC and had mixed feelings about the game at the time. That was a while ago, though, so I came to this handheld version with an open mind and a sense of excitement that there was now a Holmes game on the DS. The first version had some fairly significant flaws, but I was willing to take a chance that the DS port had improved on its predecessor in those areas. As it turns out, it does in some ways, but not enough to drastically affect the quality of the game.
For those who haven’t played the original game, Sherlock is called in to investigate the disappearance of Lord Montcalfe by his soon-to-be-cousin Elizabeth. The whole game takes place in Montcalfe’s mansion, and as Holmes unravels the clues and defeats the puzzles set before him, he gets closer to solving the mystery of Lord Montcalfe’s disappearance. The plot twists and turns as Sherlock uncovers evidence of hidden Egyptian treasures and treacherous relatives, suggesting Lord Montcalfe’s disappearance may not be what it first appears. The story bears little resemblance to anything you might find in the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; it isn’t terrible, just at times more Scooby Doo than Sherlock. Still, while a bit corny, the string of clues you find along the way should sustain interest in following the game to its conclusion.
All the action is shown directly through the detective's eyes, and Watson is disappointingly absent during most of the game. In fact, for the most part there is only one character in the game, and that’s Sherlock. Holmes likes to talk to himself, however, so there is dialogue during the game, though mainly in the form of exclamations when he discovers the solution to a puzzle or warns against doing something. There are others involved at times, but with a single exception late in the game, everyone else is presented only in cutscenes or through the letters found in the mansion. Such isolation doesn’t detract too much from the game, as the focus of this particular mystery is on the puzzles, which at times gives it a Myst-like feel.
What isn’t Myst-like is the fact that Mystery of the Mummy is largely an inventory-based game. This is the part of the original game that I found so appealing, and the puzzles are generally, well… elementary, in the sense that it is obvious what needs to be done. One example of an early puzzle involves finding and organising a series of coins to unlock a door. The puzzle is logical and there are clues hidden in the environment which are essential for its solution. Another favourite type of puzzle in this game is finding objects to light your way, either with lamps or makeshift torches. There is the odd occasion where a puzzle can be annoyingly illogical or the solution too obscure, like a rotating room where you seem to move randomly rather than anything resembling a circular pattern, but these are few and far between.
Inventory items can be collected as you walk around, and some objects will need to be combined in order to solve problems. On the DS, your inventory is always visible in the top screen, and a simple button press brings it down into the bottom screen for use. My main problem with solving the puzzles in this game was not in figuring out the solutions, but in finding the hotspots on the small screen. You can scan an area time and time again and still miss that elusive item, which can be incredibly frustrating. In this respect, a hotspot finder would have improved the game to no end and made the puzzles much more enjoyable.
There are also some classic logic puzzles, such as arranging items in a particular way so that they’re balanced or completing a particular pattern. None of these are too taxing, and can often be solved by trial and error if necessary. A big feature of the game is its timed puzzles, however, which result in Holmes’ death if you let the clock run out. Other puzzles, if done incorrectly, will trigger a booby trap and kill Sherlock. Fortunately, most of the timed puzzles can easily be completed before the time runs out and just serve to add suspense. There’s only one point I found it very likely to get Holmes killed, which involves turning keys in the wrong direction. This was true of the original as well, and while this time I had the benefit of previous experience, my memory of the dangers and solutions had faded to the point that it offered no real advantage.
To help you with your problem solving, the DS version includes a very handy notepad feature, where you can manually jot down notes like you would on a real piece of paper. Even though I only used it once, this is an excellent addition which should be standard for all DS adventures. Apart from that, there are two differences I noticed between puzzles in the PC and DS versions. One puzzle involving a hidden panel and a search for dates is now missing at the beginning, which is no great loss, and one has been added to utilise the dual screens. How it uses the second screen is impossible to describe without giving away the solution, but I’ve never seen it used that way before and it is quite ingenious. It’s a shame not to see more DS-specific puzzles included, though not really a surprise from a port.Continued on the next page...