Have you heard the one about the Arabian girl who launched a revolution against the greedy Pharaoh by popping all the balloons at his birthday party? That’s what awaits in Ankh: The Lost Treasures, a short, sharp shock of a hidden object game that starts off with promise but fizzles out quicker than the Twenty-fourth Dynasty.

The story goes like this: A young Arabian girl named Thara is fretting over her sick father, who’s been afflicted with a strange illness that has left him close to death. Desperate for money, presumably to help search for a cure, she’s forced to take on a menial job at the local “Camel Wash.” Little does she know that she’s about to embark upon an adventure that will lead her to a proto-hippie commune, the Pharaoh’s palace and even into the Underworld lair of the devious Osiris himself!

While obviously not a serious look at ancient Egypt, Ankh: The Lost Treasures is a generally competent hidden object game and, the first time through at least, very challenging. All the basics are here: Generically attractive hand-drawn levels, simple jigsaw-style mini-games that pop up now and then, and various cartoonish characters, including the heroine, her groovy pals, the greasy Vizier and even the dastardly Pharaoh himself, who slide on and off the screen as the game progresses providing the narrative that moves the action forward. It’s wholly unremarkable and certainly nothing we haven’t seen before.

 The Lost Treasures

What is unusual is the game’s take-no-prisoners approach to difficulty. While Ankh: The Lost Treasures offers a “Relaxed” mode that allows unlimited time for searches, in normal mode you’ll face tight time limits and an extremely stingy hint system that combine to make the game a tough challenge for anyone.

Each level in the game is a multi-stage affair. The first, for instance, is broken up into six parts: You begin by finding a broom, then use it to shoo away various animals that have infested the Camel Wash, then clean the place up, find the camel washing equipment, grab your purse and finally track down ten pieces of a secret jigsaw puzzle through a special crystal that reveals only a tiny portion of the screen at a time. For all of this, you have nine minutes.

It’s a lot to do in a relatively short time, but what really makes it interesting is the aforementioned hint system, or, to be more accurate, the lack thereof. One hint, and one hint only, is available at the start of the game. If you use it and then get stuck a second time, you will fail the level and have to begin again. Once the first level is complete and the game map is opened, more hints can be found by returning to completed levels to search for hidden ankhs. Every finished level will cough up two or three ankhs, each worth a hint. But once they’re used up there are simply no more to be had.

It’s a heavy-handed approach, but it’s also a powerful incentive for players to be far more discretionary about where and when they use hints than in most other HOGs. More than once I found myself frantically scanning the screen while the clock ticked down, determined not to waste my last remaining hint, and to the game’s credit I was never in a position where I was truly stuck. I had to repeat a couple of levels, but never more than once before I was able to move on to the next.

 The Lost Treasures

Unfortunately the reason I didn’t get stuck is also the game’s biggest flaw. There is absolutely no randomization to Ankh: The Lost Treasures. The hidden object searches are exactly the same each and every time around. The nine minute timer in the opening level was a close shave the first time I played but by my fifth time through, I was blowing through the whole thing in well under two minutes. The entire game is like that; each play-through is precisely the same as the last, which makes repeating failed levels much easier but also reduces its replay value to just about zero.

The game suffers from a few technical issues as well. Some objects are very picky about where they’re clicked; in one instance while searching for “glasses,” I clicked three times on what I was fairly certain was the eye-wear in question, only to be denied. When I finally gave up and burned a precious hint to reveal the well-hidden specs, it turned out that I was in fact clicking on the right object, but apparently in the wrong place. Some of the descriptions are also off-base, such as a “blueberry cake” that’s actually a muffin or a “slide rule” that turned out to be an abacus. Normally these little translation blips aren’t a big deal, but given the extreme shortage of hints and the fact that just a few incorrect clicks results in a hefty time penalty, it can be very frustrating.

Other rough edges include a noticeable lack of sound in most levels, occasionally blank conversation balloons, an inconsistent ability to skip past dialogue and the inability to start a new game without exiting back to Windows and reloading. None of these are deal-breakers individually, but collectively they speak to an effort that just isn’t up to par.

Ultimately there are too many bumps in the road to make Ankh: The Lost Treasures worth recommending. It’s too short to fill much more than a lunch hour, and once it’s over there’s just no reason to go back to it again. It may not be the worst game you’ll ever play, but with the hidden object genre as crowded as it is with so many other choices it shouldn’t be too hard to find a better way to spend your time.