Nightmares From The Deep 3: Davy Jones Collector’s Edition

Today I’ll be reviewing yet another game by Artifex Mundi, and, for once, it’s one that didn’t quite click with me. If you’ve been following my reviews for any amount of time, you know I love Hidden Object games, and that some of my favorite have been done by none other than Artifex Mundi. Even the previous games in the Nightmares From The Deep series I really enjoyed. However, for some reason I can’t quite pinpoint (and perhaps it was a mixture of several things that ended up having me dislike it), Nightmares from the Deep 3 didn’t quite make the cut for me.

“In Nightmares From The Deep 3 you take on the role of Sara, who along with her daughter is kidnapped by none other than Davy Jones”

Sara is then tasked with saving her daughter from Jones and a dark pact, and helping lost souls along the way. This is the last installment on the series, and the most disappointing to me.

The audio and video were of the expected quality: the character’s looks keep slowly improving as time goes by, the backgrounds are as beautiful and detailed as ever, and sounds and music keep improving as well.

Like in other games of theirs, they added collectables in the way of seahorses and pirate cards. The difficulty of finding them was reasonable- they were sufficiently hidden not to be obvious, but not all extremely hard to find, making for a nice extra challenge if you are into collecting stuff, or are a completionist.

They also made use of pets again. The dog, which is the choice pet this time, is truly adorable, and I loved that you could pet him, but compared to the reviewed Clockwork Tales, the functionality of it as other than a fetch tool and a companion was lacking.

Some of the cutscenes were also lacking a little – the most memorable one was a boat rowing scene were the rows moved but there were no hands on them. Hey! Magic! For a company that likes to pay so much attention to details in most their games, this was… surprising. It’s such a little thing, but it takes so much away.

“My other big complain is that, unlike in some of their previous titles, their find-by-picture Hidden Object scenes were very forced”

The items you were to find were force-blended with the background, such as by just changing the hue from what it was supposed to be, instead of having it just be lost among a bunch of similar items; this was a rather cheap move, made it difficult in all the wrong ways, and I didn’t like it at all. Besides, I generally find the find-by-icture scenes a lot more tedious than the ones were you’re given a list.

“As far as the rest of the hidden object scenes and puzzles, they were fairly average for the company, which is a good enough thing”

Puzzles, logic, and extras were of a decent difficulty and pleasant to play. I particularly liked having to play a board mini-game with one of the characters as way of moving forward, as it was different and inventive.

Onto more technical aspects, I was having a lot of troubles this time around keeping it from crashing while alt-tabbing on windowed mode, which I never had a problem with before.

As far as the story went, it was not too bad, but the whole Davey jones thing didn’t entirely “click” with me. The whoe thing felt longer than previous games, and not in a good way. I think it was more boredom that made it seem longer, than actual length in play time.

That said, if you love Artifex Mundi and hidden object games, and if you’ve played the previous two games of the series, Nightmares From The Deep 3: Davy Jones is a nice final installment to it and definitely a mus-have from a fan/collector’s point of view. For everyone else, there’s nothing overly special about this one, even if it’s not a bad game per se.

Would I recommend it? I do think I would still recommend this to other HOG players.

If you enjoy HOG then do yourself a favor and pick this one up as well. Chances are you just might like it.

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Clockwork Tales: Of Glass And Ink CE

The makers of Grim Legends have done it again with yet another lovely Hidden Object game. Released in 2013, Artifex Mundi’s Clockwork Tales: Of Glass and Ink is not one of their earlier games… and yet, it kind of plays like one.

“Clockwork Tales is an adventure/hidden object game. If you’ve never played one of those, Artifex Mundi’s are, in my opinion, some of the best you could pick to play”

Their dedication to making the games visually stunning and the stories compelling is quite amazing, and they’ve been known to listen to the community and improve on their games. That said, it’s still a far from perfect game, and it was one of my slightly least favorite ones from them.

In Clockwork Tales you play as Evangeline Glass, a spy of sorts, a special agent working with Intelligence, who goes in the search of her friend, who had disappeared while on the field, working to find out what was causing some mysterious earthquakes. Like in most hidden object games, the story is nothing overly special, but I did like the touch of it being set in a steampunk world, as I feel we’re severely lacking in variation for themes.

I do wish however, that the story was slightly less formulaic and not just with Artifex Mundi’s game, but with Hidden Objects one in general: Person disappears, other person goes fetch, illogical things happen, evil is shown, evil is defeated.

“I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I was rather disappointed with it”

There is advice in writing that says, “Show, don’t tell.” This is especially true of visual media such as videogames. The ending, then, failed this advice. It felt like it came to an abrupt halt, followed by a long winded expositionby Evangeline that didn’t explain anything of what was left unexplained, but that let us know that the bad guy sure got what he deserved! How? Why? We might never know.

“As far as the technical aspect goes, it plays fairly smoothly”

You have “steambugs” as collectable items. What was a bit different from their other games here was that, while in most games you have x goal amount for the whole game, this one was a goal amount per area. They were also far more noticeable than in other games, which made them quite easy to find.

The art is decent, though as usual in their older games, some of the characters can look a bit creepy in some of the scenes when the body is drawn oddly. The backgrounds are detailed and gorgeous like in all their games – one of their strongest points.

“Another thing I liked was the use of the pet (a steam-pet this time) to fetch and manipulate items, record movies and sound, etc.”

The usage of the pet system as more than just something to “fetch” items was a breath of fresh air, and I hope they will use it in more of their games.

The access to the map was just a bit more annoying than usual, for you have to go into the notebook each time as opposed to directly clicking on the map; plus, each time you fast travel, the map doesn’t close itself. It’s nitpicking a little, I know, but I got used to the ease with which later games handled the map ad fast traveling.

“Clockwork Tales is also a little ‘harder’ in the logic department. Most the hidden object games follow some rather weird logic at times”

Say for instance (not a scene taken from the game, mind you, just for illustration purposes on what I mean) you have a pile of ash, and something underneath it. In real life you could use your hands, or whatever item lays close by, to poke and sift through the ash. In a normal hidden object game you’d want some kind of brush, or cloth, or broom, even if you have a perfectly acceptable item for the job nearby. In Clockwork tales, you’d probably have to climb up a flagpole to rip down a flag to then find scissors to cut a piece from it so you can use it on the ash. What? That perfectly acceptable piece of cloth right next to the pile of ash? Oh, we can’t use that!

“Later games of Artifex Mundi allow you to skip items on hidden object scenes, or skip the scenes all together, by playing a game of mahjong. Not here. I was sad to be unable to switch it up and play a bit of Mah Jong now and then”

Another thing I wasn’t as fond of, but this one was more due to personal preference rather than a fault with the game, was that the mini-games were a lot more often the switch and slide games, or the ones were pressing something requires you to do it in the exact order. It was like they had picked all the mini-games I like the least to put them in here. If you do like those games, however, then you will definitely have a better time playing this one than I did!

Lastly, I found a small bug where my inventory would get stuck at the bottom when I finished some puzzles and returned to normal view, which required me to exit and enter the game again to unlock. Not game breaking, but annoying.

Would I recommend it? Yes. Despite the downsides, I had fun playing it. There are far worse hidden object games around, but there are also better ones from Artifex Mundi itself. If you enjoy puzzle games, this one might be worth checking out.

 

Hidden Object Bundle 5 in 1

 

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Game: Hidden Object Bundle 5 in 1
Genre: Adventure, Casual, Hidden Object
Developer: Alawar Entertainment
Publisher: Alawar Entertainment
Release Date: 27 Feb, 2015
Platform: PC / Played on Windows 7
Overall rating:  7/10
Graphics: 7/10
Controls: 5/10
Level/Puzzle Design:4/10
Sound: 5/10
Story: 1/10
Replay Value: 3/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

Hidden Object Bundle 5 in 1 is yet another series of Hidden Object games. As such, gameplay is conducted in fairly the same way as all the others: You get a first person view of scenes and you navigate with your mouse by pointing and clicking. Through the story you will find hidden object games, puzzles where you need to move pieces, or find pieces, or find pieces and then move pieces, and so on and so forth.

The bundle contains 5 games, I’ll be quoting the store page here:

Quote

Behind the Reflection 2: Witch’s Revenge
A witch’s quest for revenge spells trouble for a young mother and her son in this haunting hidden object adventure! Guide the mother as she pursues the witch through time and space to save her son from a fate worse than death. Interact with a variety of characters, find useful objects, and then use the items to solve cunning puzzles. […]

Mountain Crime: Requital
Someone is killing the guests at a mountain resort, and you could be next if you don’t solve the mystery at the heart of this chilling thriller! Take the role of a doctor who’s summoned to a remote hotel to tend to a patient, and hold on to your sanity as you discover the first victim moments upon arriving at the retreat. […]

Vampire Saga: Pandora’s Box
With a chilling crime at the center of its spellbinding story, Vampire Saga is not intended for the faint of heart. Join Matthew Ward as he steals aboard a cargo ship to escape the violence of the Spanish-American War, passes out and then wakes up to find himself alone with several sinister-looking coffins. […]

Weird Park: Broken Tune
Take the role of a private detective hired to investigate a rash of “accidental” deaths that befell those who worked at the park before city officials shut it down. Search for clues as you explore creepy carnival environments, solve puzzles as you pursue a mysterious joker down shadowy paths, and find hidden objects that can help you solve the mystery of a portal that leads to a realm beyond insanity.[…]

Twisted Lands: Shadow Town
[…] Welcome to Twisted Lands: Shadow Town, the first game in a new saga that will explore the emotion of fear. Guide the actions of a man as he searches a deserted island for his wife, who disappeared when their boat crashed on the shore. Along the way, gather hidden items, solve hair-raising puzzles and make one spine-chilling discovery after another as you draw ever closer to a shocking conclusion!

Because they’re all mostly the same in general terms, I’ll be reviewing them as one item.

The puzzles are extremely easy to solve. In fact, in one of them I was solving them so fast I kept glitching the game every time I would get the reward or need to move a piece – they would end up disappearing and I had to go back to the menu and back into the game to get the item.


Find aaaaalll the items!

You can tell some of the games are older. The game play where you don’t have a decent map in half of them, the graphic design as well are easy indicators, some don’t even have voice acting (and trust me when I say: that’s almost a blessing lol). This doesn’t mean they’re bad, but it makes them challenging and more annoying as you need to backtrack several times to find your way to things. this isn’t necessarily bad if you don’t mind all the back tracking, and in a way sort of makes up for the easy puzzles, but for me it just didn’t cut it. I missed having a map (I think only a few had them), and more than that, I missed using the map to fast-travel to locations. Those items were a looot of clicking away.

Story-wise they’ve done nothing new. Someone close to you gets lost, you’re trapped somewhere, gotta find them or/and a way out… and all of a sudden you’re a pretty dumb human who can’t do anything. “Gee, I’m trapped in this room in a creepy old house, and I think there’s a key under the ashes; but wait! I can’t just sweep the ashes by hand!! I need something to sweep them out of the way!”
Screw that, I’m sticking my hands in if that key can get me out. And if for some reason I didn’t really want my hands all ashy, I’d grab the nearst thing to get the key out, not go through 50 different things to get to a sweeper. :P
That, however, is a fault all HOG games suffer from (and I do mean all of them), so if you’re into them you should be used to it by now.


Man boobs?

Visually speaking the areas and the hidden object scenes are quite lovely. I liked all the details, the items were neither too hard nor too easy to spot, and they didn’t go out of their way to hide them in ridiculous places, most the time. Characters, however, were rather hit and miss, leaning heavily on the creepy side of ‘miss’.
The music and sounds were fairly good too, but the voice acting was truly, truly terrible.

If you’re a fan of Hidden Object games, I would still definitely recommend this bundle despite its shortcomings. If you aren’t, they might still be a good enough place to start, as they are better than the average – and hey! you get 5 in 1! ;)

Showing Tonight: Mindhunters Incident

Data Break Up
Game: Showing Tonight: Mindhunters Incident
Genre: Adventure, Casual
Developer: Phime Studio LLC
Publisher: Phime Studio LLC
Release Date: Nov 12, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  7.5/10
Graphics: 7/10
Controls: 10/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 8/10
Sound: 7.5/10
Story: 7/10
Replay Value: 6/10
Community: N/A

Showing Tonight Mindhunters Incident Title

Showing Tonight: Mindhunters Incident is a Point and Click game with some Hidden Object scenes and undertones, created by Phime Studio. I say this is more a P&C game because really, there’s only about 3ish HoG scenes, the rest I wouldn’t consider to be exactly hidden object per se.

In this game you take the role of a man who falls asleep watching the movie “They Ate My Clapper”, and thus wakes up in this movie world, tasked with finding the missing crew. To be honest, while the story on paper sounds good, in game it was rather confusing. Alien artifacts, mind powers and mind control, horror? I’m not sure if it’s going for paranormal (which was my original assumption) or something else, and by the end of the game I’m still unsure of it.

The game has various chapters, all interconnected in locations (you’re not locked out of any of the areas), and a final bonus chapter which you can only access by completing the entire game. It’d be nice if they’d put an option to play the bonus chapter separately from the main story, and if they had asked/warned you about playing it instead of tossing you into it right after the main story’s finale, leaving you even more confused.

That said, and despite the occasional item appearing out of what I felt was thin air, the game was fairly logical. Meaning for most things you needed actual tools (a shovel for digging something up) rather than finding an oblique way to go about it.

The puzzles varied in complexity, some really easy, some much harder, some seemed to be more trial and error than anything, which was a bit disappointing. The main ‘thing’ of the game seemed to be the silhouette puzzles, in which you were to match an item with its silhouette via turning it around with arrows. It wasn’t too difficult, but after the first two or three times it lost its novelty and having to do them in nearly all the important puzzles got quite bothersome, to the point where some I just skipped to move along the story faster.

On the puzzles that require some note to complete, while you can’t hold the note up at the same time of the puzzle, accessing it is still easy and not as bothersome as in other HoG games. You also don’t have to wait to collect every piece of a puzzle before you put it in its place, which is quite nice.

My only real complaint was the jukebox puzzle, in which either I was missing something obvious or you weren’t really given a hint on when you were sort of heading in the right direction with it, which ended up making it quite frustrating for me. It was probably user error, but there you have it.

On the other hand, Mindhunters also had a couple mini-games which were fun to play.

Showing Tonight Mindhunters Incident

The sound effects and music can get a tad repetitive, but they’re relatively nice and seem to fit the game okay. The voice acting, however, left a lot to be desired, even if they aren’t precisely the worst I’ve heard.

The graphics are quite nice, particularly the detailed backgrounds; the animations aren’t too bad, even if they could be a bit more fluid. Some of the scenes could benefit from a bit more research on how things look – for instance the driving scenes in which you saw the people from the front inside the car.

I rather liked the quick travel map, even if I wished each section would have had its sub-sections as quick travel as well.

All in all, I quite enjoyed my playthrough and would certainly recommend it to HoG and adventure fans, even with the small downsides. I’ll be looking forward to see what else Phime comes up with in the future.

Showing Tonight Mindhunters Incident

 

Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
Platform: PC / iOS
Developer: Artifex Mundi
Genre: Action / Casual Adventure / RPG

Part 2 of the Grim Legends series, Song of The Dark Swan is another wonderful Adventure and Hidden Object game from Artifex Mundi. I own and have played several of their games and I have to say, they’re my favorite in the genre. They just know how to mix story, art, and game-play wonderfully. So, needless to say, I was quite excited to be able to review one of their games.

In Song of The Dark Swan you step into the shoes of a healer gone to see a queen about her illness, only to have the queen be accused of dark magic. The healer must then set off to save two Kingdoms by undoing a family curse, finding the missing heir to the throne, saving the queen and finding the true dark sorcerer; and all of this in one day!

For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of these type of games, and particularly the  Artifex Mundi ones, the mechanics are quite simple. In between story parts you will find several different game-play methods: Point and Click areas in which you will have to find small items in the environment for later use in puzzles; Puzzles, such as sliders, arranging puzzles, find-a-piece puzzles, follow-recipe puzzles, and the sort; and finally Hidden Object puzzles, in which you’re presented with a heavily packed screen full of items from which you’re provided a list, and you must find them in the picture. What I love about this developer is precisely this: they don’t just stick to hidden objects or slide puzzles, they mix and match and offer a great variety through the game.

You only need your mouse to play these type of games, and they usually don’t require high grade computers, either. Artifex Mundi is particularly good at this, their games tend to work in even the lowest end computers I’ve owned. The videos might get a bit choppy if you’re not in a decent rig, but I have so far only had that problem with one of their games, and this one wasn’t it.

And, before anyone asks, no, you don’t need to have played Grim Legends 1 to understand or follow part 2. They follow a similar theme, but they aren’t the same.

Let’s move along to the actual game!

Song of The Dark Swan doesn’t disappoint in terms of music and sound effects. The music suits the atmosphere perfectly, it’s beautifully eerie, truly giving you a feeling of being in a fantasy land touched by dark magic. The sound effects are quite pleasing to the ears, too. The voice acting, however, is hit and miss. It’s not bad, the voices are pleasant enough, and the intonation fairly good, but there was something lacking. It’s still improved plenty from the last games, however. Particularly, I was bothered by the sounds the fairies made as well as the children voices. The rest were fairly good.

Artifex Mundi is wonderful at their game art; as far as the world goes, the art is amazing! It’s full of small details and truly brings the world to life. I always enjoy going to new locations and discovering all the effort put into each and every piece – be it nature or indoors. It’s also very colorful and bright, even in the darker themed games such as this.

Characters, however, can be a bit hit and miss. Most are pretty beautifully rendered, but then you’ll have the slightly odd face or odd pose during cut-scenes, and they can get just a bit creepy. Still, their games hold some of the best artists I’ve seen.

Song of The Dark Swan is the same in both aspects. The world is represented in magnificent detail and it really helps bring it to life, especially if you take into account some things in the backgrounds are partially animated; the characters are fairly well done, particularly when static, but some are still better rendered than others. What differentiates characters in this one is that they’re more paint-style art than in their other games, and I found I rather liked the change.

The cinematic scenes have certainly improved plenty from past games, making the cut-scenes pleasant to watch and just short enough that you really don’t see the need to skip them – unless that annoying fairy is talking.

In Song of The Dark Swan, like in their other games, the world is full of little collectibles. In this case small symbols throughout the different areas. Some are easy to spot, some much harder. It makes for an interesting challenge to find them all!

The story itself is quite nice. It’s short and simple. It’s been obviously based off a fairy tale, but still manages to spin a story of its own; it has hints to background lore and legends within the story itself to give it depth, too, which is always a plus in any game, and makes the story engaging. There are darker parts to the story as well, but ultimately you get a relatively happy ending, and I do love my happy endings.

As for the game-play itself, I missed the ability to switch a puzzle for a mini-game from previous games, but it was also an option I used only when an item was particularly hard to find, so in the long run it wasn’t really that much of a drawback.

However, I enjoyed the variety of puzzles offered; in fact it seemed to be a bit more varied than in their previous titles. It’s one of my favorite things on this developer’s games, and Song of The Dark Swan didn’t disappoint. I also quite enjoyed the ability to have companions – the first time this was introduced in one of the developer’s games I fell in love with the idea as it added not only a friendly little creature with you, but a second level of challenge where you had to ponder just where the little animal might be of use. Here I could use not only one, but more, and that was pretty awesome. On the downside, even when replaying the game on expert mode, the companions made little sounds to hint where they could be used, which was slightly annoying.

There were a lot more locations to visit than in previous titles, which made me happy, and the developer has the wonderful habit of offering quick-travel if you’ve visited those locations, something I honestly love them for because the more locations, the more confusing it can get to get where you’re going. There was also less of a need to backtrack through maps, usually whatever you needed for that ‘chapter’ could be found within the map world.

There was also more interaction which characters and more parts where you had to uncover the story of the curse, which was done through finding golden feathers. I really enjoyed those little flashbacks, the art was pretty and the story in it was interesting.

Song of The Dark Swan had a better balance between puzzles and hidden object scenes. I guess depending on what you like this could be good or bad. I found I didn’t mind it.

The achievements are not too hard to get, which was both pleasing for me as a casual gamer, and yet slightly bothersome as someone who likes the challenge. There should be about 30 of them for you to gather though, so you won’t be bored.

As for the difficulty of the game, the puzzles aren’t overly difficult, and if you’re used to the developer’s games they will not be much of a challenge for you, as they’re not the hardest I’ve encountered in their games; but they’re pleasing puzzles nonetheless.

In a whole, the Collector’s Edition with its bonus story takes about 5 and a half hours to beat, perhaps a bit more if you’re a completionist. It’s an enjoyable fairy tale type story with enjoyable puzzles that are sure to please casual gamers, though I doubt even expert mode would challenge seasoned players. It would also make a great introduction to anyone just looking into starting with hidden object type of games.

Song of The Dark Swan is definitely recommended in my book!

 

Overall Rating: 9/10

 

Ferrum’s Secrets: Where Is Grandpa?

 

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Game: Ferrum’s Secrets: Where Is Grandpa?
Genre: Adventure, Casual, Indie, Hidden Object
Developer: ZigZag Soft
Publisher: Black Shell Media
Release Date: Augh 14, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  3/10
Graphics: 6/10
Controls: 4/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 2/10
Sound: 3/10
Story: 4/10
Replay Value: 0/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

Oh man. I wanted to like this one, God knows I love HOG games, but just, no.

In Ferrum’s Secrets you play the role of some girl who goes look for her grandpa (an inventor) who was apparently abducted by an unknown person for unknown reasons. Okay, to be fair the reasons are kinda sorta disclosed in broken English at some point, I had kind of stopped paying attention by then.
The story itself could be a decent typical HOG one, and the game could be an average one as it had a good general idea, but the execution was just awful.

From the start the game was annoying: The windowed mode provides no resolution options, leaving you with a window the same size as your screen, making the mode pointless. There is only one option for sound/music – muted or not. If you mute it, you miss out the in game sounds which aren’t too bad, but if you don’t mute it you’re driven insane by the ill-fitting music on the menu. There’s no voice acting, thankfully. The menu itself is unpleasant to look at.

The graphics are so-so. They’re done with Unity and are 3D, people look pretty decent, but everything else looks pretty bland and blends in. The 3D adds the annoyance of making the game slow and laggy.
The UI/GUI is awful looking, huge, clunky, and obscures clicking areas in some cases. The clicking areas of items is rather specific too, and sometimes you found yourself trying to click an item placed at the end of the screen only to end up in another location because they kind of overlapped.
The tutorial is short, in the way, and not overly helpful.

You’re thrown into the game with no explanation of what you’re doing there, no intro, no background, no nothing. And while I love the cats, I had started to wonder just how many friggin’ cats did this grandpa had before the girl decided to make me note at last that it was just the same cat (hers) following her around.

Most of the story is told through notes or through written dialogue that just goes by too slow in some occasions, and way too fast in others. This would have been easily solvable by allowing the user to click to get past the dialogues.
It also needs some major editing because the English in it is terribly broken.

Also, it can’t seem to make up its mind if it’s about inventors, magic, or both, as we’re all in a steampunk-like kind of setting at the start and then suddenly there’s this druid/witch like person. Ok?

The Hidden Object scenes are boring, either too easy to solve or have words that are a bit weird that made me search for the object for way too long because it wasn’t quite the right word.

The minigames have no explanations; granted, most don’t need them as they’re fairly simple, but then there’s a couple where you’re not really sure what you’re supposed to do. At all. And get no help, because… The Hint system is inconsistent. You never know when it will or won’t work. Sometimes it gets stuck in a loop or forces you to an unnecessary step (ie. carrying a light) when there’s no need to, in order to have you progress.

Oh, and finally, the spinning hidden object area was horrible. I was lucky it didn’t last long enough to make me dizzy, but it had some small items to try and click on which moved way too fast as the things spun, which only made the torture longer as I couldn’t click the exact pixel I needed.

On the upside, it’s kind of cute that you can interact with a couple objects (bump them aside or tip them over), and you can choose the game difficulty, but it hardly makes up for the hassles.

9 Clues 2: The Ward

 

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Game: 9 Clues 2: The Ward
Genre: Adventure, Casual, Hidden Objects
Developer: Tap It Games
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Release Date: Jul 23, 2015
Platform: PC / Windows 7
Overall rating:  8/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Controls: 9/10
Level/Puzzle Design: 9/10
Sound: 7/10
Story: 7.5/10
Replay Value: 3/10
Community: N/A

 

Review

Ah, Artifex Mundi, I how I love thy games. You really know how to make hidden object games!

The second part of the 9 Clues Series, “The Ward”, takes place at a psychiatric hospital. You and your partner, both detectives, get a call from a doctor there and arrive to find the caller has died under mysterious circumstances. You must now solve the murder, and the secret of Mnemosyne Asylum.

As per usual with Artifex Mundi games, the background art is simply gorgeous and detailed. The character art, when still, is fairly good, however it’s not the best of their games, and the animations are… let’s just say they leave a lot to be desired. It feels a little like they’ve almost gone backwards on this aspect. The music (most times creepy) and sound effects are, as per usual, good; the voice acting is unremarkable, which is good in that it is, at least, not bad.

The story isn’t overly original, pretty typical to most HOG games and to Artifex Mundi in particular.

The particularity of the 9 Clues series -and what sets it a bit apart from other HOGs- is the “Detective Mode”; in it, you are made to find a certain amount of clues in the room, and once you do, you are made to put them in order to recreate the sequence of events that occurred there. It’s an interesting change and nice addition to the typical HOG scene, as you’re not really told what you’re looking for exactly, but if you have common sense, it shouldn’t be difficult anyway.
While this is not too different from other ‘find the sequence’ puzzles, it’s a nice change of pace.

Just like other HOGs from Artifex Mundi, however, it continues to have the same downsides. For instance, you’ll need to find 3 items, but you can’t put one into the puzzle already because you don’t have the other two. Or things are in slightly ridiculous places or require to do slightly ridiculous things when any sane person would’ve just used something else that was handy. You can’t really escape those issues in HOGs, for the most.

There was also a very lol-worthy part on the game where you literally find a to-do list on placing a bomb and making it go off. Erm. Seriously?

Something I did really enjoy though was that this one had less backtracking to be done. Most the items you needed for any given section were within one or two rooms from where you were, sometimes even in the same one. Still, with Artifex Mundi backtracking hardly makes a difference, as they have fast travel through the map (speaking of which, the map icons aren’t as nice as in their other games, it made me a bit sad).

With The Ward, they’ve gone back into allowing you to replace Hidden Object scenes for a game of (wait for it, I can never spell it) Mah Jong. The rest of the puzzles found throughout are fairly similar to their other games, some a bit more challenging than others.

There are lots of collectables to be found: phantom objects, clue symbols, model fragments… it was nice, but it also started to get a bit annoying to have to be looking out for all of these.

If you’re a fan of HOGs, and a fan of Artifex Mundi, I definitely recommend this one.

Lost Lands: Dark Overlord

This review was originally written for WalaWala Games.
A free copy of the game has been provided in exchange for an honest review.

Title Lost Lands: Dark Overlord Collector’s Edition
Platform: PC
Developer: FIVE BN Games
Genre: Adventure / Action / Puzzler

Lost Lands: Dark Overlord

Developer Five-BN Games brings us Lost Lands: Dark Overlord, an adventure/hidden object game in which you take the role of Susan, who must rescue her son from the evil forces that have kidnapped him and taken him to another land to… use him for evil means, as usual.

This is a fairly typical hidden object styled game, and as such, both story and the general logic behind some of the puzzles and items to acquire follow a similar path (and thus, similar downfalls) to most other games of the genre: meaning it’s nothing original and logic flies out the window half the time.
That said, Lost Lands: Dark Overlord is definitely a bit above the average HOG game, and definitely on a good path.

Let’s start with the audiovisual. The background art is really nice; they pay plenty of attention to background details, and most of the areas are really beautiful. The models and characters are pretty decent, but them, as well as the voices given to them, suffer from lack of expression. The characters ‘smile’ by hardly moving their mouths in an upward fashion, the mother’s re-encounter with her son goes only as far as a half heartfelt “Oh, jimmy.” and overall it’s just not the best. However, it’s also not the worst I’ve encountered, and you can kind of tell there was an attempt at giving some sort of emotional intonation to the text.
The cutscenes were alright too, though there were a couple ‘transitional’ ones that I’m not sure were really needed. The music was nice, soft enough that I was not bothered by it, and seemed to fit the setting.

The game has various difficulties: Easy/normal/hard plus a slightly custom one as you can select how fast or slow hints take to recharge and what you want ‘help’ with or not, which was a really nice addition.

Once in, you’ll find it also has many collectables to find throughout the areas in the main story, all of which were quite easy to spot – I’d think this lowers the replayability quite a bit, as completionists will surely not miss them on the first play through and thus would have no reason to go back and replay it.

There are several things I really enjoyed about it:

  • It has a decent map system with fast travel – clicking on a map location takes you straight to it. The map also has the typical hints of where something needs doing and where you are, as well as an added hint of where you haven’t found a collectable yet (but only if you play it on easy, normal, or custom with those selected).
  • There was a little ‘pet’ you find that helps you with getting certain items. I always enjoy when they add little companions because it somehow makes you not feel so ‘alone’.
  • The customization choices for the difficulty (which I took full advantage of).
  • The great variety of puzzles.

Though most of the puzzles were a little too easy, I did enjoy playing through most of them. Lost Lands: Dark Overlord has a great variety, having only a few hidden object scenes (a couple by list, a couple by shape), some ‘logical pair’ scenes (flower with vase, etc), and puzzles ranging from slider to swapping to connecting and rearranging, to repair and/or reassemble the machine and a few recipe-based “make this item”, which I really like… It kept the game fresh not to have too many repeats.

Another interesting feature was that, in some of the puzzles where you first needed to find everal of an item, you would usually find most of those together in one single location. Some you still had to find separately, of course, but not having to find every single glass shard of a stained window, for instance, was actually quite nice.

Something I would have liked to have was for more of the ‘press things in a specific order’ puzzles to have the ability to put the little piece of paper with the order nearby to see it as you could in some of the rearranging puzzles. It got a bit tiresome having to open the book every time if you couldn’t recall the order.

The hidden object scenes were also rather easy, as some of the items stood out a bit too much (I seriously ended up getting at least half of them without even reading the list first).

There were no outstanding bugs through my gameplay, though my game did crash once (when I tried to switch from full screen to window in the middle of the game) and froze another time (for no reason whatsoever). Fortunately, it seems to have a pretty sturdy auto-saving system for I went back both times exactly to where I had left off and I was able to play on without major issues.

There was one thing that was a bit bothersome though, and that is: when you start the bonus chapter, on the initial sequence when she dreams about being needed, her hair is longer than on the main story; yet when she’s going through the portal and afterwards her hair is shorter again (and she’s wearing other clothes, too) as the cutscene was clearly reused from the main storyline. While I can see why the scene was reused, it was a bit of a sloppy thing that removed consistency in the storyline.
I’m also confused as to why the initial dream sequence seems like it’s setting up the bonus as a horror story when it’s not, haha. Maybe that last was just me reading too much into it, though.

I was lucky to get the Collector’s Edition to review. As usual, these come with a bunch of unlockable extras (wallpapers, concept art, etc), the choice to replay puzzles 8without having to replay the entire game), as well as the main story + bonus story (in which you go back to help some underwater beings from being extinct). The main story is fairly short, and the bonus is even shorter. With just around 3 hours of gameplay between both, Lost Lands: Dark Overlord might not be challenging or overly original, but it’s still fun to play.

I’ll be looking forward to see how they improve on future releases!

Overall Rating: 7/10