Did you feel that you didn’t see enough of our friend Assil and his crew of misfits from Ankh? Not to worry. The gang from Ancient Egypt is back for a second engagement in Ankh: Heart of Osiris. I’ve been playing a preview version for several hours now, and I’m happy to say that Osiris looks to be a worthy successor to the award-winning original.

Ankh: Heart of Osiris is a point-and-click adventure played from a third person perspective. The game features a lot of character interaction, exploration, and inventory puzzling. The controls are simple and the inventory is easy to use. The developers have laced the game with wacky dialog, facetious commentary and plot situations that are passing strange. It’s the kind of game you play with a big grin on your face.

You Can Bring a Camel to Water, but Can You Make It Drink?

Assil’s character hasn’t changed much since the climactic events at the end of Ankh. He’s still an amiable slacker who would rather relax and have a beer with his friends than save the world. Getting Assil into (and out of) the situations he encounters requires ingenious inducements supplied by powerful people and/or deities. Being cursed, robbed, pushed into a tomb or onto a bed of nails is par for the course for our hero – and the only thing keeping him from couch potato status.

As Osiris begins, Assil and Thara (daughter of the Arabian Ambassador) are no longer on speaking terms. Assil has received a seductive letter from the Pharaoh’s daughter (you can see the lipstick mark on the letter where the Princess has kissed the page). Thara apparently feels that she has more important matters to deal with, and has teamed up with the lost Israelites in order to foment a revolution. Thara is fanatically determined – her voice and demeanor have morphed into those of a stern leader. Surprisingly, she looks even more voluptuous in a skirt than she did wearing a cloth proclamation.

Other familiar actors make the scene. Assil’s friend Fatima has opened up a trendy bar on a Cairo corner. The myopic tailor has become a myopic barber (apparently, he likes working with sharp instruments). Oh yeah, and Osiris (the half-dead god of the underworld) has hired thugs to steal that powerful artifact – the Ankh -- from Assil.

When Egyptians Have Sequelitis

A cutscene in a graveyard sets the scene (no opening music video this time, at least not in the preview version). Then the first part of Osiris is a flashback to events that play out on the streets of Cairo. Graphics are cartoon-like and in full 3D. In Ankh, Cairo was a place of brilliant sunshine and stone structures bathed in gold and orange. In the sequel, you first assume the role of Assil and explore those same streets at night. After dark the place looks bewitching. The glow of lanterns emerges from blue and purple shadows. Palm trees and gauzy curtains sway in the evening breeze.

Later, in the Pharaoh’s palace, you play as Thara, who races from the kitchen to the throne room while looking for the basement. And then the game makes its way to a desert quarry where you play as the Pharaoh. In this location you’ll rediscover the glaring light of day, plus enough sand to satisfy the most ardent desert lover. Teams of slaves cut and transport stones to be used in the pyramids. There’s rickety scaffolding everywhere and a primitive conveyor belt with gigantic blocks moving along it. A ripe setup for sight gags? Of course.

What am I Supposed to Do with This?

So far all of the puzzles in Osiris have involved manipulating the inventory (including one mild timed puzzle). What to use and when is sometimes obvious. At other times the challenges are more difficult, multi-stepped and clever. Odd connections exist between structures and various items -- the puzzles require you to understand the connections.

There’s a sequence at the Wild Mummy where you have to make the customers happy. Each customer has a “smilie” face floating above his head, which either shows a wide grin or a tight-lipped glare. Unfortunately, what makes one customer happy tends to annoy another, so achieving one hundred percent smiling-smilie status is well nigh impossible. It’s great fun to watch Assil going back and forth, trying to mollify everybody. (Hey, now that I think about it, that’s pretty much what he does for the whole game!)

No One Expects the Coderad

Osiris has an “everything old is new again” form of copy protection, which hearkens back to the Golden Age of adventure gaming. The game will ship with a coderad (a type of code wheel) that you will need to learn to manipulate at the right time(s). I’ve seen a picture of the code wheel -- it’s colorful enough to hang as a decoration from your car’s rear view mirror, but resist this temptation. You do not want to lose this code wheel. If you do, then you won’t be able to finish the game. Take a good look at it before starting the game, as (at least in the preview version) the game does not make it obvious where information from the code wheel should be applied.


The only downside I’ve encountered so far may simply be a personal whim. The vocal artist for Thara has changed since Ankh, and I’m still not used to her. Thara now sounds a lot like Natalie Portman playing the official, formal role of Queen Amidala (who, as you may recall, never cracked a smile). Thara also seems uncomfortable expressing even the mildest form of humor -- a problem when she is supposed to be delivering a comic line. With other characters all making silly fools of themselves, Thara seems like a thorough stick-in-the-mud. (Of course it’s entirely possible that she may undergo a change of heart later in the game and loosen up enough to become yet another hapless misfit.)

Bottom Line

As may be apparent by now, there are many things you can enjoy about Osiris without playing Ankh, but I would strongly recommend that you play the original game first. There are so many common characters and plot references that Osiris will seem confusing to someone who hasn’t played the first game.

If you like laughing as you game, you are going to want to play both games anyway. Buy the original game in anticipation of the second, and when Ankh: Heart of Osiris releases, indulge yourself with an Ankh gaming marathon.

Would you like to learn more about Ankh: Heart of Osiris? Check out the full review by Looney4Labs.