Pharaoh Rebirth+

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Krobon Station for PC, originally released episodically in Japan in 2015, and released in the US in 2016.
Pharaoh Rebirth+ is a level-based action adventure with metroidvania elements, starring Dr. Jonathan Banfield, a treasure hunter of some renown. But unlike the traditional Indiana Jones knockoffs featured in archaeological adventure games over the years, Jonathan is actually a humanoid bunny. As it turns out, he and his friend Andre were cursed when stealing artefacts from a tomb. Jonathan was turned into a bunny and Andre was turned into a turtle. Since then, Jonathan and Andre have parted ways, with Andre continuing his plundering ways, and Jonathan turning to the straight and narrow.

In the game’s playable prologue, Jonathan has just discovered an archeological site filled with artefacts, including an ancient and mysterious sarcophagus. But his explorations are interrupted by Andre who shows up in an attack helicopter to stop him. Fortunately, military-grade equipment is no match for Jonathan’s spinning bunny ears, and he attacks the chopper until it crashes down. However, just as he reaches the sarcophagus, Andre reappears and opens it, cursing the pair once again.

This time, they have angered Sehur I, who has cursed them both to die in seven days. In order to escape their fate, Jonathan and Andre each set off to find seven holy grails spread across Egypt – which are said to grant immortality – with the rationale that an immortal being cannot succumb to the curse. However, the curse has affected them both, and only one person can be granted eternal life, so the race is on for Jonathan to collect the grails before Andre, and hijinks ensue as others get embroiled in the quest for immortality.

The game is a narrative-packed experience, with frequent radio interruptions from Jonathan’s archaeologist friend Jack and run-ins with various NPC’s. However, despite frequent exposition dumps, the story is lighthearted and filled with humorous moments, adding flavor to the experience and occasionally toying with the player’s expectations. The dialogue may be skipped, but players would be missing out on much of the game’s charm by doing so.

Some early examples of the story's humor include Jonathan balking at eating a carrot that acts as a powerup, after which he admits that carrots are the one food that he doesn’t like. After a confrontation with Andre, he disappears for a bit, leaving Jonathan to suggest that maybe he had to use the restroom… which Andre confirms later, confessing that he has a small bladder. At one point, Jack has issues communicating with Jonathan because he has spilled coffee on his communications equipment.

Another minor quirk is the fact that the game was originally released episodically, so the difficulty level remains fairly flat throughout the adventure, although additional difficulty modes have been added to challenge more experienced players. Additionally, due to the short cycle for turning out episodes, tile sets in each area are somewhat limited, although the visual variety across the length of the game is quite vast, especially given that the entire game takes place in Egypt.

Rather than simply focusing on the typical pyramids and sand-washed tombs, the game also sees players exploring vegetation-filled ruins, moving in and around a speeding train, wandering through an abandoned train station, passing into the night along – and beneath – the Nile River, and infiltrating an enemy-infested modern hotel, as well as visiting a humorous locale for a post-game unlockable chapter.

Jonathan has a 1.75x variable jump, which brings him just shy of being able to mount 2-block platforms with his default moveset. He can use his ears to strike enemies at a pretty good range to the left, right, or upward, and attacking while in the air results in a wide-range strike of lesser strength. It is possible to perform multiple midair strikes, and once the player gets a 5-hit air combo, he begins restoring a small amount of health and energy with each successive strike. This can be particularly useful during boss encounters, especially since the wide swipe of his attack also destroys many types of projectiles.

Jonatha's basic attacks will see him through most situations, but Jonathan can also stand still and twirl his ears, resulting in a weak attack that is really only useful against mobile single-hit enemies like bats. Also, by pressing JUMP and ATTACK at the same time, Jonathan lunges forward, allowing him to pass through enemies without taking damage, which is useful in tight quarters, when dealing with swarms of enemies, or to move to the back side of a boss and attack him from behind.

Killed enemies do not drop restoratives, so the only way to restore your health (outside of some very rare items) is with a save point. Save points fully restore your health and energy, and players may return to them as often as needed. Killed enemies remain killed, even across screen transitions, so players may wipe out a room full of baddies and then run back to the previous room to restore their health. But getting killed causes all enemies to respawn, and there are a few insta-death traps including bottomless pits and bloody spikes.

Most levels have multiple branching paths, with one or more routes blocked off until the player acquires the proper upgrade and/or activates the necessary switches. In addition, there are loads of alternate paths leading to optional treasures, with dozens upon dozens of items to be discovered throughout the adventure. Many of these treasures have absolutely no effect, but some offer minor stat boosts or permanent health or energy upgrades. Even the metroidvania map system cannot be used until Jonathan discovers three treasures: a pen, paper, and ink.

Treasures may be found by exploring alternate paths and checking for false walls, and many of these items are inaccessible on your first time through a level. So, while it is possible to move from the first level to the last without ever going back, enterprising players can find a number of useful items (and just as may not-so-useful items) by retracing their steps, particularly in the opening prologue level, which has new treasures becoming accessible with the acquisition of each movement upgrade.

Among these upgrades are a grappling hook and a glider, both of which use the bunny’s multi-purpose ears. When grappling, Jonathan’s ears braid themselves into a chain, allowing him to swing from designated grapple points (although engaging and disengaging is occasionally a bit sticky). The glider works in the same fashion, with Jonathan's ears morphing into the appearance of a paper airplane, allowing him to glide across wide gaps… and later levels see the player gliding between grapple points over pits of spikes.

The remaining powerups are a bit more traditional, which include increasing Jonathan’s strength so he can destroy certain boxes, the ability to slide through narrow openings, a spinning high jump (which doubles as an upward attack), and a dash maneuver… although Jonathan’s running animation looks quite silly, as – instead of running – Jonathan merely power-walks very quickly. Combining this power-walking dash with a double jump and a glide allows Jonathan to greatly expand his movement range.

The player also gains access to a number of secondary weapons, including a machine gun, grenades, claymore mines, damaging (and revealing) handfuls of soot, as well as some passive powerups that include a spinning shield and floating mummy that seeks out and attacks enemies on your behalf, destroying even the toughest foes and doing substantial damage to bosses as well. In an added bit of humor, the machine gun doesn’t actually fire bullets but rather launches bouncing tennis balls that do weak damage. But these are still pretty useful at damaging distant enemies, and the balls keep bouncing after they make contact, allowing the player to hit multiple foes in succession. All of these secondary abilities draw from an energy meter that refills slowly over time.

The player also has access to consumables, which appear in the same selection menu as secondary weapons, meaning the player cannot have a weapon and a consumable equipped at the same time (although the player can hold the selection button to pause the game and quickly swap any equipped item). These consumables include health restoratives, energy restoratives, and the aforementioned carrot, which beefs up the player’s attacks and makes him temporarily invincible… a powerup best held until some of the tougher bosses toward the end of the game.

Later in the game, Andre becomes playable for a single level (and again in the unlockable finale and boss rush). Unlike Jonathan, who must use his ears for melee attacks, Andre is able to take off his shell and toss it, hitting enemies all the way across the screen. The shell bounces back to him once thrown, Captain America-style, allowing him to hit enemies a second time on the return trip. In addition, he can stand still and aim the shell at almost any angle (not straight up or down) to target enemies from afar. However, the aiming reticule moves slowly, making it difficult to target mobile enemies like barn owls.

In terms of environmental navigation, Andre is just as skilled as Jonathan, with a spinning glide move, a dash move – with an even stranger running animation that has Andre sticking his arms out as if he were a plane getting ready to take off – and the ability to engage grapple points with his tail, requiring that he swing upside down. Andre’s only secondary items are claymore mines.

Andre’s mission is very switch-heavy and requires a great deal of grappling. His level also requires much more backtracking than the others, as he discovers switches and then travels back to the doors that they opened. As such, getting killed here holds a higher penalty, as respawned enemies make the grappling areas significantly more difficult.

Narratively, Andre’s mission takes place during Jonathan’s preceding mission, and seeing Andre’s side of things actually illuminates a number of plot details that impact Jonathan’s quest. In fact, there is a fun crossover moment when Andre calls Jonathan on the radio. During Jonathan’s section, it just seems like a random interruption as Andre is off trying to collect all of the grails before Jonathan does, while still calling on him for assistance. But when the call occurs again from Andre’s perspective, the player finally understands the context for the conversation.

Following Andre’s mission, things change up again with a vehicle-based level. Here, Jack arrives in a jeep and Jonathan drives it through a cave that is filled with hills, enemies, parked jeeps, and bottomless pits. The player does not control the speed of the jeep, nor are any of his other moves available; he can only jump to avoid obstacles and pits.

This is essentially a runaway mine cart level with all of the genre-typical traps and frustrations… The jeep moves quickly and a horn sounds when an obstacle is near, giving the player a second or two to react and jump over it. Soon, things become more difficult with jumps from sloped surfaces and multiple jumps in succession. Most mistakes leads to instant death, returning the player to the most recent checkpoint to try again and commit the obstacles to memory.

Gameplay changes up slightly during this sequence, offering birds that damage Jonathan if he touches them – or which can be rammed into a fiery (!) explosion with the jeep – requiring players to monitor their health in addition to insta-death pits.

Later, Jack takes the wheel while Jonathan hops on the back to take over a mounted machine gun that fires tennis balls and volleyballs. Weapon fire is continuous, but the aiming reticule moves just as slowly as Andre’s, making it difficult to line up shots, and there is a constant barrage of enemies which arrive in waves from the left and right sides of the screen.

Like most mine cart sequences, these sections require repeated attempts in order to succeed, with shortened gameplay padded out by the fact that the player will die repeatedly and be forced to memorize portions of the level in order to succeed. The jeep sequence takes up most of the level, after which the player is dropped off in a small area with a few items and a boss encounter.

Each area consists of an interconnected series of rooms leading to a boss encounter, and completing each level takes up a single day in your countdown toward imminent death (returning to previously-visited levels does not affect this). Each completed level finishes with “to be continued” and “X days remaining”. Between levels, the player returns to Jack’s van for a mission update – which humorously grows cramped later in the game when other characters join the duo in the van – and missions may be selected from a row of Polaroid pictures across the top of the screen, which must be completed in order.

There is a good deal of variety between missions, and there are a number of unique moments that are only featured in single small areas of the game. These include day-to-night transitions in the Nile area, resulting in a change to silhouetted forms for Jonathan and his enemies. This area also has some crocodiles that allow you to walk on their backs for a bit before they jump out of the water to attack you, acting similarly to some hippos in the opening level.

There are also some escape sequence where the player must run as platforms fall away or statues tip over, areas where piles of sand must be used to mount high platforms, steam jets that allow the player to glide quickly upward, a few puzzle-solving mini games, and an area where the player uses cover – including outdoor dining umbrellas – to avoid a laser being fired from space.

Bosses are varied, offering combat against several ancient Egyptian gods and some strange beasts, including a giant scorpion that chases you through a series of switchbacks as it destroys them from above. Players who are mindful of boss’ attack patterns will have little trouble avoiding most attacks, and the player’s attack range and secondary abilities are enough to destroy most bosses without a tremendous amount of effort, at least on the default difficulty setting. Completing the game unlocks a boss rush mode called Boss Rehash, and finding a certain artifact unlocks a new post-game mission, both of which are exclusive to the “plus” version of the game,

Pharaoh Rebirth+ was developed by Japanese developer Krobon, under the Krobon Station label, with music by Pepo. Krobon has been developing games since 1998, with his most known titles being Return of Egypt, a metroidvania inspired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, as well as the Mogura titles, a series of shmups – and a tennis game – starring a mole.

Krobon took a break from development between 2005 and 2013 to focus on work at his 3D graphics studio, before returning to the scene in 2014 with an action-platformer entitled Action Mogura. In 2015, he was asked to develop an episodic game for NicoNico Game Magazine, which would be released in installments every two months. That game was Pharaoh Rebirth, which was later translated and bundled into a single game under the title Pharaoh Rebirth+, and the game is actually the narrative sequel to Return of Egypt, despite its thematic differences.

The repackaged game was published by Degica, which is known for publishing a number of RPG’s, including Code of Princess, Skyborn, Deadly Sin 2, and the RPG Maker series, as well as a number of shmups, including the Mushihimesama series, Deathsmiles, Crimzon Clover World Ignition, and the Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours series. In addition, after Agatsuma Entertainment closed its doors in 2015, Degica took over publishing responsibilities for the Umihara Kawase series.