I’m not a huge fan of The Mummy movies; I haven’t seen the new movie and I don’t intend to. Despite that, I’ve been looking forward to checking out The Mummy Demastered practically since it was announced. Wayforward is a great developer and I am a huge fan of run-’n-gun games, so I was rather happy when this one was announced, even if it is part of The Mummy franchise. The question is whether it turned out as good as it looked.
At its core, The Mummy Demastered is a Metroidvania in which you are a Prodigium agent who is tasked with helping the organization take down Ahmanet, who has risen from the grave and is trying to destroy the world. It takes a lot of its core gameplay elements from the run-’n-gun genre, but it is more Metroidvania than run-’n-gun. The game is open world in nature, requiring you to explore relatively small, focused zones which are connected by various exits. Each zone has its own enemies, traps, and and destructibles, the latter of which could hide ammo pick-ups, health pick-ups, or even collectibles. When you leave a zone and return, all enemies and destructibles respawn and you must fight through them all over again.
In general, the game feels great to play. The action is fluid, jumping feels smooth and responsive, and there’s a system in place that allows you to lock your position and fire in any direction. There was never a point where I felt like I was doing poorly due to the way the game controlled, which greatly enhanced the experience.
At the beginning of the game, practically all that you can do is move, jump, dodge, and shoot in eight directions. As you play, you will obtain various upgrades. Some of these are required to progress into new zones, while others simply upgrade your character. Overall, however, these are surprisingly mundane. There are new weapons, armor upgrades, health packs that add an additional 99 health points to your maximum health, upgrades to weapon damage, and a few upgrades that affect movement: one that makes you run faster, one that makes you jump higher, one that allows you to grab onto the ceiling and one that allows you to travel underwater. There’s also rappel gear thrown in for good measure, which you need in order to access the lower half of the map. You can also pick up area maps in similar locations to that of upgrades, but they themselves are not upgrades.
The variety of upgrades doesn’t feel particularly limited, but none of them really alter gameplay in any significant way, which may be in part because you can only have two weapons other than your basic machine gun and one explosive equipped at any one time. I never once felt really excited to have found an upgrade. Instead, I simply thought “oh hey. There’s that thing that I need to get to that place,” after which I would spend around 10-15 minutes trying to remember where “that place” was.
Fortunately, upgrades are used in fairly interesting ways. For example, the run speed upgrade doesn’t simply increase your run speed. You have to build up to the higher speeds by running uninterrupted for some time. Certain zones have ledges that you can’t reach unless you run at a higher speed, but don’t provide the space to build up that speed. Upon first encountering one such zone, you eventually discover that momentum is saved when you travel from zone to zone and that you actually have to use a connecting zone to build up speed and then jump up to the ledge that you couldn’t otherwise reach. Another example is the upgrade that lets you grab onto ceilings, which is used to reach quite a few ledges that deceive you into thinking that you can simply jump to them.
Unfortunately, finding “that place” can be surprisingly difficult. The map is fairly basic, only denoting the shape of each room rather than providing information about where exits are. Save points, ammo caches, fast travel locations, and areas that you can rappel through are marked, but collectibles that you find but perhaps cannot reach are not. Furthermore, even if you do find an area map for the area that you’re in, certain upgrade locations that are blocked off by doors that have to be blown up are not marked on your map, so you will end up having to scour the area for them anyways. Ultimately, those of you who are looking to collect everything that you possibly can would probably be better off making your own map and using the in-game map as a reference than trying to use it on its own.
Depending on the area that you’re exploring, simply wandering around can also be fairly difficult. The game is very much one of those games that is old-school difficult, often combining enemies in ways that are unpredictable unless you’ve been in said areas multiple times already. The game tends to rely a lot on enemies that can spawn infinitely, be they zombies that break out of the ground or crows that fly at about your current height in a sin wave pattern. This alone gives certain areas, especially those with collectibles hidden within them, the potential to be extremely frustrating. Because they spawn infinitely, they also spawn randomly, which can cause a number of issues. The first is that the patterns aren’t guaranteed to be plausibly avoidable, which will, for example, often lead to you getting hit by an unavoidable flying enemy that flew on-screen after you began the final jump to a ledge that holds a collectible. This is made even more frustrating by the fact that many such challenges require you to have the run speed upgrade and run continuously from beginning to end, meaning that you cannot slow down to dodge or you won’t make the next jump.
Enemies that don’t spawn endlessly can be similarly frustrating. There are rats that crawl along the walls of certain zones. These rats have set movement patterns that can only be learned by watching them, as they are otherwise completely unpredictable. A rat may move all of two feet and then stop only to then move a staggering 20 feet before stopping again. The old-school style of difficulty lives and dies on predictability and I personally didn’t find certain enemies to be predictable enough, which lead to more trial and error than I cared to go through. It eventually becomes easier, but not quite enough. As you’re always moving through new zones with fairly little backtracking, you’re always learning the exact moments to dodge the same enemies all over again, only with new enemies added into the mix. When you pair this with zones that force you to replay multiple zones if you fall, it begins to hurt the experience a bit. Fortunately, the number of zones that are so densely populated that this is an issue are few in number, but it still can put a damper on the experience. In fact, once I had a decent amount of health, there were a few zones that I opted to brute force my way through rather than try and play properly because I had become quite frustrated with said zones and the game offers a fairly large number of invincibility frames every time you get hit.
The game’s bosses actually, quite surprisingly, had the exact opposite problem. Save for the final boss, all of them were fairly easy, in part because their move sets were limited and they were far too predictable. One of the late-game bosses is made fairly difficult by the fact that one part of the fight forces you to platform around on rotating gears as the boss is actively pushing said gears downwards into spikes, but the actual boss itself has but two attacks that are far too easy to avoid. With the exception of the final boss, which was challenging, the few deaths that were at the hands of bosses were caused by not knowing said bosses’ patterns. Once I had them figured out, I practically breezed through the fights.
Should you die, the way that the the game handles death is actually fairly interesting. Because Ahmanet has the power to bring the dead back as mummies, zombies, or what-have-you, when you die, the Prodigium agent that you were playing as is brought back as a zombie that has all of your gear on it and you spawn as a new-but-also-the-same agent at the last save point that you accessed. In order to get your gear back, you have to kill the undead agent and take it from them. I found this to be a fun and interesting way to give meaning to death and, the further you get into the game, the more challenging it gets, as the former agent has access to all of the weapons that you currently have equipped. Should you die during a boss fight, the game will even place the undead agent in the zone before the boss fight so that it doesn’t alter the difficulty of the boss fight.
There are, however, a few issues. Depending on where you die, especially later in the game, the process of getting your gear back can be downright nightmarish. While you keep any movement upgrades, due to the fact that they’re a different type of upgrade, you lose all additional weapons, explosives, armor upgrades, health packs, and so on. This means that you are essentially fighting your fully-upgraded self and the enemies in the zone you died in as a brand new character. If you die, you then have to fight another undead agent in the same room, as well, perhaps even at exactly the same time.
Once you do finally complete that task, you will only be awarded around three health packs worth of health, meaning that you may very well not get all of your health back. In the case that you don’t, there is nowhere to restore all of it, even though there are ammo caches that allow you to restore all of your ammo. Instead, your only option is to continuously enter and leave a safe zone, clearing its destructibles repeatedly in hopes of obtaining health pick-ups.
The game will fight you on that. While it usually provides you with the items that you need, starting with ammo and working its way to health pick-ups, there appear to be systems in place that prevent you from simply farming health pick-ups. If you kill too many enemies in the same zone too quickly, their drop rate will decrease drastically. If you destroy too many destructibles in one zone in too short of a time span, they will stop dropping large health pick-ups and then subsequently drop far more ammo pick-ups, with some sets of destructibles not providing a single health pick-up. This makes the process of fully recovering your health, which you will likely need to do for several parts of the game, extremely tedious and it doesn’t get any better if you try to explore as you recover it. The general rule for my playthrough seemed to be that I would lose about 75% of all health recovered, which slowed recovery to a crawl.
That all being said, the game is presented wonderfully. The pixel art is detailed and animated extremely well. Particle effects are smooth and stunning in motion. While it mostly aims for a retro vibe, there are a lot of modern elements that significantly improve the overall art style.
There’s just one problem: the UI. While the in-game UI is just barely passable, the main menu and the pause menu look fairly bad. The pixel resolutions and levels of detail present in each of their elements vary widely and the borders are fairly large. It is immediately apparent that their quality doesn’t match that of the rest of the game.
Furthermore, while the PC version of the game will match your desktop resolution, even on an ultrawide monitor, it clearly wasn’t meant to. Playing in 21:9 will shift certain dialogue out of place and will even shift the save icon off the bottom of the screen. This is a bit disappointing, but the issues are easily resolved by playing in 16:9.
In all, The Mummy Demastered took me around six and a half hours to complete. Despite a few issues that I had with the design of certain zones, the abundance of endlessly spawning enemies, and the lack of interesting upgrades, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a fast-paced, fluid Metroidvania that will provide you with a decent amount of challenge. It uses what few mechanics it has in interesting ways and constantly challenges you to think outside of the box in order to keep moving forward. It’s a far better game than I ever expected from the franchise and one that is well worth picking up.
Important note: WayForward sent us a copy of The Mummy Demastered for the purpose of writing this article.