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Casual adventuring: hidden object retail round-up

Casual adventuring 4
Casual adventuring 4

For a long time, casual games were primarily the domain of digital distribution. Small in size, quick to download, and easy to pick up and play – oh yeah, and cheap to buy – hidden object games in particular seemed a perfect fit for impulse shopping at the nearest online portal. But then, of course, publishers began to notice that they were doing big business, and lately we’ve started seeing more and more of the most popular franchises released as full retail boxed products, some even on multiple platforms.

At the same time, the more ambitious seek-and-find games have been undergoing something of a metamorphosis, gradually transitioning into something not dissimilar from adventure games. Although we couldn’t possibly stay on top of the endless stream of hidden object games available, we are interested in those titles that hold crossover interest for curious adventure gamers, either by featuring common protagonists or by broadening gameplay in ways that should particularly appeal to adventurers open to lighter fare.

Our latest feature highlights four franchises whose debut releases can be found on regular store shelves (though three of four have download-only sequels at the moment). From the largely traditional hidden object Hardy Boys mystery to the is-it-or-isn’t-it-really-adventure Samantha Swift series, from the story-centric Cate West games to the exploratory Mortimer Beckett titles, there’s a little something here for everyone, even if you insist on holding a shiny disc in hand.

If you’d like to skip ahead, simply click on the following links to jump there directly.

Table of Contents

Page 1: The Hardy Boys (no skipping necessary)

Page 2: Cate West

Page 3: Mortimer Beckett

Page 4: Samantha Swift


The Hardy Boys

Having recently jumped into the full adventure fray on both PC and DS, the Hardy Boys are now plying their trade in casual games as well. Strangely, their first endeavour is the least adventure-like of any of the titles discussed here. Far more unfortunately, The Perfect Crime comes nowhere close to living up to its name, unless perhaps in its ability to separate gamers from their money. While it makes an admirable attempt to weave a continuous narrative throughout its 50-odd hidden object screens, there’s very little connection to the actual gameplay, presented only through non-interactive dialogues between levels. Even as a backdrop, the story about local accidents and thefts escalating to issues of real estate fraud and political scheming is so devoid of actual intrigue or player input that you’ll have lost interest long before its absurdly overwrought ending.

Plot failings can easily be forgiven in casual games, of course, if the gameplay delivers. Surprisingly, however, this game manages to get even the most fundamental issues wrong. Hidden object sequences take up the vast majority of the action, and aside from a few late carnival scenes, the locations are often drab and repetitive (if you’ve seen one hardware store or storage room, you’ve seen ‘em all, but here you get more anyway, including the same ones again), and the artwork is unimpressive. Worse still, many of the objects are simply too small and indiscriminate to make out, even if you’re looking right at them. The good seek-and-find games make you deride yourself for failing to see what’s plainly in front of your face, not curse the developers for making you hate pixel hunts all over again.

The Perfect Crime is fairly user-friendly, at least. Each screen is timed, but the twelve minutes allotted for only ten or so items will never pose a problem, especially since items are sometimes identical to the ones you found the last time you visited. When you inevitably do get stuck, you could spend the leftover minutes scouring for those last few hazy smudges that are apparently objects, but to speed things along, you’ll likely use the apparently-limitless hints available. You’ll need to be eagle-eyed to spot even those, though, as the “highlight” is so small, indistinct, and quick that they’re easy to miss as well. You could also resort to clicking randomly, which penalizes you only by de-activating the cursor for a few moments. I mention this not to suggest it’s a viable approach, but because you’re likely to encounter it as you click things just because you have no idea what they actually are.

Along with the hidden objects, there are a few standalone puzzle types repeated three or four times each throughout the game, but none of them are at all interesting. Two are ultra-easy circuit connection tasks, another is a brain-dead-easy jigsaw, and still another is a trial-and-error only task of identifying colour sequences. The common denominator should be pretty obvious, just like the puzzles themselves. And while one might speculate that this is suitable for a younger demographic interested in the Hardy Boys, it’s unlikely any would find these tasks particularly engaging, and there’s nothing about the rest of the game that would otherwise interest kids. I’m all for some less strenuous puzzles, but there’s easy and then there’s “That’s it?!” You can probably guess where this game falls along those lines.

Like most casual games, there is no voice acting here, but The Perfect Crime goes one step farther (backwards, that is) by neglecting any music as well. Soundtracks are a staple of hidden object games that force you to spend long periods in one place, but here? Nope. Then again, given the discretion shown in selecting the absolutely horrid sound effect that plays whenever you find a correct item, silence is probably the better option. The constant “reward” aspect is one of the main appeals of casual games, but here you’ll come to almost dread being right, cringing at the mere thought of hearing that wretched noise again. Needless to say, there’s really no reason NOT to simply turn the sound off and listen to something else while you play. I’m obliged to add that there are no cutscenes, animations, or character close-ups of any kind, but presumably that’s expected by now.

The main draw of any Hardy Boys game should the license itself, but there isn't a lot done with it here, unless you count helping the police chief find his missing keys every single time you see him. The two boys do banter occasionally between levels, and some of their personality manages to shine through. Yet even their small, static portraits look totally generic, and for the most part this game could have been called the Smith Boys and you'd never have noticed the difference. There's nothing really done wrong with the property; it simply doesn't capitalize much on the opportunity.

It’s hard to do a hidden object game too badly, since it follows such a basic formula, and given the light detective nature of their mysteries, the Hardy Boys should really be a good fit for casual games, as the Women’s Murder Club and Nancy Drew Dossier series have proven to be. But The Perfect Crime manages to fail at just about every turn. From subpar production values to uninteresting story framework to entirely underwhelming gameplay, you can seek quality fun all you want in the three-plus hours it will take to complete, but you won’t find it here. The many corners cut are disappointing enough in a budget download, but in a boxed game for a renowned franchise like this, there’s simply no excuse. Frank and Joe deserved better, and players do, too.

Next up: Cate West...

Cate West

Cate West is a lot like the Hardy Boys… except for being a lone female protagonist instead of two brothers, starring in two games rather than one, and her titles actually being pretty good. Okay, so I guess that makes them not very similar after all, but Cate West does bring a fairly serious detective-style mystery slant to The Vanishing Files and The Velvet Keys, along with a rather unique trait of her own that helps provide a solid framework for this hidden object series.

Cate, you see, is a psychic, though even she doesn’t know that at first. Able to perceive relevant concepts and images from close contact, this makes her an invaluable resource for the local police when a series of increasingly dangerous, even deadly crimes begins to grip Arcadia City. The sequel takes the notion one step further, giving Cate even the power to commune with the dead under certain circumstances. This extrasensory perception angle is hardly new, but it does allow for a more organic integration of the many hidden object sequences. After all, being a telepath isn’t an exact science, so you just never know what item might yield an important new clue until you collect stuff and find out. It doesn’t justify the crime scenes being so preposterously full of random items, but it does help suspend disbelief a little bit longer than usual.

Being a psychic isn’t merely a gimmick in these games, however, as both titles emphasize story far more than most casual games. To be sure, the plot of each is still there primarily to set up the next stage of object hunting and puzzle solving, but every level is liberally interspersed with cutscenes and automated dialogue sequences to flesh out the tale. From the beginning it’s clear that there is much more going on than a simple crime spree, as both games revolve around Cate’s missing father and her close circle of friends and colleagues, all somehow connecting to the “3 Magi” of the bible. (Apparently Mary Magdalene was taken.)

It all starts off rather innocently enough, as The Vanishing Files sees Cate first encounter her supernatural gift, then apply it to help solve the fourteen mysteries of a serial criminal intent on baiting her with phone calls and cryptic clues. Then the series takes a turn for the truly surreal. The Velvet Keys has players investigating a dozen murders, but rather than simply tracking down the killer, Cate must forge special keys using a suddenly-discovered “memory fusion” ability that enables her to literally bring the dead back to life in a peculiar machine introduced early on. If this sounds like a much more convoluted and nonsensical premise, that’s because it is. Unfortunately, the bizarre turns and supernatural focus of the sequel are far less convincing than the modest ambitions of the original. It really doesn’t even make much sense, and it’ll make even less sense if you don’t play the games in order. The Velvet Keys is a legitimate “sequel” to the first game, set six months later with an obvious expectation that you’ll know the background going in. If not, you’ll be even more confused than everyone else.

This “more is better” mindset applies to the gameplay as well, with rather mixed results. The first game follows a very routine pattern of a handful of standard hidden object screens, a collection of broken item pieces, a conventional spot-the-difference stage, plus another where you compare screens and replace a group of missing items in each. Each level is then capped off with a clue-based test to determine the guilty person from a list of suspects. This adds a sense of significance to your efforts, though the character profiles appear completely out of the blue, can be a little vague on detail, and let you simply guess as often as you need until you get it right. Still, while the formula of each chapter is certainly predictable, each sequence is done very well, and offers plenty to keep you busy for a fairly hefty seven or so hours.

The sequel has many of the same activities, but there are some new additions and not every type is included in every stage. New tasks have you collecting sets of the same item, identifying super-close-up images, locating objects only from word clues, and repairing one part of a broken item with another on screen. Some of these are welcome, but the latter was probably my least favourite exercise of either game, as the objects in question – already incomplete and therefore looking rather unrecognizable – are often blatantly obscured from view, leaving you to look only for a bit of a bit of an item. Not fun.

The other major difference between games is the inclusion of traditional logic puzzles in the sequel. Gone is the suspect identification stage, replaced with the likes of two types of sliders, Concentration pair-matching, symbol rotation challenges, and circuit connections. Your enjoyment of these will naturally depend on your fondness for such puzzles, and they do add variety, but they really don’t fit here. Apparently ancient life-reviving machines operate only after solving a grid slider. Remember that suspension of disbelief from earlier? Gone! Even the endgame comes down to a slider puzzle, which struck me as entirely anti-climactic. This is a casual game, of course, and lots of them are full of these sorts of puzzles, so it’s hardly the end of the world. You can even skip them if you want. I just can’t help but be disappointed that the sequel so arbitrarily messed with a winning formula by adding worse-fitting contrivances to help fill its six-plus hours of game time.

There are no such complaints when it comes to production values, however. Along with the comic-style characters and cutscenes, both games feature nicely designed background artwork. Though not using the sharpest of resolutions, the environments tend to be more gritty and realistic than many hidden object games, with such locations as churches and cemeteries, alleys and apartments, police stations and asylums adding to this darker, more sombre tone. Musical orchestration is suitably atmospheric, and there’s even some voice acting in these games. While there’s far too much ongoing dialogue to be fully acted, both titles feature a vocal narration, and the first game even includes the odd spoken reaction here and there to signify particularly emotional moments. At first it seemed a little odd to include such a limited feature, but when the sequel eliminated this small verbal component, I missed it.

Player mechanics and interface in the Cate West games are quite traditional, including unlimited hints with a short recharge time, though the “hint” (read: object targeting) area is much more focused in the sequel. Both games deliver a time penalty for random or incorrect clicking, but this only matters if you choose the “timed” mode, as there’s a “relaxed” mode as well if you’d rather not face the pressure. Item concealment is usually pretty fair and the time allotment plenty, so racing the clock shouldn’t pose too big a challenge. The only tangible consequence for errors or being too slow is risking a less-than-optimal ending based on your final score. I played the timed version and tried to limit my hint use, and ended with the “best ending” in both cases, but there’s really no way to track your progress. A little moderation should be fine, though, plus a strategic manipulation of the speed score. Each time you find items in rapid succession, you get double the regular point total, and there’s no stopping you from simply finding a handful of items first, then clicking them all in a point-padding sequence. Not that I’m advising that, mind you. (Ahem.)

By now you shouldn’t need to be a mind reader to figure out that the Cate West games represent quality casual entertainment, if never really spectacular. The psychic element adds a useful backdrop to the proceedings, and the series’ high production values, more-than-usual emphasis on story, and rock solid gameplay all add up to a safe bet for hidden object fans. It’s a shame the sequel overshot the mark in its attempt to outdo its predecessor, but puzzle fans certainly won’t complain, and between the The Vanishing Files and The Velvet Keys, there are many hours of seek-and-find enjoyment to be had. Along with its PC release, the first game has already been ported to the Nintendo DS and Wii, and the narrative door was clearly left open for more games still to come, so here’s hoping we haven’t seen the last of Cate West and company.

Next up: Mortimer Beckett...

Mortimer Beckett

Hidden object games are great for packrats. Sifting through jam-packed rooms looking for random bits of junk to collect is like a dream come true. But what do you actually do with all that stuff? Usually nothing, the slate generally just wiped clean between levels to start all over again in the next. Enter one Mortimer Beckett to rectify that with his two games, The Secrets of Spooky Manor and The Time Paradox, two titles nipping so closely at the heels of traditional adventures that it’s hard to tell them apart.

While most seek-and-find games emphasize the seeking and finding (surprise!), the Mortimer Beckett games are just as focused on putting things back. Sure, you’ll still have to hunt down dozens of items, but in a nice twist on the standard formula, finding them represents only the first task for Mortimer. He’ll then need to return most of the missing items to their proper place, plus find an integral use for any others in order to continue his adventure. Hey, there’s that word again!

Actually, players don’t search for “items” at all, but only pieces of items. Rather than providing a large list of objects to gather, here there are only four in each screen. There’s even a large, handy image of each item along the bottom of the screen. Sounds too easy, right? Right. The trick is, they’re all split up into 3-5 fragments (increasing as you proceed in the game) that suddenly don’t look much like the picture anymore. Finding each piece in the environment removes that segment from the image, showing only the incomplete portions remaining.

For the most part, item recognition is quite reasonable, though some are hidden a little too far behind other objects to make out clearly. Naturally, some pieces are inherently harder to find than others. Little bits of a small key aren’t nearly as pronounced as colourful patches of clothing. Still, rooms are busy but not hopelessly cluttered, so a keen eye and patience is usually all you need, and since the games have no time limit of any kind, there’s no pressure. The two games do approach their help systems differently, though both are more than ample. In Spooky Manor, random clicking will result in the screen being semi-obscured briefly, but there’s no harm in simply waiting the penalty out, and really no reason why you’d bother guessing in the first place. If you can’t find something, there are a limited number of hints available per level, which are finite but more than enough for the rare time you might need to give in. The Time Paradox removes any consequence for guesswork entirely and replaces the limited hint restriction with a reusable hint-recharge method.

If you can’t find an item piece, however, chances are that you first need to solve one of the many inventory-like puzzles scattered throughout just about every location. That’s right, inventory application is fully integrated into the hidden object gameplay in the Mortimer Beckett games, which is where the real similarity to adventures kicks in. Any items you complete are stored either in a “misplaced items” inventory or a “puzzle items” group. (What’s this? A game actually calling a puzzle a puzzle? Somebody pinch me.) These inventories aren’t even limited to single screens, but entire levels that consist of up to five different locations each. You’ll frequently have to move between rooms to use an item in a different area than the one you collected it in, which is easily accomplished through a handy map screen.

Both types of objects are used in the same basic way, just for different purposes. All that’s required for misplaced items is clicking each one on the correct hotspot, conveniently highlighted in Spooky Manor but more subtly indicated by a context-sensitive cursor in Time Paradox. These hotpots are all thematically logical, like roses displayed in a vase or eggs being placed in a birds’ nest, so it’s generally very intuitive, and successfully restoring them yields a special code or unique object needed to ultimately complete the game. Puzzle items are applied the same way, but always result in something more immediately relevant, like access to that missing item piece you couldn’t find previously, or the exit to the next level in the game being revealed.

On rare occasions, there is an additional step involved, like filling a bucket with water. This replaces the empty bucket with a full one in inventory, and only the latter accomplishes the goal required. These are few and far between, however, and still very straightforward. Hotspots are fairly limited and easily identified, so you’ll never spend long thinking through solutions. There are riddle-like hints in a notebook for these, but they are so unnecessary I didn’t even realize it until I was done. Nevertheless, there are enough items involved over the course of each game’s eight levels to make things interesting – one random stage late in Spooky Manor had six puzzle items and fourteen misplaced objects to collect – so kudos to the developers for incorporating such a welcome element of interactivity. A puzzle doesn’t need to bang players over the head to make them feel like what they’re doing matters. This series gets that.

While The Secrets of Spooky Manor doesn’t include any other traditional puzzle types, The Time Paradox does, presenting a variety of different logic challenges from math to pattern to tile puzzles, with still others in between. None are very difficult, but they represent a clear shift towards making the sequel a more complete adventure. In fact, while the same core hidden object/returning item gameplay remains intact, the complexity has been ramped up between games in just about all areas. There are more screens per level (including many close-up areas not found in the original), more items to find, more cross-pollination between areas. “More” being the operative word, including game time, as the sequel easily surpasses the scant two hours or so offered by the first game. This move isn’t always successful, as the increased sense of non-linearity can at times be brought to its knees by some unnecessarily restrictive choke points, but it’s certainly a change from the breezy nature of the first game. You can even “talk” to the characters you meet in The Time Paradox. Or listen, anyway, as Mortimer never says anything. And really the others are mainly just props; more “objects” that happen to speak (in text only) their clues instead of merely representing one. That’s people for you – always complicating the simple things.

Both games feature similar production values, with nicely designed but not overly crisp artwork, and excellent soundtracks whose only downside is repetition after a while. But if the quality is similar, the content is quite different. In The Secrets of Spooky Manor, Mortimer visits his uncle’s old mansion, now haunted by ghosts. These are more the “lost soul” sorts of spirits, so there’s nothing particularly creepy about them, and the atmosphere is all done in a faux-scary way as you move through the various floors and rooms of the house. The Time Paradox, on the other hand, breaks out of this one-location confinement in a big way, sending players not only far and wide, but back in time as well. A series of portals have been opened that threaten the space-time continuum, and this time it’s up to Mortimer to visit such periods as the age of the Vikings, the French Revolution, and the American Midwest to find eight missing artifacts and construct a time bomb to close the portals for good. Needless to say, this premise affords much greater diversity of locations, but the consistency and coziness give the first game its own unique charms.

Besides the abundant reliance on hidden object gameplay, if there’s one aspect of the Mortimer Beckett games that prevents them from really reaching adventure-like status, it’s the lack of any kind of story development. Sure, each has a basic framework driving it, but there’s nothing to call an actual plot. You’re simply searching for lots of little items that will lead to the one or two meta-items on each level that will allow you to continue pursuing your final goal. When finished, rinse and repeat. This isn’t so much a criticism as a simple statement of fact to measure expectations accordingly. Don’t go in looking for story and you won’t be disappointed. Casual game fans surely won’t be disappointed in any case, as both The Secrets of Spooky Manor (also available for Nintendo Wii) and The Time Paradox are among the better seek-and-find games on the market today. They’re easy to get into and hard to put down, and offer just enough of a unique twist to make them stand out from the crowd of other similar games.

Next up: Samantha Swift...

Samantha Swift

Samantha Swift titles are casual gaming done right. Before getting into any deeper discussion of what they are and aren’t or do and don’t include, really that’s the bottom line. If you’re a fan of hidden object games, you should be making a beeline to pick up The Hidden Roses of Athena and The Golden Touch immediately. And if you’re a staunch adventure gamer wondering what all this casual gaming fuss is about, there aren’t many better places to begin to find out. They may not be enough to convince you, but they’ll certainly give you the right idea.

The premise of each game is simple enough for anyone to jump into straight away, and that’s exactly what you’ll do (in one game, quite literally). Samantha is a young archeologist who travels the world in pursuit of rare artifacts for the “Museum of Secrets Lost“ in New York, and if collecting historical relics doesn’t have “seek-and-find potential” written all over it, I don’t know what does. Indeed, combing many different screens across diverse areas of the world will be what you spend the bulk of your time doing, though not everything is just lying around in the open for you to find. We’d all be rich if treasure hunting was that easy. Along the way, you’ll need to solve some light puzzles, use plenty of your collectibles as inventory to overcome obstacles, and even do a bit of actual exploring between locations. Sounds an awful lot like a style of gameplay we’ve all come to know and love, doesn’t it?

Make no mistake, though: these games are casual through and through, offering a highly streamlined gameplay experience. Each screen provides you with a list of over a dozen objects that you’ll need to find, the sequel increasing the number required by adding a second set immediately after the first. Included in each list is environment-appropriate equipment that will help you find the rest of the items or unearth other important clues and passages. Not surprisingly, these are stored in a “tools” inventory for later use. Any object that can’t be seen without additional interaction of some kind is colour-coded in the list, so there’s no fear that you’ll waste your time looking for something you’ll never find. Their hidden (actually concealed, not simply hard to see) locations are similarly highlighted in the game world. This is obviously helpful, though inventory use is not always intuitive, an aspect of both games that represents one of my few gripes. You’ll easily know to use your shovel on loose dirt or a knife to cut interfering vines, but more than once I found myself simply sweeping the screen looking for that welcome (but sometimes very tiny) blue sparkle in places I’d never have thought to look.

Such instances are easily forgivable, however, because finding the many other objects are made even more user-friendly than normal. All decent hidden object games include a “hint” feature that pinpoints the location of particular items when you’re stuck, but Samantha Swift games go one step better. You can still pick a given object on the list (itself an option that many games fail to offer) and simply click a button to highlight its location. But come on. Where’s the fun in that? That’s not a “hint”, that’s a dead giveaway. Fortunately, in these games you’ll not only have to earn the right to continue using it by finding special symbols on each screen, you can minimize the need or even bypass it entirely through the use of Samantha’s scanner.

The scanner is a tool picked up in the early tutorial stages of both games, and highlighting any word on the item list will display the basic shape of the object in question. Now that’s a hint, but The Golden Touch has another trick up its sleeve (not available in Roses, unfortunately). In the sequel, the scanner features a hot-warm-cold method of targeting, the object shape gaining colour the closer your cursor is to the item. In this way, you can all but point yourself directly at the missing item in question without ever using the other system. If you have any control at all, however, you’ll stop yourself when you see the colour begin to change, as then you know you’re at least on the right track. Maybe this is offering too much praise for the help system in a game designed to make you look for hard-to-find items, but it’s impressive to see that developers are already approaching the issue creatively.

Rapid (and incorrect) clicking can break Sam’s scanner, but even then only briefly. These are clearly games intended to avoid player frustration, and for the most part they succeed admirably. Neither title has any time limit to contend with, and cursor changes even let you know when you’ve chosen the right tool for the job (why doesn’t every adventure do that?). That’s not to suggest there’s no challenge at all, but here it’s appropriately provided by the gameplay rather than the interface. Added complexity comes from a degree of locational connectivity, as puzzles can’t always be solved immediately, and the tools you collect are often carried over between areas for use elsewhere. Like the Mortimer Beckett titles, this integration gives the Samantha Swift series a much more adventure-like feel than many hidden object games. The experience is still largely linear, as you’re told in pop-up text when you can’t complete a room or individual puzzle just yet, and often you aren’t allowed to leave until you’ve done everything you can. Still, even the illusion of freedom and a small chance to explore make the games feel less restrictive than lesser casual experiences.

Many of the puzzles involve simply using your newly-found inventory, but there are other types as well, from coded lever positions to jigsaws to Match 3 challenges. There are also Concentration-like tasks, tile puzzles and even a maze in the first game. Pretty conventional stuff, in other words, but never overused and generally good for a diversion. There are also some engaging non-puzzle tasks included, like using a sonar detector to highlight buried items, operating a crane to clear a path, and a neat little mini-map recreation assignment. You might call these “minigames”, but there’s no real competition involved and you can’t really lose them. Each title also has its own distinct endgame sequence much different from the rest. In Roses you’ll need a mildly steady hand (for the one and only time) to navigate traps, while Golden Touch presents a multi-stage inventory challenge, which unfortunately relies a bit too much on trial-and-error over reasoning. The sequence is very cleverly done, however.

Any other variations between the games are largely superficial. Both see Sam heading to exotic locations around the world, just to very different places. The first game sends her off to such locales as Rome, Tibet, and Japan, with other stops at the Louvre and Buckingham Palace. There’s even an extended underwater dive. The sequel racks up the air miles equally, with trips to the likes of Egypt, Turkey, and Thailand, with detours to an Irish henge, the old haunts of Jesse James and Blackbeard, and on to Solomon’s Temple. It’s a widely diverse range in each, and helps Samantha discover quite the impressive collection of cultural artifacts to display at the museum, whose expanding exhibits you can pause to see any time.

Gathering such valuable treasures might help pay the rent, but Sam’s main goal in each game is to track down six particular objects. In the first game it’s the titular roses of the Greek goddess Athena, which, when combined in a special golden shield, will make its bearer all but invincible. In the sequel it’s a set of vials to fill a unique artifact once belonging to King Midas, which together will help uncover the ability to alchemically create gold. Naturally, with powers this incredible, there are bad guys after them, too. Each game features a different antagonist who’s either attempting to thwart Samantha’s quest or capitalize on her discoveries through nefarious means. Remember how Belloq kept lazily swiping all of Indy’s hard-fought items? Yeah, like that. (There had to be an Indiana Jones reference in here somewhere.) Fortunately, Sam does have some friends as well, in the form of museum curator Dr. Butler and a symbologist and myth expert named Adam, who pop up occasionally with some useful advice or information. Adam is even playable for a short period in one game, though this doesn’t affect the gameplay in any significant way.

The presence of allies, enemies and the epic nature of the quests may give the impression that the Samantha Swift games are fairly story-oriented, but really they’re not. There are a few impressive comic-styled cutscenes interspersed between levels, but mainly these serve as window dressing to set up the next sequence of treasure hunting. Darn impressive window dressing, mind you. The vividly coloured, slightly stylized artwork is very pleasant, and the wide range of culturally-specific music rounds out the production nicely. There is even a generous amount of animation sprinkled throughout, making the game feel far more lively than most casual games. The only thing missing is voice acting, which actually might have come in handy, as Sam pokes her head on screen fairly frequently with useful commentary, and her pals contact her through her PDA once in a while. There’s even a Moroccan bar scene full of NPCs to lightly interact with in Golden Touch, each posing a different requirement to fulfill.

Both Samantha Swift games offer 50-odd individual locations and about 4 hours of play time overall, and unless you’re completely opposed to hidden object gameplay, you’ll undoubtedly find it time well spent in both cases. The relatively high production values and light adventuring elements help distinguish these titles from the countless seek-and-find games on the market, and while their slight storylines and easy puzzles make them decidedly “lite” fare, as casual games go these rate among the best. So whether you call them adventures or not, the The Hidden Roses of Athena would still smell as sweet, and The Golden Touch pays off in ways that would make even Midas proud. If you're looking for something to fill in the gaps between larger, tougher adventures, then, don't hesitate to grab these when you spot them.


Community Comments

Latest comments (12 total)

Really, really nice article! I’m currently playing Drawn: The Painted Tower and already feel hungry for more games in this genre. Prior to Drawn, I had never played a Hidden Object game before, thinking they’d be too simple or something. But I was wrong! I’m definitely gonna try some of the games featured in this article.

Oct 26, 2009

Dream Chronicles and Azada are the next casual series up. Smile

Sep 17, 2009

Let me mention the Dream Chronicles series. They are the top i.m.h.o.

Sep 17, 2009

i’ve just recently discovered the HOG genre (thanks to the “drawn” review on this site) and i’ve just bought a couple from bigfishgames including the newer Mystery Case Files, Drawn, and Department 42 by my favorite sherlock holmes company frogwares Grin

Sep 16, 2009

Very good summary..I love Jack’s articles.  I used to play these kinds of games when my graphics card died and had to use an old fx series till I was able to get another that had more grunt.  They’re kinda addictive at first but can become very repetitive in the long run.

Sep 16, 2009

Actually I think we’re on the same page on this, I was merely trying to inform newbies to casual games, if they should stumble upon the word IHOG - (to me they mean HOG’s with adventure elements Wink )

I see this question over at gameboomers frequently, and once they know what it means, they seek out those first. Grin

Sep 16, 2009

I tried Samantha Swift and it is a really addictive game! Definitely worth checking out!

Sep 15, 2009

I’m pretty sure “hardcore casual gamer” is an oxymoron.  Smile

Sep 15, 2009

You mean this Return to Ravenhearst? Wink Guess the article should have included links to all the other casual games we’ve already covered. Grin I agree that MCF is a great series. But (apart from the above) as far as HOGS go, they’re about as traditional as they come. Our casual game coverage has been focused on any games that seem to include more adventure-like elements (or feature protagonists also found in adventures).

Sep 15, 2009

Most of these games are what hardcore casual gamers call IHOGS - Interactive Hidden Object Games - because they involve interacting with items instead of just finding things. Smile

And I agree, that the games mentioned here - apart from the The Hardy Boys - are some of the best in that department.

But the casual community will probably agree with me, when I say, that the top IHOGs are the Mystery Case Files, especially Ravenhearst and Return to Ravenhearst. Smile

Sep 15, 2009

Nice job… I have played demos of the Cate West and Samantha Swift games, and both series are pretty much the cream of the crop in terms of HOGs.  If you like that sort of thing, you should enjoy these!

Sep 15, 2009

Not only have I not forgotten them, I’ve already reviewed one and will get to the second shortly.

Sep 14, 2009

You seem to have forgotten the Nancy Drew Dossiers. Now those are quality Hidden Object games. Not to mention, they are so much better than the confusing and claustrophobic original games.

Though, I absolutely agree with this article. Those games are absolutely amazing.

Sep 14, 2009

An interesting compilation of adventure games by Jack Allin. The games summarized in this article pretty much give the reader a much more than a ‘general’ description of the title making it easier to decide the next purchase.

For those reading my comment, do checkout the
“Return to Mysterious Island 2” review (also by Jack Allin).

-Recommended read.

Sep 14, 2009

Very comprehensive and well written article .

Sep 14, 2009
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