Ah, ancient Egypt.

Land of forbidden secrets, towering pyramids, mysterious boy-kings and, uh… hieroglyphic-matching races against the clock?

Hey – go with the flow in Mysteries of Horus, an easily-learned, tough-to-master arcade outing that’ll tax both your reflexes and gray matter. Despite a few textual inconsistencies and technical glitches, it’s a relatively diverting amusement capable of helping you kill some time between more captivating and epic adventures.

All you need to know to begin: The ancient gods need appeasing. So what’s the secret to ensuring their happiness?

Easy! Just slot appropriate symbols – i.e. birds, spheres, squiggles, bowls, rectangles and prostrate figures – into a series of silhouettes which quickly roll along the screen in a stack of moving horizontal rows. The number of symbols you can use to fill in such holes is, naturally, limited.

Each time you successfully place an object on these conveyor belts, points are added to your score, up to set maximums. Collect enough, and you’ll earn an amulet (the type of which determines how many points you can potentially nab), several of which may need to be retrieved in order to complete any given stage.

Of course, the more time taken, the more points are subtracted from the actual number awarded when you obtain each amulet. (You can boost totals by making point-multiplying combos, created when two or more objects of similar color are placed next to one another.)

What’s more, to advance past each level, you not only need to obtain amulets – you also have to beat a minimum target score. Meaning that while it is possible to technically finish any given scenario, well… You won’t necessarily beat it. Hence the reason you’re afforded three lives, or chances, with which to complete the game’s 100 challenging puzzles.

A few things you should also be aware of:

  • Making combos grows trickier the further into the title you progress, partly due to increasing speeds. Difficulty also ramps up based on the level of infrequency with which certain (and certain-colored) objects appear.

    Collectible gems can be retrieved by making matches using silhouettes containing these jewels. They’re also awarded at the end of every stage based on your performance. You can spend these items between scenarios purchasing god-appeasing magical gifts or amulets that offer higher potential point maximums.

  • The gods grow angrier with easy passing second, as represented through a shrinking meter which represents their dwindling satisfaction. The more unhappy they are at the end of every level, the less gems you’ll be offered. To regain favor, you can either make huge combos, or offer up the magic gifts you’ve collected in exchange for varying levels of forgiveness.

  • Bonus items occasionally appear, letting you earn extra points, slow time, cause spaces currently-selected pieces can fit within to flash and instantly fill in any gap.

  • A discard box offers the opportunity to immediately scrap any piece, which will randomly be replaced by another object in the limited pool of symbols you can select from.
Surprisingly thought-provoking, play soon shifts from leisurely to frantic, as you realize maintaining score minimums by feverishly slamming down symbols is imperative. Tempting as trying for big combos proves, sometimes, your only recourse is letting spare shapes fall where they may.

Alas, this unpredictability isn’t always a plus – luck, not skill, all too often dictates whether you’ll emerge triumphant. But determining when to hang onto gems, when to spend them on magic gifts and when an amulet (and hence, max point score) upgrade is mandatory is a fun science unto itself. As such, you’ll find yourself quickly immersed in the thrill of the hunt.

Bearing this in mind, you’ll largely enjoy the overall experience, along with its above-average audiovisual presentation. A few issues worth mentioning, though…

Once selected, pieces can only be dropped by placing them into a silhouette – it’s important to watch where you click. Text translations (the game was made overseas) are often rough and confusing. Fatal crashes to the desktop which result in irrecoverable saved games are frequent too.

Nonetheless, so long as you’re willing to stomach these occasionally frustrating setbacks, there’s considerable entertainment value to be had. The Mysteries of Horus aren’t all worth uncovering. Still, those that are rapidly prove worth their weight in antique gold.