The film Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, with its tomb-raiding, treasure-hunting action, seems ripe for adaptation into a video game. Unfortunately, the Nintendo DS game based on the latest in the series of adventure films starring Brendan Fraser fails to capture any of the movie's spirit. You are cast as Rick and Alex O'Connell, father and son adventurers who must stop the evil Emperor Han from raising his Terracotta Army and conquering the world. That sounds like potentially thrilling stuff, but the storytelling is so thin that the tale it tells is barely even coherent, much less interesting. The game seems to assume that anyone playing it has seen the movie and therefore can fill in the gaps in the narrative. But even if you've seen the movie a dozen times, you're better off staying away from this game.
The action is presented from a three-quarter view and has you navigate your way through ancient tombs and across hillsides, fighting terra-cotta soldiers and avoiding shots from idiotic snipers. The first level maintains a decent balance between light puzzle-solving, trap-evading, and combat. The puzzle-solving is all very easy, consisting of simple block-pushing and using the touch screen to write ancient runes, but despite its basic nature, it does lend a modicum of variety to the action. Unfortunately, after the first level, the traps and puzzles fall by the wayside and the focus shifts largely toward combat, which is much less enjoyable.
The combat consists of fisticuffs and firearms. Brawling is done by tapping the Y button to make your character pull off simple combos and hitting B to dodge your enemies' attacks. More often than not, though, shooting is going to be your best option. That's because the game has a tendency to surround you with enemies. The action sometimes forces you into these situations by making your character stand still while the bad guys make their entrance and circle you, which feels downright cheap. And once surrounded, if you stop to punch one dude in the face, another is likely to shoot you in the back.
So the best tactic then becomes to run around in circles like a crazy person, cutting down enemies with your weapon while trying to avoid enemy attacks. Gun combat is handled in an unusual way that doesn't always work well. There's a crosshair on the touch screen, and by touching the screen in relation to the crosshair, you control the direction in which your character shoots. Rick's pistols lend themselves to this control scheme. They fire and reload quickly, and they have a nice, long range, conveniently leaving trace lines in the air so that you can easily determine if you need to adjust your aim to hit your target. Mowing down onslaughts of terra-cotta soldiers with Rick's pistols can actually be fun for a little while. Alex's shotgun is a different story. The gun fires slowly, and you'll spend about as much time reloading it as you will firing it. Your aim needs to be as precise with the shotgun as it does with the pistols, and considering that all you get when you fire the shotgun is a burst of smoke, it can be more difficult to determine if you need to adjust a little to the left or a little to the right to hit your mark. It's frustrating to seemingly unload a shotgun blast right in an enemy's face and see it stand there unaffected.