Ankh: Thara

OK, I’ll admit it: I’ve been using hints. Steam has an excellent walkthrough for this game, by user GratefulDead94, that’s organized into short sections, each devoted to a single puzzle. Here’s the thing: I’ve really been finding that I don’t need help with the puzzles. The puzzles are pretty clear. When I get stuck, it’s invariably because I missed some small, difficult-to-notice object. Using the walkthrough is basically equivalent to the feature some adventure games have where you can press a button to highlight clickables. This is in contrast to my recent experiences with The Watchmaker, which had both hard-to-notice objects and unclear puzzles.

Actually, in some ways I wish this game were a little more like The Watchmaker. The ability to zoom into first-person mode would be welcome in some places, store shelves and the like where there are lots of little things in a small area. And in one respect, the game becomes a lot more like The Watchmaker in Chapter 3, where you rescue the captive damsel I mentioned in the previous post and she joins you as a second playable character. But already I’m liking what Ankh is doing with two-person puzzles better than anything The Watchmaker did. It quickly finds a way to separate the two of them, but keep them in different parts of the same environment, where their actions can affect each other. It reminds me a lot of the sections involving Farah and the Prince working together in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m noticing that the female lead has a lot in common with Farah. For starters, her name is Thara, which is pretty blatant. Both are members of important families from lands to the east: Farah is a princess from India, Thara is the daughter of an ambassador from Arabia. Both are captives, yet both are strong-willed and argumentative and willing to insult the hero to his face. Both, against their will, wear skimpy red outfits — Farah because it’s what her captors gave her, Thara because it’s all that Assil could find to replace her prison clothes. It seems likely that Thara is not just a deliberate homage to Farah, but that this was supposed to be obvious to the player. PoP:TSoT was just two years old when Ankh was originally released, so would have been fairly fresh in people’s minds. It only took me as long as it did to notice the similarity because it’s been so long since I’ve played it.

And what of their male counterparts? I suppose there’s some similarity of personality: Assil and the Prince are both a little self-centered and annoying to people around them. Also, over the course of PoP:TSoT, the Prince gradually loses pieces of clothing, ultimately ending up shirtless. Assil is already shirtless. But Assil doesn’t have the Prince’s acrobatic ability to back up his arrogance. He’s basically Egyptian Guybrush, his successes based more on a willingness to embrace absurdity than on any kind of skill or virtue. (Indeed, multiple puzzles have emphasized his lack of skills: he can’t swim, can’t play the flute, is no good at handicrafts.) Now, when Guybrush first meets Elaine in Secret of Monkey Island, she’s instantly and bafflingly attracted to him for no apparent reason. This is an accurate depiction of how romantic relationships seem from the male perspective, but it clashes with everything else that’s established about Elaine’s personality so much as to be jarring, as if Guybrush is unwittingly exerting some kind of creepy voodoo mind control or something. Farah, meanwhile, despite a definite and believable undercurrent of sexual tension, sees the Prince first and foremost as the source of her misfortunes, and never completely comes to trust him. So what do you get when Guybrush meets Farah? I’ll be returning to this vital question later.

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