(Retro Gaming is a series in which I get some hands-on time with classic video games of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. Check out this game and others on the Retro Gaming page.)
I can never, ever type the word “pharaoh” correctly. It is my everlasting shame.
So it’s been a year since I started KOTOR 2, and obviously both the sheer busyness of life and declining interest in finishing it up has forced me to put it on hiatus. One of my personal guidelines for the Retro Gaming series is to play a title only as long as it is fun or captivating, and if I hit the end of that… to move on.
There are many bigger retro games to cover, but at least until this fall, my time is going to be quite limited and I don’t want to get sucked into a massive run. Instead, I’m going to be going through my 200-plus GOG library and selecting a few candidates that would make for shorter (1-3 session) playthroughs.
To start us off, I’m going back to a city builder game that I loved back in college, which is Pharoah. I would say that Caesar III was probably more popular among my friends, but I was partial to the ancient Egyptian focus of Pharoah (and its expansion, Cleopatra). Its twist, if you wanted to call it that, was that you had to factor in the Nile’s flooding and subsequent fertile planting seasons in your building plans.
So here is the basic view of the Pharaoh screen, minus a bit chopped off at the top and bottom. Back in the day, it was very common to have most of your action buttons and minimap taking up 1/4 to 1/3 of your screen’s real estate on the left or right side. Eventually that moved to the bottom, but this game came out in 1999, which was before that shift.
We have an isometric view with decent sprite graphics. Somewhat colorful, but there’s a lot of desert color schemes going on, so it’s not as bright and bold as the Caesar games. As for animations, there’s a few with production buildings and with characters walking about, but it’s pretty crude stuff by modern standards.
One thing I really did like, coming back to this game, was the hieroglyphic menu. It’s absolutely beautiful and so well done with the theme of ancient Egypt. Even the border has some color and “pop” to it, and it’s little touches like this that draw me into a title.
The gameplay loop here is basically a juggling act. Your main goal is to create a growing and thriving population, as evidenced by the type and complexity of their houses. To do this, you have to keep adding new supporting systems to provide comforts, necessities, entertainment, and so on. All of it has to be laid out just so, because each building has a radius of effectiveness, so if you get your houses too far away, they won’t be receiving water or food or whatever else they want.
It might sound silly if you’re not into these games, but there is a real satisfaction of seeing a well-designed and organized metropolis thrive and hum. Of course, if things get too complex or there are disasters, then it could bring your carefully constructed deck of cards down.
I rand through a couple of scenarios to re-familiarize myself with the game. It’s still enjoyable in a way and devilishly challenging once all of the building types are unlocked, but I might be ruined by some of the more modern city and base-building games that I play like Rimworld. And while Pharaoh was newer than Caesar III, I don’t feel that it managed to eclipse the Roman-themed game in its visuals or gameplay features. Just a different coat of paint for people who had already played the heck out of that game.