Ankharia is an arcade game based largely on the concept behind Acia, which was a late 80s/early 90s Commodore 64 game. I'm actually fairly sure that the giant box of C64 games I owned as a child contained Acia, but the only games I really played on my C64 were Impossible Mission, Sid Meier's Pirates, Cricket Captain, and the Shoot'Em Up Construction Kit... and that was only when I could be bothered waiting ages to load a game from a cassette instead of playing on my SEGA Master System!
This is Acia, check those slick graphics!
Anyway, nostalgia aside...
Given that it's an arcade game, the concept behind Ankharia is quite simple. The object is to clear each level of coloured boxes without being impaled by spike traps, cut up by flying razor-disks, falling into lava, being bashed in by rotating spike-strips, or running into any other type of trap that I might've missed out. The "clear the level of x whilst dodging y" concept is pretty ubiquitous within arcade gaming, with games like Pacman (clear the level of pellets whilst dodging ghosts) being obvious examples, but there are a few ways in which Ankharia shakes things up.
The first (and most important) thing is the way that blocks are cleared from the map. The hero of the game, a quite strange looking pyramidal cyclops, can only clear out blocks that are the same colour as they are. Since the only way to change colour is to step on specially placed floor-tiles spread across each map, all blocks that are a different colour to you essentially become part of the walls of the level. This forces the player to think critically about how they traverse each level, because it is quite possible to get yourself into inescapable situations if you're not thinking carefully about the order in which you break down blocks.
The second thing are floor tiles that dictate how you can move around the map. There are two such tiles, the first being arrow tiles (you're forced to move in the direction of the arrow if you step on them) and the second being teleport tiles (you're teleported to a teleport tile of the same colour somewhere else on the map). These tiles reinforce the idea that the player needs to think carefully about the order in which they break down blocks, but they also add an element of timing as both arrow and teleport tiles can push/teleport you into dangerous situations if either your timing or control aren't very good!
If you're not careful about how and when you hop onto these teleport pads (the circular coloured/black pads in the centre), then your momentum is going to carry you into the spikes on the other side!
The final gameplay mechanic that I want to talk about are "shop items", special items that can be purchased using coins that you'll find throughout Ankharia. These "shop items" actually aren't too important when it comes to completing levels, but what they are important for is collecting unique silver and gold ankhs that are required to unlock the last two levels of the game. This is as "shop items" tend to open up areas of the level that don't actually contain any blocks; they instead tend to open up areas that contain either ankhs or a large number of coins. The items in question are bombs, keys, and an item that allows you to see secret passageways. Each item is a single-use deal, so making sure you have some whenever you enter a level is pretty important.
The main problem with the gameplay is that there isn't really any sense of urgency. There isn't a scoring system that encourages you to take down the levels faster, the traps are either static or on-rails and so aren't going to chase you down and pen you in unless you let them, and there isn't any sort of timer that forces you to complete the levels in a given amount of time. What this means is that you can approach the levels in a slow and careful manner because, assuming that you don't die, you're eventually going to destroy all the blocks without being punished for doing so sub-optimally. The overall result is that even the hardest of the levels isn't too taxing on the brain, and I can't help but feel that this is a direct result of the lack of urgency required. It felt like if I was forced to rush through the levels then some of the more difficult levels would've definitely posed a solid challenge, but being allowed to take my time made it so that even the most challenging sections were far easier to get through than they could've and probably should've been. I'm not someone who likes ridiculous difficulty levels (for example, bullet-hell games are my least liked variety of shoot'em up), but this game could definitely do with a bit more spice.
Another thing that I found strange is the way the difficulty of the game changes as you progress through the levels. I should probably explain that there are ten levels in total and each of them contains an "easy", "medium" and "hard" stage. New stages are initially unlocked by completing a certain number of the preceding stages, but the stages that make up the ninth and tenth levels can only be unlocked by collecting the silver and gold ankhs that I mentioned earlier. Because of how the levels are laid out, some of the "medium" and "hard" stages will have to be played before you'll unlock new "easy" stages. The problem is that the hardest "easy" stage is easier than even the easiest "medium" stage, which results in the difficult going through a series of peaks and troughs as you bounce between unlocking new "easy" stages and having to play "medium" or "hard" stages. Being someone who is used to arcade games following an upwards curve terms of in difficulty, this was something that I hadn't expected to happen and, although it isn't a big deal, I figured I would mention it as something that I found very weird.
The level layout of Ankharia, showing how the final level requires eight golden ankhs to unlock.
I suppose it doesn't help that there is the occasional glitch, notably resulting in situations were enemies fly out-of-bounds and no longer pose a threat. Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence.
Well, that's one way to avoid traps...
Some mention should be given to the graphics and music, which do a really good job of conjuring up a thoroughly Egyptian aesthetic. Being someone who was brought up on shows and films depicting ancient cultures as people who constantly filled their temples with deadly tricks and traps, this design choice struck me as an incredibly good fit. You could easily imagine Indiana Jones throwing himself through these environs in search of some ridiculous artefact, the only problem with this image being that there aren't any snakes!
This is a solid arcade romp that possesses the necessary charm and simplicity required for an entertaining experience over the short amount of time it takes to complete. Unfortunately, the experience is somewhat let down by both underwhelming and sporadic difficulty, coupled with slow pacing resulting from the lack of urgency required. 6/10.