The second most famous Egyptian queen, behind Cleopatra of course, is the beautiful Nefertiti. Her death and burial remain a mystery that archaeologists and historians around the world would love to solve, and Curse of the Pharaoh: Quest for Nefertiti explores that in a unique adventure based a fictional search for her tomb that centers on step-siblings Anna and William.

The story begins when Anna receives a frantic letter from William. He has been searching for Nefertiti’s tomb in Egypt, but now believes that his time is short and that he is in grave danger. Armed only with a journal, Anna must travel to Egypt to find her step-brother by following clues that William has left behind and solving the mysterious puzzles of the ancient Egyptian structures themselves.

Anna’s search takes her to Giza, Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and other locations famous for their ancient tombs. All the while, she can’t quite shake the feeling that she is being stalked by suspicious characters.

The main type of puzzle you’ll encounter is the spot-the-difference variety, where you’ll have to examine two nearly-identical scenes side-by-side and click on any objects that are out of place of different (for example, a jug might be blue in one picture, but green in the other; one corner might have a spider web in it while the other is bare; and so on).

In each scene you’ll pick up one special item that must be placed in a specific spot in another scene to complete the puzzle; for example, placing a necklace onto a statue, fitting a scarab onto a wall, or replacing the lid of a chest. You can switch between scenes by accessing your map.

In the next round, you’ll search for a series of hidden object based on their silhouettes and collect pieces to fit together a pharoah’s mask. The final puzzle of each location involves using the objects you’ve collected to solve an Azada-style brain-teaser.

Although it might sound complicated, the gameplay is actually quite intuitive and everything is logically presented. As an additional challenge, you can search for coins hidden in the scenes and use them to purchase items at a store, including extra hints, a double cursor (to make it easier to compare the two scenes), and several Egyptian-themed mini-games to play for fun including variations of Memory, Simon Says, Wack-a-Mole and a game called “Push” where pushing down one statue affects the others and the goal is to get them all down.

Too much random clicking causes the lights to be turned off for a short time, and you’ll have to rely on your tiny flashlight to continue searching until the lights come back on. You can buy a flashlight from the store to make the radius of light a little bigger. It’s a clever way of punishing the player for random clicks rather than just arbitrarily docking time off a clock.

It’s evident that a lot of love and care went into the making of Curse of the Pharaoh; the scenes – of ancient catacombs, tombs and archaeological dig sites – are suitably atmospheric, and the heart-pumping music compliments them well. Putting the focus on find-the-difference puzzles instead of hidden object challenges is a unique approach that gives the title a welcome freshness.

The main complaint with the game is that it’s on the short side. Players experienced with this type of game should be able to finish all nine locations and 62 levels in Hard mode in a couple of hours. The game has a tendency to hand-hold the player – if too much time has passed between clicks, a hint will flash on the screen to show the location of one of the objects. Coupled with an already generous hints system (you can buy hints from the store or click on the randomly appearing Wipi character to get more), and the game often seems too easy.

It’s a shame that the auto-hints feature couldn’t be turned off. Another thing we wished could be turned off was the Store shortcut, whose constant blinking on the main screen was distracting to say the least.

Overall, however, Curse of the Pharaoh: The Quest for Nefertiti is a strong first effort from Calgary-based Ph03nix New Media. While the game doesn’t offer the same level of challenge as, say, Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate or Dream Chronicles, it’s still a compelling and well put together adventure – especially for those with an interest in ancient Egypt.