It’s widely known that 2D sprite-based gaming underwent a sharp decline with the rise polygon-pushing machines. Such changes happened nearly overnight with the release of 32-bit consoles such as Sony’s Playstation as well as the growing popularity of dedicated graphics cards for PC gamers. Ironically, in Japan 2D titles remained fairly popular despite the massive technological push for a third dimension. Examples of this dichotomy include the popularity of Sega’s 32-bit 2D-focused console, the Sega Saturn as well as that of arcades. However, in time, even these last remnants of a bygone game-design era were extinguished.
Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ almost feels like a title developed during the mid-to-late 90s, in an alternate universe, one where 2D still reigned supreme. I say this because the game’s graphical style carries none of the blockyness associated with 8-bit or 16-bit titles, but neither does it contain the impressive prowess found in today’s offerings. Rather, it feels like it was developed with the limitations of a Sega Saturn or Neo-Geo in mind. I mention these two systems specifically because it make use of graphical effects like dithering in detriment of true transparency, accurately emulating limitations set forth in Sega’s and SNK’s hardware.
Fortunately, graphical fidelity is not Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ only claim to fame, the theme itself feels decidedly cartoonish in nature and adds a charm of its own. Players take control of Jonathan an archaeologist who was cursed and doomed to walk the earth as a human-sized anthropomorphic bunny, a situation which is gleefully played for laughs. Of course, not everything about this curse is necessarily negative, as Jonathan can now jump high and defend himself through a variety of moves, most of which employ his own ears. Indeed this thematic approach was not random and comes into play in a multitude of subtle ways which destabilize anyone’s reflexes in faint ways.
Jonathan doesn’t so much as jump as he initiates a hovering-leap with his ears. It acts as a single a vault one would expect in a mascot platformer, but floatier in nature which can destabilize your initial landings. You also can’t jump immediately after attacking, a limitation which isn’t featured in most platformers and cost me several hits before I adjusted. In essence, it means players who attack a foe must wait for the animation to finish before being allowed to leap into the air once again. Although Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ handles like an action platformer, it’s actually much closer to a Metroidvania. It’s still divided in stages mind you, all of which can easily by replayed at your leisure, but they all feature multiple paths, hidden persistent power-ups and areas which can only be accessed once new abilities are acquired.
It’s true Metroidvanias are a dime a dozen in current times, but Pharaoh’s Rebirth features none of Castlevania’s RPG stats or Metroid’s shooting mechanics. Rather, it’s a mix of platform-intensive sections with one-hit kills coupled with the free-roam exploratory nature of a Metroid. Thankfully, the one-hit death spikes rarely become a source of frustration as it’s easy to see which pits will harm you and which lead further into the maze. Moreover, because Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ is still divided into stages, none of the mazes become frustrating due to their sheer size.
Progressing through the game gradually reveals more of Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ Saturday morning cartoon-like story. At face value it’s nothing particularly noteworthy, but it carries enough energy and humor to provide good entertainment value. Sadly, at times this comes at the cost of gameplay flow, especially during initial segments. Too often I found myself being forced to stop moving mid-level to sit through more dialog between characters. Yes, I generally enjoyed the character’s exchanges, but not when it takes me out of the experience. Most surprising is the fact that this would have been an easy issue to fix, instead of forcing players to stop dead on their tracks, they could make these exchanges optional. It would only require an icon or message to pop-up informing you of there is a dialog section and then leave it up to the player to decide whether or not they wish to listen to the conversation.
Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ came as a pleasant surprise, it’s graphically stunning with its lush, colorful visuals and layers of parallax scrolling, but still shows enough restraint to respect the limitations of older consoles. Gameplay is reflex-heavy as one would expect with any properly designed platformer but adds depth through the use of large stages, all of which feature multiple paths and persistent Metroid-like power-ups which further encourage exploration. Simply put, Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ is a blast to play.
Pharaoh’s Rebirth+ was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Krobon Station, Kadokawa Dwango Corp.
Release Date: March 17th, 2016
Price: $9.99 via Steam