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Jul 28, 2014

Pharaoh's Tomb Retro Review

It is unusual for APG to review a shareware program, since they are often hard to obtain and may be found in so many different versions. Pharaoh's Tomb is so readily available and comes so highly recommended, however, that we have made an exception.

Indiana Jones had a few spears thrown at him while he searched for the lost ark. Sure, he got caught in some pretty hairy booby traps on his crusades for ancient relics, but none of them compare to the perils faced by intrepid explorer Nevada Smith in his 80-level trek to find the well-hidden Pharaoh's Tomb.

In this lively and imaginative quartet of arcade-adventure games, players assume the role of Nevada Smith with the objective of finding that lost tomb with its reportedly vast array of archaeological — and golden — treasures. At each succeeding, more challenging level (with some easy ones thrown in along the
way), one faces nastier booby traps and rabid tomb-enslaved monsters.

What makes this series so successful is the masterfully clever programming and screen design, the artful exploitation of available screen colors, and the unpredictability of each level. The games use a special animation system, FAST (Fluid Animation Software Technology), that provides flicker-free movement, even
on older and slower PCs. One can also move around via a usercustomized keyboard interface. The space bar controls jumping, one of the primary activities and necessary in order to escape poison darts, climb the serpentine walls, and collect both points and extra life bonuses hidden randomly in the walls.

Poison darts are the least of the obstacles. There is, at least, some warning when the traps which launch them are triggered. There are also moving jaws of death that rise from the floor and descend from the ceiling, not to mention the ubiquitous vampire bats which are ready to feast upon Nevada's carcass, or the 16-ton weights that spring from the wall in order to crush him when he isn't fast enough. Those crafty Egyptians didn't want anyone messing in their tombs, so they left zombies behind to foil Nevada's plans. And if that's not enough, there are platforms which move both vertically and horizontally, requiring expert timing to navigate. One slip and one can fall into a pit of razorsharp
spears. Along a number of paths are essential magic scrolls. Find them and, usually, either booby traps will disappear or new exits and entrances may appear. Still, even the scrolls are unreliable. Some might cause Nevada to be entombed forever at that level. When that happens, the game must be saved at the current level and then restored to begin again at the start of that level.

If Pharaoh's Tomb teaches anything, it is to be aware of one's surroundings. The wise explorer looks
around and ahead at each level to see what needs to be done to master the level and move ahead. Players get five "lives" to play with and two spears, but it is possible to earn more of both along the tortuous expedition. Note that one does not have to eliminate all the obstacles which crop up along the
path in order to continue the journey. Sometimes, evasion is better than elimination, so that players can save those spears for when they are really needed.

Sometimes, players will have to direct Nevada's journey beyond what seems an obvious distance in order to trigger the release of a hidden passage. Sometimes it will look like there is a trigger for a hidden passage, but it turns out not to be the type of 'passage' anyone would intend to take so early in life. The wise player is constantly aware of the tomb environment and explores the walls whenever possible to find the hidden points and eggs of life located there. Yet it is necessary to jump at precisely the right moment and correct angle to avoid those occasional booby traps.

Pharaoh's Tomb is obviously a take-off on the Indiana Jones films and the actual play is highly reminiscent of the classic Miner 2049er arcade game that was such a hit on Atari and Commodore 8-bit machines a few years back. The combination works well and will provide hundreds of hours of fun.

The programs use CGA graphics which are quite similar to some of the action games of a couple of years back, but they are not without some merit. Also, those who have faster machines will be glad to know that there is an automatic adjustment to the processor speed of the IBM or compatible PC used.
Some will be disappointed that Pharaoh's Tomb offers no mouse support and only works with the user-selected keyboard commands. Included with the purchase of each game is a hint sheet and a secret cheat key code to give players unlimited lives and spears. The package will also contain some free samples of
other games Apogee produces.

Scott Miller of Apogee Software is so sure that computer gamers will love the game that he offers it for free trial. The first game comes as shareware and can be found for downloading on virtually every major bulletin board and service (CompuServe, GEnie, Executive Network, for example). After sampling the first 20 levels, most players find themselves "hooked." Fortunately, the low price for the entire package is just as enticing as the game play. "Raiders of the Lost Tomb," "Pharaoh's Curse,"
"Temple of Terror," and "Nevada's Revenge" are the four games that will follow. It's an outstanding value.

Developer(s) Micro F/X Software
Publisher(s) Apogee Software
Designer(s) George Broussard
Engine FAST
Platform(s) PC-DOS
Release date(s) 1990
Genre(s) Platform
Mode(s) Single-player


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