My daughter and I are at loggerheads on Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx. She’s adamant that it’s a modern classic. She says that it’s at least a 4 out of 5, and demands that I nudge my score up. When did this seven year-old start to realise that games got scores? More worrying, when did she decide that she had some kind of power over them?
But it raises interesting questions about reviewing kids’ games. I’m conflicted. This is a game made for Miraculous fans who are quite considerably younger than me. My daughter is both of those things. She has a Miraculous costume and a Tiki toy and I very much do not.
So, know that I have nudged the score up a half-mark. That’s the compromise. It hurts me deeply to do it – this is puddle-deep and graphically broken – but my daughter has me questioning whether those things matter, in the broader, younger state of things.
If you’re wondering what on earth a Miraculous is, then allow us to assist. Miraculous is a French animation that follows the story of Marinette and Adrien, two students living in Paris, who can become superheroes Ladybug and Cat Noir when danger demands it. Their powers derive from their ‘Miraculous’, jewels that are coveted by the evil Hawk Moth, who happens to be Adrien’s father. There’s also a love-quadrilateral at play, as Marinette loves Adrien, but Adrien (as Cat Noir) loves Ladybug. Neither Ladybug or Cat Noir know each other’s secret identities, so it’s all very Carry on Up The Seine.
Each episode has Hawk Moth ‘akumatizing’ a citizen of Paris. He spots someone downbeat and uses an akuma moth to feed on their negative emotions and turn them into a temporary supervillain. The scallywag. It’s a ‘supervillain of the week’ format, and it’s precisely the template that Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx uses too. There are six villains at the end of six levels, and it’s your job, as Ladybug, Cat Noir or both, to de-Akumatise them.
Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx leans into the agility of its two main characters. The levels are almost all on the rooftops of Paris in some form, and you are leaping from chimney to platform to balcony in an attempt to progress. We’re clearly not in Mirror’s Edge territory here, but parkouring and double-jumping over the top of Parisian houses is not only Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx’s best trick, but it’s a genuinely entertaining one. There are Crackdown-like orbs in both obvious and not-so-obvious places, and they guide you through the level as well as give you a sense of accomplishment as you go. Macarons are liberally scattered about too (I’m not sure I’d eat a macaron left on a pigeon-covered rooftop). But it’s in the speed and gracefulness of which you can navigate Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx that it is most successful.
Occasionally, the camera swings down and you’re in the midst of combat. We’d give these sections a passing grade, just about, mostly because they’re so hard to fail. A handful of enemies surround you, themed to the current villain, and you get to do an extremely watered down version of the fisticuffs in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Enemies flash an exclamation mark as they are about to attack, and you can press A to backflip over them or cartwheel away. Then you’re frantically mashing X to attack them, or B to bop them on the nose with a stunning yo-yo.
It’s simple but monotonous, as there are few changes to the formula over the course of the game. A few enemies need to be stunned before being attacked, while others are sponges to your attacks, or chuck the odd projectile. They appear more often than they should, and the arenas are nothing more than blank, open spaces.
If you’re my daughter, though, then these are great fun. She’s not much for combat in other games, but the extremely forgiving nature of it, and the button-mashy approach meant she didn’t need to pass the pad to Dad, and she could nail the game with relative ease. This is where her and my opinions diverge, I’m afraid.
Bosses are a different matter. They are a weird bunch, and I’m not quite sure what developer Magic Pockets were thinking. The difficulty is ramped up on these sections, far beyond the rest of the game. My daughter felt thoroughly bullied by these bosses (some, like a worm and a werewolf, are extremely poor at telegraphing what they want from you), and she was on the cusp of giving up completely. I’ll freely admit that some bosses were completed by me through luck rather than judgment. And a boss that’s a pop quiz on the TV series can go do one. It was my turn to ask my daughter to help me.
It’s worth noting that there aren’t many levels. Six-and-a-half are on offer here, and while they are reasonably varied with hidden paths to follow, they are soon complete. We’d suggest that there’s four, maybe five hours of play here, and that’s going to test your valuation of £39.99.
Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx shows a modicum of ambition by having an explorable Paris as a hub. It’s here as the glue between levels, offering small snatches of dialogue and miniquests to segue into the levels proper. You’re finding witnesses to a crime, or following trails of silk, and they couldn’t be simpler. Paris is also where an upgrade shop lies, allowing you to convert those Crackdown balls and macarons into stat-increases and combat maneuvers (more depth than you might expect, although you will have to grind levels repeatedly – or on the game’s New Game+ mode, unlocked on completion – if you want them all).
Finally, there’s a Persona-lite friendship system, as you can chat to friends to improve your standing with them. It’s rubbish, though, no matter how much Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx tries to push it. Navigating Paris to find these characters is excruciating, as you are locked to very specific paths in a city that presents itself as an open world. Just because there’s a road, crossing or door, doesn’t mean you can actually walk through them, oh no. And you’ll have to find every character after every mission if you want to arbitrarily fill their friendship bars.
This specter of odd design decisions hangs over Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx, and gets compounded by extreme graphical hiccups. On the design front, the story is told in a hodgepodge, jigsaw-like fashion, as you are teleported around the world in an attempt at storytelling. Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx seems to be wary of leaving you to find or come across its plot on your own, so it keeps lifting you up like an action figure and dropping you where it wants.
But it’s the graphical glitches that gave us headaches. In certain sections, the frames-per-second would drop to miniscule levels, and we were playing on Xbox Series X. The werewolf boss would slow to a crawl, as the game found it impossible to handle just two characters in an arena. Combat with more than four enemies would become something like a flipbook.
Then there’s the pop-in, the unloaded textures, and the worst of them all, the stuttering, which can give Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx a strobe-like effect. We’re not really sure why the game is struggling so hard and so obviously: this isn’t a game that’s pushing at the envelope in any way. It just feels unoptimised and rushed.
But herein lies the conflict with my seven year-old. She didn’t notice or care. Graphical bugs are either invisible to her, or all part of some mysterious video game problem that she doesn’t understand. We mentioned the other issues to her and she waved them off. It doesn’t matter if Paris is on-rails rather than free to explore: she just loved the opportunity to run about as Marinette rather than Ladybug. She didn’t care that there were only six levels: they’re fun to replay.
Two people played our copy of Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx. The young reviewer adored it, prancing across rooftops and taking down gangs of enemies with simple button presses. The older reviewer snarled and tutted their way through it, distracted by graphical bugs, poorly conceived bosses and a condensed runtime. We’ll let you decide who to trust, and it probably won’t be me.
You can buy Miraculous: Rise of the Sphinx from the Xbox Store