UnCasual: Hidden Object Games
I squint, peering closer at my MacBook monitor. I know that fork is here somewhere. Under the watermelon? No, that’s a spoon. Oh, there, behind the bowling pin! No, no… that’s the tail of an anthropomorphic rat. Darn. And now I’m out of time. I guess I’ll start over…
Welcome, Constant Reader, to the weird world of hidden object games. These games are basically the graphical equivalent of the newspaper word-search games. You are presented with a scene littered with random objects, and are tasked with finding a few specific things from within the jumble of dice, sleeping cats, and hairbrushes. It all sounds rather strange, but the process of hunting for random objects is oddly cathartic. I’ve played a few of these games over the past couple of weeks, and I’m here to share the good, the bad, and the strange with you, Constant Reader.
We’re going to start out with Mystery Manor. This is one of the oldest hidden object games available on Facebook, and it shows. The scenes are very low-resolution, creating black bars on both sides of the screen on my MacBook. This is one case where a Retina display would actually make things worse, rather than better. See, unlike games such as Farmville 2 or other pseudo-3d games, most hidden object games rely on a photorealistic scene, which is created by a graphic designer in much the same way a poster is created. Because these scenes are essentially ‘painted’ and then have the clickable objects layered on top, they are not able to scale to various resolutions in the same way other games are. And so I squint, especially in Mystery Manor.
While Mystery Manor has no real plot to speak of (you’re exploring an old mansion where weird things keep appearing and disappearing), the one positive thing that it has going for it is item randomization. While pretty well every other game I looked at always had the hidden objects in the same place every time a scene is played, Mystery Manor mixes up the locations and sizes of the objects, making the game more about eyesight and reflexes than about memorization. This would probably be an excellent idea if played on an older computer with the right resolution for the game, but for me it simply made my eyes hurt.
The weirdest game I played was definitely Hidden Agenda, by PopCap games. This game actually has a plot – you are an assistant investigator in a town full of anthropomorphized creatures. The first case involves a dead panda in a bowl of noodles. Despite this fantastic setting, and some pretty great animation, the actual picture-hunting scenes are quite lifeless and drab. The writing is pretty lame as well, which is disappointing – I really wanted to like Hidden Agenda more than I actually do.
This brings us to a pair of games I’m still currently playing: Criminal Case and JetSet Secrets. Both games actually have a plot, which is awesome – if you’ve been reading this article for a while, you’ll know that I’m big on narrative. Neither require you to pester your friends too much, with one huge caveat that I’ll get to in a moment. And both are in gorgeous high-resolution, making finding the objects in the beautifully rendered scenes a joy rather than a chore.
JetSet Secrets casts you in the role of a secret agent attempting to foil master criminals by finding objects in various scenes. How finding a pair of skis and a bowling ball helps capture a master criminal is unexplained, but I’m sure there MUST be some internal logic to it. Regardless of the craziness of the whole scheme, the game has a lot going for it: lots of scenes, lots of game modes, and plentiful enough energy that you can play for a good while before needing to wait for more. Some quests do require you to interact with friends, but the majority do not, and that makes me a happy late-night Facebook gamer.
Finally, we come to Criminal Case. This game places you as a cop in a dirty end of town, and tasks you with solving crimes by finding clues at the crime scenes. Again, there’s a good amount of clicking on crazy things, but in Criminal Case objects are at least where you would expect them to be. A shopping basket will be on a shelf, a gun will be behind a counter, and a chopped off hand will be under a board. Yeah, this game is grisly – something rarely seen in Facebook games. I loved hunting for clues – the scenes seem at least somewhat realistic, and the hunting felt like part of the plot, rather than an accessory to it.
Unfortunately, the game HAD to remind me that I’m playing a Facebook game. After completing the first case, the game informed me that I need three friends to proceed. I only have two that play the game. So now I’m stuck, unable to move forward unless I entice another player in, or pay up some real-world cash. I can’t tell if this is stupid or brilliant on the part of the developers. It is certainly frustrating, but it’s also the closest I’ve come to wanting to pay some real money… and that’s scary.
Next up: Avengers Alliance, and perhaps some other action-type games if I find any good ones. Until next time!