Luxor

HmmÂ… we Sphinx this puzzle game looks familiar. Oh the Ankhst!

On the face of it, the Egyptians and Incas don't have much in common.

The former were one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world. Dating back some 5,000 years, they gifted us countless wonders and innovations from their Middle Eastern homeland on the banks of the Nile. The Incas, meanwhile, were primarily a barbarian race in the Peruvian mountains, first recorded around 1,000 years ago, who didn't even develop their own written language, preferring to conquer their more advanced neighbours - at least until they were slaughtered by the Spanish in 1532.

The two peoples shared neither language nor appearance, yet to the modern backpacker there are remarkable similarities. They both created huge structures that baffle construction experts today. They both worshipped elemental idols and mummified their leaders.

But perhaps most curiously, they both inspired remarkably similar puzzle games for your mobile phone.

Like the Inca-inspired Zuma before it, the Egyptian-themed Luxor requires you to fire coloured balls into an inexorably progressing chain of spheres. Connect three-of-a-kind together and they disappear. Make bigger connections, or set off chain-reactions where the balls either side also connect, and you're rewarded with points and bonus powers, such as 'sharp-shooter' which provides a visible aiming line, 'slow' and 'reverse', which do what they say on the tin, and the more destructive lightning, fireball and colour bombs.

Like Zuma, the ultimate goal is to destroy all the balls before they reach the central temple. Fail and you lose a life. Succeed and you'll secure a bonus relating to the distance left to the temple.

As you progress, the number of different coloured spheres increases and the levels become progressively more intricate, with paths criss-crossing, disappearing under tunnels and generally making your life more difficult as you try to pick the right shot.

Also like Zuma, the resulting action sounds mind-numbingly simple, yet somehow manages to demand both strategic thinking and fast reactions, offering up a maddeningly addictive experience that literally eats up the hours.

So far, so familiar then. But before Glu's lawyers start checking their diaries, let us assure you that there are differences. Where Zuma has long chains of spheres, Luxor has a succession of different smaller chains pushed by Scarab beetles. It may seem a comically small point, but it actually enables various different strategies to be adopted; do you attempt to tackle one chain at a time, allow them to join up, or pick off bits from each?

The level layout is also subtly distinct, with your ball-firing device being placed at the bottom of the screen rather than in the centre, which offers a more global view and feels less overwhelming. There are more levels to explore too, around 30 in comparison to Zuma's 20, providing for many contented hours of playtime.

What's more, the presentation here is immaculate. Some fabulous graphical detail and an understated soundtrack mean that all in all Luxor feels just a little slicker and more rounded. Indeed, it's easy to see why this became the number one online PC game of 2005, with over eight million downloads.

Hence, we'll add on one mark for all round "Luxor-y". But we'll also have to take one off for innovation, given its "Zuma-n" nature, meaning that ultimately the Egyptians and Incas have one more thing in common - their score.

Despite their differing backgrounds, both games are equally accessible, maddeningly addictive and worthy of a place on your mobile. If you only have room for one 'three-in-a-row culturally-themed puzzle game' in your life, we'd have to suggest you make it this one.

8 / 10

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