We need to talk about fall damage. There’s an old r/gaming meme on Reddit that says you should always check if a game has a) friendly fire and b) fall damage before you do anything else. There’s a reason the meme exists: they’re both annoying as sin, so you want to make sure that you’re not going to get ambushed by either. But the meme is also old because no modern games really dabble. Fall damage isn’t really a thing anymore, outside of some simulation-heavy games that try not to put you in those situations anyway.
Pyramid Quest – surprise! – has fall damage. Not only does it have fall damage, but it kicks in after the smallest of falls, and they are one-hit kills. The fall-distances leading to death were so small that we were left in a perpetual state of fear that any drop, any arcing jump, would leave us as a splat with a hat.
Pyramid Quest then creates levels with tons of drops, plenty of moving platforms, and umpteen situations where you are in debate about whether you’d make the jump or not. I’m reasonably convinced that I would be able to land some of the jumps in Pyramid Quest. It’s a Fall Damage Simulator and I am not having any of it.
It seems petty to call out a singular mechanic as a reason to dislike a game. I feel a bit dirty that it’s dominated the opening four paragraphs of the review: that’s a lot of ink on one thing. But it’s THAT egregious. This is, after all, a 2D platformer in the Super Mario vein. A 2D platformer puts you in full control of a space and then chucks challenge after challenge at you. That’s the joy, that’s the difficulty. Mario, Sonic, Crash, Spyro and the rest have never had to contend with vertigo and whether they’re going to completely restart, simply because they misjudged the flag at the end of the level.
One of the reasons that fall damage has bobbed to the top of this review is that everything else in Pyramid Quest is a thin porridge of mediocrity. There’s barely anything to recommend it, and – in turn – it makes it very hard to find the motivation to push on. When you know the next level’s going to be much like the last, it can be a trudge.
Each level in Pyramid Quest takes place in the same pyramid, so prepare to see a lot of beige and yellow. The aim is to find three tablet pieces in these claustrophobic, tightly packed levels, so that you can lift the door at the end and make your exit. Attempting to halt your progress are various snakes, bats, mummies and skeletons, as well as traps, lethal jumps and some of the lightest of lightweight lever puzzles.
There are several collectible gems on the way, and finding them all gives you a chance to get three stars upon completion. It’s reasonably opaque about what gets you three stars – we suspect deaths and time limits also factor in – but those stars will net you achievements. There are no modes, unlockables or progression beyond Pyramid Quest’s fifty levels, but those fifty levels will be more than enough. This is a well-stocked game.
Outside of The Mechanic That Shall Not Be Named, Pyramid Quest still has a fair few problems. The largest surrounds its enemies. The lead character of Pyramid Quest, a kind of bug-eyed Indiana Jones clone, doesn’t have any default attacks. But there are some hazy, undefined rules over what you can or can’t jump on enemies to stun them. Some mummies can get a butt to the face, for example, but they get stunned and wiggle their arms about which can lead to death if you land within reach. We found that the jump would often leave us caught on the top of its head, open for an attack afterwards. Other enemies can’t be bottom bounced, and will insta-kill you. There’s no real understanding of which is which.
This sloppy design runs through Pyramid Quest. There’s a thrown sword power-up, but it arcs downwards for no discernible reason and has a limited range. It often means that you’re throwing this rare power-up but missing. Checkpoints are oddly spaced, and will never be placed next to difficult spots. Die and you will almost always have a wee journey to make it back to where you were. And pulling a lever opens a door, but you’ll be damned if you know where: there are no flyovers to make it obvious.
The levels are not bad by any means. They are tight little maps that often have you plotting the best course to the three tablet pieces, and they have you backtracking to old rooms to see what might have been revealed. In any other game, those levels would have absolutely done a job. Carve out the Indiana Jones guy here and add in Samus, and you have a diverting little platformer. We’d be adding a mark or so to the score.
As it stands, Pyramid Quest has to take the fall. It’s a beige little 2D platformer that would have just-about done a job thanks to its well designed levels. But someone neglected to tighten up the control bolts and then made the fatal decision to add in fall damage. Fall damage in a Mario-like platformer! Pyramid Quest is an open-and-shut case why it should never be attempted again.
You can buy Pyramid Quest from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S