There are casual games, and then there are juggernauts – titles so popular, awe-inspiring and addictive they literally serve to define entire genres. Case in point: Action-packed puzzler Luxor, which prompted 40 million-plus downloads and sold upwards of 500,000 copies last year on the strength of its addictive ball-blasting, Egyptian-themed play.
Predictably, the powers that be have now brought us an equally ambitious sequel: Luxor 2, offering 88 new lavishly decked out levels and 13 power-ups, over a quarter of which are completely original. While light on changes to the standard “group three like-colored spheres to make them disappear” pattern-matching formula, immense production values and a host of smaller-scale innovations make it a worthy heir to the throne.
Here’s how it works.
Every stage consists of a sumptuous, pseudo-3D backdrop. (Stunning computer-generated objects like chalices, murals, temples, ruins and headdresses add spatial depth to 2D planes, creating the illusion of volume). Chains of colored balls sinuously snake along its pathways, drawing ever-closer to a gate/pyramid which – if reached – causes you to lose one of a limited supply of lives. Run out of lives, and your progress comes to an abrupt end, so do what comes natural. Controlling a winged scarab located at the bottom of the screen with your mouse, blast varying-hued orbs at the onrushing horde. (Left-clicking shoots, while right-clicking lets you swap out your current ammo for the next – and hopefully more conveniently-colored – randomly-generated ball.)
Match three or more balls of the same color and boom: Spheres shatter in a spray of colored sparks, boosting your score and potentially dropping power-ups as well. Think color clouds that paint multiple balls the same shade. Daggers you can spit to destroy orbs. Explosive fireball attacks. Don’t forget bonus items that slow/rewind advancing chains either. Or, for that matter, scorpions which wiggle along destroying all in their path and lighting bolts that arc forward in a straight line, cutting a swath through onrushing obstacles too. Alas, no negative power-ups are utilized, which robs the title of an extra layer of commonly-encountered challenge.
Any gaps created via this process are instantly eliminated if the orbs which bookend both ends of the space are similarly colored, as they’ll instantly be drawn together, creating opportunities for giant combos. Clear all balls from the board to fill a progress-tracking meter and travel further along a gorgeously rendered “cloth” map which looks like the backing for a plastic-miniature-strewn tabletop wargame.
While frantic, especially on later stages, the blow-by-blow excitement never frustrates. Perfectly-paced action benefits from the addition of subtle play balancing effects. The closer you come to defeat, the more (and better) power-ups are awarded, plus the greater frequency with which desperately-needed ball colors appear. This being the case, you’ll constantly feel compelled to push forward through jewel- or hieroglyphic-encrusted settings, if only to see what further surprises await.
Stages can drag on, with some featuring a seemingly endless supply of rapidly-advancing chains. But you always have incentive to progress, whether in the form of arcade-style shoot ’em up bonus levels which divide each major section of the map (think Galaga, only starring a blade-spewing scarab), or collectible badges, awarded for feats like completing levels without losing a life. Treasure (gems, rings, extra-life-bestowing ankh-stamped coins) also rains from the sky when you complete a scenario, so you can always go back after beating a round and try for a higher score too. Ranks ranging from farm hand to pharaoh are additionally awarded based on performance.
Suitable for 15-minute breaks or extended gaming sessions, the outing excels primarily for its brilliant level designs as well as stunning sound and special effects. Raindrops pool in puddles and gold glistens while a movie-ready orchestral score frames frenetic attempts to fend off spheres which duck under awnings, hide in tunnels and repeatedly worm their way on- and off-screen. Perspective is everything as well. Balls scale so as to appear an appropriate distance or angle away, meaning much more careful aiming is required, even than usual. (Assuming, that is, you can guess the path they’ll choose to traverse in the first place.)
In short, there’s little in the way of revolutionary touches here – even if you’ll be hard-pressed to notice and/or care. Technically, none of the four highlighted game modes (including Adventure, Practice, endless contest Survival and the hidden, hard-to-master Challenge of Horus) boasts much in the way of storyline or surprises. Play mechanics such as ricocheting walls, multiple cannons and destructible target-based objectives previously introduced by rivals are also glossed over.
Still, Luxor 2 operates on a simple principle: If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. And we’re just fine with that. Taking proven play mechanics and surrounding graphic assets and glossing them to a polished shine, it’s precisely what a sequel should be… More of what you liked about the original, less of what you didn’t. Happy downloading!