Hidden object games are becoming as stale as the match-3 games. If the releases in Big Fish Games is any indicator, hidden object games are the latest “thing” that casual game players are doing. How long this will last, I don’t know.
Most of the hidden object games are essentially mindless: you are presented with a scene that is filled with a jumble of random objects. You are asked to find a list of objects, but most of the time, the objects bear no relation to the story of the game. Popular items that will appear in any hidden object game, regardless of the story, are spiders, umbrellas, and apples. I’m sure there is a perfectly good explanation for this– perhaps there something in the inner psych of game designers that makes them partial to those three objects.
I really get bored playing these hidden object games that make you look for random objects. It is unfortunate because many of the games adopt some sort of mystery or murder-solving element that could be well-integrated but rarely is. For instance, the Agatha Christie series has a fairly good storyline, but the story is parallel to the game-play. At heart, it’s just one scene after another of searching for items in a cluttered picture. After an hour of free play, I have no motivation to purchase the game, because it would be a repetition of the first hour over and over again. It’s like playing Where’s Waldo, but on a computer screen. I’m sure a lot of people find this entertaining, but it gets stale over time.
Fortunately, the haystack does have some shiny needles: I found a handful (only a handful, but that’s a start) that have better integration with the puzzle solving element of finding objects and the story element. It is the marriage of these two that made me want to play beyond the first hour. Some of the “better” types hidden object games utilize objects that you find in the game as inventory items: Think Hidden Object meets Myst. In these games, you do have to find a lot of random items, but you also find items that you have to figure out what to do with in order to go to the next level. For instance, a pair of shears that you find in one hidden object puzzle is kept in your inventory and comes handy later on in the game where you have to cut some rope. The nice thing is that you get to figure out that the rope needs to be cut (although some games will offer more explicit cues).
Another great thing about these games is that you aren’t constantly looking at a picture of a messy room. For instance, the main gameplay takes place in a normal environment, but you have to search specific areas, such as a cupboard, which is when the list of hidden objects that you have to find pops up.
Some titles that fall into this category are: Dark Tales: Edgar Allan Poe`s Murders in the Rue Morgue, Mystery Case Files®: Dire Grove (this one is obviously a big-budget game because they filmed scenes with real people to use as videoclips in the game), Natalie Brooke: Mystery at Hillcrest High, and Anka (similar to the Professor Layton series in many respects). I guess I like that extra element of problem solving; it makes game-playing so much more gratifying. These are the games that I would be willing to pay for because I know that what’s left of the game play is not going to be identical to the first hour.
The sad thing is that once you start playing these games, even if they are all made by different developers, you get a better idea of how to solve problems and the time it takes you to figure our puzzles gets shorter. (Although I guess one could also claim that the player’s problem-solving skills are improving) I realize it’s hard for game developers to be creative, but problem-solving tactics really should be more original. For instance, if I get a shovel in my inventory, I know I have to be digging some ground.
When you think about it, these games are not so different from the so-called “adventure games” that had a limited game audience in the past– games like Dracula Origin which have beautiful graphics, a well-written story, and amazing music and sound-effects. I think it’s great that these games are being “dumbed down” so that casual gamers can ease into these games without feeling that they’re departing too much from the brainless, motor task-oriented game play that casual games have been popular for (and criticized for). Lowering the threshold for adventure games by introducing them as hidden object games is a brilliant idea and one that will hopefully make people realize that being a game-player is not all about shooting and killing, but something that involves some elements of creativity, imagination, and appreciation for art.