Hidden Object – 12 in 1 bundle Review – It’s like reading that one fan fiction

I never told anyone this, but ever since I watched the Extra Credits episode Overlooked – The Hidden Potential of Hidden Object Games (S.7 Ep. 10 first uploaded to YouTube in 2013: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KV8AM1ciS4I) I had wanted to try out hidden objects games and recently was surprisingly given the chance to do so. Thank you again, Dewi, for hitting me up with this bundle and granting me this chance.

Shamrock Shingles, Batman! A Dozen in One

Since these games came in a bundle and many of them are kind of same-ish, I decided to split this review in two halves. There will be an overall review followed by micro reviews of each one.

General Review about the Games in the Bundle

Compared to motion pictures, novels, theater plays, or radio dramas, video games have thus far been terrible at telling stories intriguingly; even plots and narrative presentation in video games I like are either tacky at best and shoddy at worst. But this doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of them. Video games are a young medium and most of all, they are interactive; their plots serve to give us, the players, a setting and agency from whereon out we ourselves step in the shoes of the protagonist and fill in any gaps in our own, creative minds. However, in genres like visual novels, point & click adventures, or hidden object games, gameplay mechanics have purposely been stripped down to allot more room to brain teasers, plot, funny quips, or drama. And since hidden object games do not offer a whole lot of mechanics, their implementation of puzzles and narrative has to be that much more refined to be enjoyable. This is where this 12 in 1 bundle struggles in particular.

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The air pump had to be used with the deflated ball before it could be picked up. Great design idea!

The Scripts

The stories in every one of these games included here, save for the last one (Frankenstein), are not good – and even that final title loses momentum towards the end, despite the brevity of its tale. The plots all serve their main purpose of leading the protagonists from set piece to set piece, but remain to be difficult to read, suffer from canyon sized plot holes, leaps in logic, awkward dialogs, and proper pay-off. BUT!!! this is dampened somewhat when one keeps in mind the platform for which they were originally created for.

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The sheep game had me chuckle as sheep were flying through the air. Finding the differences in handwriting, however, was tedious

All of the titles in this assortment were created for mobile devices like smartphones or tablets and every one of the activities are here to help mobile players pass some time on the loo or during the daily commute rather than to enthrall them by fantastic worlds of fiction. The plots therefore often lack proper climaxes, conclusions, character development, or scripts as they merely aspire to achieve something comparable to cohesion. That is a big let-down and a huge minus for PC players accustomed to other kinds of narrative structures. The mobile roots also show themselves whenever the player does anything in-game: The productions autosave after every move, allowing for audiences to come back at a later date without demanding any commitment. In fact, several of the titles can even be downloaded individually on the Google Play store or on iTunes. Sadly, this means that, because this review is about the PC port, core PC players will have to make some concessions here and there.

The Gameplay

Each entry has a playtime of around one and a half to two hours with the collection offering about 24-26 hours of overall gameplay; a good deal in and of itself. The mechanics are self-explanatory, with most screens requiring players to find hidden objects on a screen followed by the occasional puzzle interlude that can be in the style of Where’s my Water? (2011), Boss Puzzle, Simon Says, Spot the Difference, or shooting games à la 1980s Tiger Electronics and Nintendo Game & Watch handhelds. If, under any circumstances any of them should proof to be too difficult, they can even be skipped completely. These mini games to me were the clear highlights of this bundle with the math based and potion mixing activities in three of the titles taking the cake. Sadly, and maybe this is because I played a lot of point & click adventures, I found most puzzles to be brief affairs and could have gone for something slightly more demanding. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Port

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Some of the hidden objects in Bonnie & Clyde were difficult to identify

All of the games can be played in the major Western European languages, including English, German, Spanish, Italian, and of course French from which they were all translated from. Here and there, there are some funny translation hiccups; when playing in English for example, objects are occasionally misidentified by the game, like when a torch becomes a flashlight, a chalice a cup, or when numerous jerry cans and canisters are called all kinds of things. That shouldn’t bother you, however, especially since most of the translations are superb. What irked me a bit though was that multiple games have low definition, grainy set pieces with small hidden objects while none of them come with resolution settings. Now, the target group, I presume, won’t mind and titles do have a zoom-in function and a hint system as well, but from time to time it does feel like pixel hunting. Mouse click recognition is also not ideal when one is used to more action-based games. After clicking on an object it takes several frames before one can click again, resulting in players maybe finding and clicking on multiple hidden objects in a row while the game only marks a few of them as discovered.

Conclusion

Now, I am aware that creating video games is a surprisingly demanding undertaking which necessitates a lot of trial and error before something worthwhile comes about – and with this bundle, players can very well observe the developer’s learning curve – nonetheless, the better portion of the games included here could have used a lot more love during development. I’m not a big fan of mobile games as they frequently lack replay value and a caring hand to flesh out the characters, stories, or refine the mechanics. Many of the older titles in seem like throw-away productions meant to learn the ropes of game development and be played a single time but never again, however tales that can only be told once are difficult to recommend. Nevertheless, there are fragments in some these titles that really sparkle, with two games in  this collection even feeling like things are picking up, and another two in this bundle that are solid, fun to play, competent mobile games that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Micro Opinions

Like I said, the individual games do not provide enough content for long reviews and many of them have identical playstyles, so I will try to provide a couple of brief impressions on each of them here in the order I have played through them:

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The disguise/clothes mechanic was a neat idea

In FBI: Paranormal Case (2010), James, an FBI agent, travels the globe from the USA to China to the Bermuda Triangle to Russia to the South Pole, hunting down aliens, apparitions, and yetis while looking for a mysterious chap chewing gum. This first title in the collection has virtually no plot and by far the biggest mystery is how James, a U.S. federal agent who looks suspiciously like Edward Norton, has authority to conduct investigations in foreign nations. Although the game’s nothing special, the puzzles were fun and the objects easily found. This was also the first hidden objects game I ever played on a computer. The only annoying puzzle was one with colored tiles that I had trouble solving.

In Hidden Files: Echoes of JFK (2013), Barack Obama, played by a Danny Glover lookalike, (no really, there’s even a news article in-game straight out mentioning Obama) sends out FBI agent Jane Sully to investigate the murder of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The game is certainly a step up from the first title with better graphic design, much better hidden objects, and a more point & click adventure styled layout. Design-wise things are certainly heading in the right direction and felt more like a proper game. Another cool feature is that many of the set pieces have hidden objects that hand out trivia knowledge when clicked on (although I wonder what sources and fact checking methods they used for the trivia). These will reappear in some of the other games in the bundle and are certainly a fun Easter egg kind of idea. What annoyed me though was that the writing was terrible and, after the first game about aliens and this one about a JFK conspiracy, I felt a growing suspicion that I am supposed to play these with a tinfoil hat on.

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The puzzles in these games were all a welcome change in pace

In Deadly Association (2013), the player joins forensic police inspectors Chloé and Paul in a murder case. While Chloé’s spray tan and hairdo remind me of Snooki from Jersey Shore (2009-2012), Paul’s face was distracting me the whole time as he perpetually has a big eye filter on. The gameplay is a return to the first one, except that at some point a Nicholas Cage lookalike cop will help players out and at the end it turns out that some Mark Zuckerberg clone was the culprit. At this point I was showing signs of fatigue from the writing style and could have used some pick-me-up plots. The redeemable portion was a number puzzle where the sums of numbers aligned horizontally and vertically had to amount to 34. That one took me quite a bit to solve and I had hoped that there were more of these kinds of puzzles in the game, to no avail. I really did not feel properly challenged or entertained by these games thus far.

Agent Keegan in Criminal Investigation Agents: Petrodollars (2012) is trying to find out some conspiracy revolving around oil, the Middle East, and Russia, I think. I passed out as the plot was all over the place once again and it became strenuous to read any of it. Despite that, I liked that I had to take out a pen and paper at some point for a rather simple puzzle revolving around a bookshelf and the alphabet. This game also introduces a neat little gimmick: Depending on the location, the protagonist has to change outfits to remain undercover. Overall that was very pleasant up until a portion where she had to go to the slums, which just felt inadequate and like an unintentional jab at the impoverished.

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Coming up with puzzles is tough, but reusing the same puzzle in one bundle is a letdown

In Statue of Liberty: The Lost Symbol (2014), someone stole the Statue of Liberty, Carmen Sandiego style, and it’s up to FBI agent Susan Pierce to bring it back. The story is again sub par, but grabbed my attention as soon as holograms and Nikola Tesla were involved. There are some neat visual effects and certain objects can only be spotted when Susan wears special goggles. Certainly this game was made when the developers had had more experience with game design. Gameplaywise, this one is akin to Hidden Files: Echoes of JFK and has a higher quality level than other titles in this bundle. The bad part came when, at some point, the player has to assemble a traveling device, which, though easy enough, was annoying to build as the game uses the mouse cursor as orientation point instead of the objects Susan was holding in her hand:
Objects simply had to be attached to one another by having the right parts touch one another and I thought if the right parts touched, they would auto assemble, but instead the mouse cursor has to touch the correct bits.

Alison Carter is some kind of ghost whisperer in Medford Asylum: Paranormal Case (2014) that was hired because the construction workers, among them the ex-boyfriend of her sister’s that had beaten her (that plot line led nowhere. It was introduced and then dropped), ceased their renovation work due to some specter. Upon closer investigation you solve the case in about an hour.

The story is as terrible as ever and I had no clue why they introduced that boyfriend and her sister in that one scene. The puzzles are really neat though. There’s a math puzzle with dice and a great chain of puzzles revolving around mixing potions with one another. I really liked that and definitely thought that it was heading towards the right direction. I also enjoyed how the different set pieces were better interconnected here than in most previous titles.

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These assembly puzzles were easy, but the mouse controls did get in the way a bit

In Haunted House Mysteries (2013), players take on the role of Nancy Evans as portrayed by Zooey Deschanel’s doppelgänger and her aunt Mary Allen in her best Maggie Smith outfit. Zooey decides to spend her vacation with her auntie at a haunted mansion where a gruesome murder had occurred, because why not. What sets this game apart from previous titles is that, on occasion, items have to be combined with one another before they can be picked up and the overall setting was certainly nice. What annoyed me, however, was that the number puzzle from Deadly Association reappeared here. It was identical and had the exact same solution. This wouldn’t have been as glaringly obvious if I hadn’t played them as part of a bundle, but this way, it was a letdown.

With Secret Case: Paranormal Investigation (2015), we finally have a great mobile game. It’s fun. That’s all there is to say. The story is something about Prof. Charles Xavier wanting to find aliens or whatever. I really didn’t want to read anymore from the hands of whoever wrote these dialogs, but the gameplay itself is legitimately enjoyable to play because the developers finally start to experiment within the constraints of this genre by including, among others, a timer for each and every one of the hidden object screens and puzzles.

The faster the player finds all objects or solves the puzzles, the more points they will receive. They will still progress normally even when they are taking their time, but the mere existence of the timer and a 1-3 star rating at the completion of a map added some extra challenge and made it more action oriented. A minor thing that irritated me, despite that, was how the potion mixing game from Medford Asylum: Paranormal Case made a brief cameo here but apart from that, the game was fun. A puzzle that stuck out to me here was one where players have 16 objects in four colors and have to arrange them using wheels so that they will be in proper order. There was also a number puzzle where the sum of nine numbers had to be 15 when aligned horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. That too was quite intriguing.

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Frankenstein was a funny game and I would have loved if it had been a bit longer

Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde: The Strange Case – Extended Edition (2011) takes players back to 19th century London where they take on the role of a friend to the kind-hearted Dr. Jekyll. Shenanigans happen and one has to solve puzzles before things get worse. I was charmed by the game having two endings and played through it twice in a row. Other than that, it is basically like the first game about aliens. A tiny thing that annoyed me was the mahjong puzzle where the tiles were mirrored across the screen, resulting in all Chinese graphemes on-screen to be backwards as well. I’m sure this doesn’t bother anyone who can’t read Asian scripts, but imagine looking at a Western text this way.

Jack The Ripper: Letters from Hell – Extended Edition (2013) had an interesting gameplay idea and a horrible execution. While Jack the Ripper is roaming the streets of London, Bert, a journalist, thinks it’s a fun idea to mislead the cops with fake letters of confession so that he can trace the steps of the serial killer himself undisturbed. Little does he know that now both the killer and the cops are after him. [Exit, pursued by a bear] [Enter dramatic music playing band]

Every so often in the game, Inspector Abberline from the Metropolitan Police London shows up and will ask the player next to impossible questions about minor details from a previous screen that players most likely did not notice, or I’m even dumber than I thought. By answering incorrectly, Bert will end up in prison, only to then be released and continue his investigation until the next encounter with Abberline. I failed every single one of these pop quizzes and did not feel like going through that one again at all. The puzzles are more of the same as in the first game, with the worst part being a quiz where players have to find 20 differences between two letters. That was just annoying.

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I really enjoyed solving this chemical puzzle

Public Enemies: Bonnie & Clyde – Extended Edition (2010) is surprisingly long. Janette Jones Parker retraces the steps of the famous duo, Bonnie and Clyde, for her next novel. Though the game was overall enjoyable, I utilized the hint function deliberately as I often found myself unable to detect the hidden objects on-screen. Even the zoom didn’t help. Apart from that, the game plays basically like the first game although there are a large number of set pieces.

Frankenstein – The Dismembered Bride (2011) had the only fun-to-read plot in this bundle. It isn’t a strong script, but successfully uses comic relief to redirect the audience’s attention away from that and keeps them engaged. Brad ends up at a mansion where Dr. Frankenstein tried to use his girlfriend’s body to bring his own wife back to life. Unfortunately things did not exactly go according to plan as the doctor slipped on her brain. So, now the good doctor is dead and Brad’s girlfriend, Janet, is a talking mind without a body. Even though the gameplay itself is nothing special, the humor is on point and will make players want to see where the journey goes. I certainly wouldn’t mind a continuation of this plot, however am worried as it started losing steam near the end. The objects are also easy to identify, so I recommend playing this one.

Final Word

All in all, Secret Case: Paranormal Investigation and Frankenstein are the two games definitely worth playing with other titles like Haunted House Mysteries having some nice moments. The rest of the bundle is more like a video game version of Bertie Bott’s Beans from Harry Potter (1997 ongoing) or a box of chocolates from Forrest Gump (novel 1986, movie 1994), if you will. You never know what you’re going to get and there’s a real chance that what you receive could taste like digested booger. I liked the costume mechanic in Criminal Investigation and the hologram/goggle device in Statue of Liberty but overall hated the writing in all of these.

Do I recommend this bundle? Since the newer games in this assortment are of higher quality, I assume that this is a kind of springboard for the developer to finance higher production games later on. So, maybe yeah? I recommend it? Sort of? At least to some degree.

If you want to assist what I assume is an aspiring studio, I’d say yeah, get it, but you should be aware that several of these games don’t have a lot of replay value. If you’re on a tight budget, then no. Definitely don’t get this bundle even though it costs $5.99 USD or your regional equivalent, which, let’s be honest is not a bad price for a dozen b-class games. Getting all of these titles individually for mobile also costs more at time of this writing than getting this collection. If you’re considering buying a digital download copy for your parents’ PC, you can link the .exe files to the desktop. This way they can play the games without having to access the launcher or logging in to Steam.

The Hidden Object bundle is a 6 ghost stories out of 10 alien conspiracies

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The newer games in this ensemble very well show the developer’s progress. Good going!

Where to Get

The Hidden Object 12 in 1 Bundle can be gotten as digital download for PC on Steam for $5.99 USD or your regional equivalent or each game included in this can be gotten for your mobile device from the Google Play store or Apple iTunes.

Your daily Dribble

Like always, please do feel free to leave a comment. The comment section is completely open and you do not need to register or log-in. All screenshots presented here were taken by me during my gameplay and you can also follow my curation on Steam by clicking on this link here: http://steamcommunity.com/groups/gaoscorner#curation

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