STAFF REVIEW of Pharaonic (Xbox One)

Saturday, August 6, 2016.
by Cole Jackson

Pharaonic Box art I have a strange relationship with indie games. On one hand, one of my favourite all time games started as a small indie game made over a weekend in a guys basement. On the other hand, a lot of indie games come out and they just aren’t as polished as they could be. They lack a certain punch that AAA titles tend to have. That being said, indie games can provide a great experience once you accept that you’re not playing the next AAA title with an unlimited budget. They are usually made by a smaller team (even some by a single person) and a smaller budget. Pharaonic is the type of game that’s not entirely polished, as it has its issues here and there, but in the end can be a fun experience.

Pharaonic is a side-scrolling game set in an Egyptian backdrop. The graphics and different environments really do a good job of setting the tone. You play as a prisoner who is awoken by a strange wizard and told to escape, and that’s about all you’re told. The story and dialogue unfolds as you read in-game speech bubbles. It definitely feels like the game could have been enhanced with voice acting. When you speak to NPCs it definitely feels oddly quiet, and it’s a noticeable issue that kind of lurks in your mind when it happens.

You quickly acquire your first weapon, a torch, and move through the prison trying to escape. The interesting thing about the levels in this game is that while you only move side to side, there are doorways that go in and out of the screen, though your viewpoint always changes with the shift. This allows the game's levels to be more than just scrolling left to right, and it gives the experience a small sense of exploration. As much as this helps, the game still feels very linear though.

Combat is punishing, and feels very much like a Dark Souls game (yes, I just made that comparison). The controls work well; the right shoulder button has two varying strengths of attacks. You can also block, dodge, and parry, which all are very important in your success in this game. Don’t expect to just mash buttons as you attack your enemies as you will need to block and time your attacks well or you will find yourself dying fast and dying often. This can be a frustrating experience if you haven’t saved in a while.

Make sure you save often by praying at shrines found in the games levels, as these are also where you heal yourself. If you happen to die you are returned to the last shrine you were at, so missing any and you will be sent quite far back and all the enemies you previously faced will respawn. You then have to fight all the enemies over again to return to where you died and recover your memories. Multiple times I lost over a half an hour of gameplay because I just missed a shrine. This is gameplay that seems to be borrowed from the Dark Souls games, and it doesn’t try to be anything different. It feels like a scaled down version that tries to fit the side-scrolling progression.

The upgrade system is very simple; you get gems as you progress and you can spend them to make you more powerful in different areas or purchase items like light shields or heavy weapons. You also find weapons and armor in chests and from enemy drops, which are very standard for this type of game. This could have been more interesting with abilities, or even if they added more ways to upgrade your weapons rather than just pure stats and damage.

Pharaonic doesn’t do much to turn video games on their head, but for the most part it does what it’s meant to do. It’s a vicious side-scrolling combat adventure that punishes even the tiniest of mistakes. Some people enjoy rage-inducing games, and that’s ok as that is exactly what this game does. Sure, the combat is enjoyable, exploring is fun, and the graphics are easy on the eyes, but the game is fun until the fifth or sixth time you die and have to restart and re-do everything you just did, and no amount of satisfaction will make that a worthwhile experience. At the end of the day if you’re not patient, and don’t take your time with the combat that is found in Pharaonic, you will not have a good time with it, and that is something you must consider before hitting the 'buy' button in the Xbox Store.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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