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Riddle of the Sphinx

(Imagic - Atari VCS)

by Chris Federico

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

In Game Variation 1, your Prince of Egypt has no objective but to travel northward until he reaches the Temple of Ra. Passage beyond each building along the way is automatically granted. The score is a mere formality in every variant, as the items can be repeatedly found and offered to the correct temples, and the Temple of Ra accepts treasures indefinitely. The game ends whenever you choose; it's most enjoyable as a scavenger hunt. Another potential goal, however, is to reach the Temple as quickly as possible. To see the timer in place of your score (or in place of your "inner strength," to concede to the manual), set the Right Difficulty Switch to "A."

It's very easy to stay alive. First, drink from every oasis you encounter. This alone will keep thirst from perilously diminishing your walking speed and rock-slinging distance. If you grow unsettlingly sluggish without an oasis in sight, you can use up the water jug that's recurrently supplied by the nomad traders -- as all non-treasures are -- or drink from the inexhaustible goblet, if you've obtained that treasure. Both items are pictured here, to the left of the selector box (items are never visible outside your inventory).

In addition to averting dehydration, steer clear of the wicked god Anubis, the scorpions, the thieves and the rocks hurled by the latter. Finally, touch the friendly goddess Isis whenever she appears.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

For the sake of clarity, the three southern structures -- the Phoenix and the Temples of Isis and Anubis -- are here referred to as separate buildings from the pyramids (and from the far-northern Sphinx and Temple of Ra, of course).

In Game 2, only the Sphinx requires an offering: one of the tablets. Each pyramid contains all three of these, but yields them only one at a time. The Temple of Ra accepts them all as treasures, and they're even attainable in Game 1, in which you don't have to surrender one to the Sphinx.

Pictured here is the first pyramid north of your starting point. You receive the universal key to the pyramids upon giving one of the three southern structures its required item. At least three such offerings should be made in Game 2 or 3, as the key disappears each time it's used; it's helpful to be armed with all three tablets upon approaching the Sphinx, whose preference is randomly determined when you start the game (but stays the same throughout).

No matter which structure you get it from, the key will unlock any pyramid, which will provide a tablet if you don't already have all three. In Game 2 or 3, if you'd like to arrive at the Temple of Ra with all of the tablets, you'll have to acquire the key a fourth time, after the Sphinx has been appeased. The key is most easily reclaimed from the structure south of the Sphinx (the Temple of Anubis); you'll find a pyramid along the way.

Once granted, passage beyond the Sphinx or any of the three southern structures is only withdrawn if you give the passage-specific object to the preceding structure.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

Items are individually selected from your inventory with the second controller. They're used with its fire button, and dropped with its fire button in conjunction with its downward direction.

Normal objects (non-treasures) are furnished by traders; treasures are found either by digging with the spade or touching Isis (seen here). As your treasures build up, she becomes less likely to give you new ones; but she heals your wounds and slakes your thirst every time. The more injured or parched you are, the lower the chances are that she'll give you a treasure. She never provides normal objects.

Characters arrive randomly as new terrain scrolls into view; Isis can therefore be conjured by repeatedly walking a short distance to the north and south, but this tends to be less fun than simply continuing northward or southward until you find her. She or Anubis will occasionally appear more than once on the same screen; nonetheless, they each turn up much less frequently than the other characters.

Approach Isis slowly, as you'll want to keep her in view by moving southward immediately after making contact; two or three collisions might be required to receive a treasure, especially considering that if you're wounded or thirsty, she might take care of that only; keeping her on the screen gives her intentions time to "reset" (a characteristic of the nomads as well) before you try again. Reversing after making contact isn't always possible, but it works often enough to be worth attempting.

Digging is the cumbersome way to find treasures, as you're denied the speed provided by the scepter (see below) while the spade's selected. It's recommended only when you're carrying less than three treasures, as you'll dig up another before long; otherwise, spare yourself the slow gait and seek the goddess.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

Your most prevalent enemies are thieves and scorpions; one of each is pictured here, and a trader stands to their south. More than one of any character type can be in view. Hitting Isis, Anubis or a trader with a rock will reduce your score, but only the latter will die. You'll also be penalized for colliding with Anubis or a scorpion. The final way to lose points is to offer any building an item that it doesn't accept; this includes trying to unlock a pyramid with anything but the key.

Regarding the physical dangers posed by the characters: Anubis, scorpions and thieves' rocks will wound you; thieves will wound and steal simultaneously; and traders will steal or do nothing, but only as less likely alternatives to giving you normal objects. If a trader isn't being generous, the odds favor his thieving tendencies over neutrality if any of the following is true: he's done nothing upon earlier contact; you're carrying numerous items; or you've been given something within the previous few seconds (by the same trader or a different one).

Therefore, while the typical trader is capable of supplying more than one object, it's best not to make contact a second time. Keep these traits in mind, as you'll need a few things from the traders; each of the three southern structures accepts only two specific items. Traders won't filch the key, tablets or Staff of Ra, but thieves aren't so considerate. In any case, the stolen item isn't necessarily the currently selected one.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

Unless you're playing Game 1, in which you're not required to hold the Staff of Ra while submitting treasures to the like-named temple, begin by walking southward. You set out with one normal object. In Game 1 or 2, it's the shield; acquire the spade from a trader. You already have this in Game 3. As you walk, hold down the fire button on the second controller -- while the spade's selected, of course -- to dig. (It only works while you're moving northward or southward.) You'll find one of the treasures almost immediately, as you currently possess none. You're advised to keep restarting the game until you've unearthed the scepter (pictured in this inventory), which will increase your speed while selected, making the imminent exploration much more pleasant. The resets are especially recommended in Game 3, as you don't have to seek the spade each time.

While the scepter also keeps thirst from slowing you down, you should stay hydrated anyway, as you'll obviously have to select something else on occasion, which isn't to mention that being thirsty reduces the chances that Isis will give you something. You'll grow thirstier even as you speed along, and you won't notice until you move the selector box off the scepter. For that matter, you'll still receive wounds, and die from the usual amount without having visibly slowed the slightest bit.

You can still determine your thirst and wounds, however: If you notice that you're not slinging rocks all the way to the northern border -- they should reach the top of the screen even while you're zooming northward -- it's time to drink some water (or heal yourself, if you've recently collided with multiple rocks or harmful characters). Having so many wounds that you're near death will reduce your slinging distance by half, whereas maximum thirst, while not fatal in itself, will halt your rocks directly in front of you. In the latter case, your speed without the scepter will be so low that you'll be unable to dodge anything or anyone; unless a remedy is within reach, you'll quickly be killed. So it's important to drink from each oasis along your route, at the least.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

Whenever you're traveling southward, remain far to the west, deviating only to sidestep obstructing trees; along the opposite border, a trader can appear directly in your path, when you might be disinclined to risk his latent greed. It's useful to keep three things in mind: Characters always move into view under their own power from the north, only emerging from the south when you're going that way; they never move northward; and you can keep them away (perhaps to safely take time to move the selector square) by standing in place, as long as you're the only character on the screen. Others won't appear until you walk to the north or south. Your thirst level will continue to rise during this pause, however.

Once you've reached the oasis seen here -- the only one south of your starting point -- drink from it; you'll find the Staff of Ra. This is pictured here as well, to the right of the scepter. (The Staff's headpiece is very far away, in the game Raiders of the Lost Ark.) We'll drop these things for now, just to simplify the references to the screen shots.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

Now head to the north, making contact with two or three traders on your way to the first southern structure, the Phoenix. Keep whatever they give you, as it will probably be required later. Should you be wounded by Anubis (depicted here) or a scorpion, thief or rock, bear in mind that the Tannis Leaf will be consumed if you heal yourself with it, whereas the Disc of Ra (seen to the extreme left in this inventory) -- like its thirst-quenching counterpart, the goblet -- will not vanish upon use. These cures can be disregarded if you're speeding along with the scepter; simply avoid being injured too often within a short period, and go out of your way to make contact with Isis whenever she's in view. You'll be killed by nine rocks, five to nine scorpion stings, three collisions with Anubis, or a corresponding combination. Wounds will gradually diminish, but at a much slower rate than they can be received.

No treasure disappears when used. Normal objects that do are the Tannis Leaf and water jug. The spade, another non-treasure, will endure until you dig something up. The scroll has no use, except as an offering. The shield, which is the last normal object, will protect you from rocks when selected, but not from character collisions. The tenth rock destroys it, whereas the necklace will repel rocks indefinitely (both items are also pictured here).

The treasures that function only as offerings are the crown, tablets and Ankh-like figure. Take into account that whenever the Sphinx or any of the three southern structures is given a correct item, your wounds and thirst are fully alleviated. (These impairments are gauged if the TV Type switch is set to "Black and White," no matter where the Difficulty Switches are positioned. For the record, the Left Difficulty Switch controls the collective speed of all non-player characters.)

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

The Phoenix lets you continue northward after it receives a normal object, and it provides the key in exchange for another normal object. Each of the other two southern structures (the Temples of Isis and Anubis) allows you to proceed after receiving a normal object, and trades the key for a treasure. These are all particular items.

While each passage-specific offering south of the Sphinx is only essential in Game 3, it can be made for points in any variant (as many times as you like; every item in the game can be found repeatedly). No points are awarded for unlocking a pyramid or attaining the Staff of Ra.

When you arrive at the Phoenix, touch it from the south (as with every building) while the Tannis Leaf is selected. Your northward progress has now been granted. Back away, select the scroll, and make contact again. Now that you have the key, unlock the pyramid found to the south -- you've obviously passed it on your way here -- to obtain the first tablet. This is the only pyramid to which you'll have to backtrack; the other two are located more conveniently along your forthcoming route. Pictured in this inventory are the Tannis Leaf, scroll and key.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

Return northward from the first pyramid, continuing past the Phoenix until you reach the Temple of Isis. The water jug grants passage; the crown yields the key. Beside the scepter and Staff of Ra in this inventory are the first tablet, the water jug and the crown. The second pyramid is found north of here; beyond it stands the last of the southern structures.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

The Temple of Anubis requires the shield for northward advancement, and the unidentified, Ankh-like treasure (which is shaped like a doll without legs) for the key. Both items are pictured here, to the right of the first two tablets. The final pyramid and the Sphinx stand to the north.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

If the Sphinx doesn't accept the first tablet you offer, back away, select another, and try again. Incidentally, the tablets portray a bird, scarab and lion; you attain them in that order, so a given pyramid doesn't always yield the same one.

Just ahead is the northernmost building: the Temple of Ra.

Riddle of the Sphinx screen shot

If you're playing Game 2 or 3, select the Staff before touching the Temple. The Staff merely serves as a conduit; it leaves your inventory only if it's dropped or stolen. In Game 1, it doesn't matter which item is selected.

You can carry all nine treasures to the Temple at once: the scepter, Ankh, tablets, crown, Disc of Ra, goblet and necklace. If you'd like to acquire (or regain) an absent treasure before approaching the Temple, use the scepter to zip northward and southward until you've encountered Isis enough times.

The Temple accepts your treasures one by one, halting only if you break contact. If you'd like to continue playing, prepare to back away the instant your last treasure is handed over; remain in place if you wish to complete the game. If you initially offer the Temple no treasures, the game will simply end.

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©2011 Chris Federico