Pharaoh’s Tomb is one of the earliest titles in the Apogee library being released back in 1990. It was designed by one of the key members of Apogee, George Broussard, before he became part of the company. He originally released the game under the Micro F/X name. It uses the same FAST engine developed by Todd Replogle that was used in the games Monuments of Mars and Arctic Adventure which were both produced around the same time.
I had a quick look into other titles developed by George Broussard and found that Pharaoh’s Tomb was his first commercially released platform puzzle game. This may explain some of the design issues I’ll mention and why Arctic Adventure was vastly improved over this title.
Like the other games, Pharaoh’s Tomb uses both CGA for graphics and PC speaker for sound, which are about the same quality as the other games: about as good as you can do with the technology used. From what testing I have managed, I think it would have worked reasonably well on even the oldest PC’s except perhaps 8088 based machines.
The game has you playing as an archaeologist called Nevada Smith, an obvious reference to Indiana Jones. You job is basically to explore a pyramid gathering treasure as you go, and of course survive the various traps you’ll find along the way. Many of the hazards are similar to those found in the other FAST games, but there are a couple of additions.
Something that struck me as soon as I started playing was how much harder Pharaoh’s Tomb is compared to the other games. One of the main issues is the collision detection, which seems to be much more of a problem. It feels like the designer has used the collision detection to make the game harder rather than design the levels to minimise the issue. Combined with having a limited number of lives this makes it very difficult to progress very far.
The designer didn’t stop there however, some treasures and objects are either totally unreachable or trap you, leaving you alive but unable to complete the level. This forces you to memorise the levels and just plain feels a bit unfair. It can be quite frustrating.
Interestingly the game has a screen talking about the collision detection system that the others lack. It explains that all the objects use bounding boxes for collision detection basically as part of the FAST engine and that you should be careful when near objects. I think they must have known the collision detection was an issue, but perhaps didn’t have a good solution.
Because of these issues Pharaoh’s Tomb unfortunately doesn’t play as well as either Arctic Adventure or Monuments of Mars. It still has some of the same charm, but the frustrations with the collision detection and level design make it much less fun to play. Like the others it was made freeware in 2009, but I would suggest you play the other games. Arctic Adventure retains much of the difficulty, but makes it less frustrating with unlimited lives and many other additions. Monuments of Mars similarly has unlimited lives, but also works better with the collision detection resulting in what feels like less unfairness.