I’ve finished playing two more Hidden Object games in the past couple weeks (one last night) and I wanted to get down a few brief thoughts.
City of Cyan was the worst attempt at a story I’ve ever seen. It started out with a bit of potential but had absolutely hideous voice acting that just didn’t stop. That should have been my first clue. I don’t even remember the puzzles because the attempt a story was just nightmarish. The protagonist would wonder aloud why she was doing ridiculous things, comment on stuff that didn’t make sense– and there was a lot more than some hidden object scenes that made no sense. Flee far away.
I have another game in the series, Meteorite, that I will probably also play. Because I have it. If it is also really awful, maybe I’ll do a detailed blogging of my playthrough just so I feel like I got my money’s worth.
The next game I played (started and finished last night) was Dark Parables:Curse of Briar Rose. Because I’d felt so burned by City of Cyan I started with the worst site reviews on Briar Rose and then hesitantly picked it up.
It was fine. It had a lot of Hidden Object scenes, except they were Fragmented Objects instead, where you find broken pieces of some object you need to open a gate. I’d heard about that before and I think I like it; I like the feeling of cleaning up a location. The music was mildly atmospheric and the story was presented in a way I suspect is ideal for a hacked-out HO game.
Basically, in the beginning I was given a kind of silly motivation by a voiceover. And then… that’s basically it, save for what I put together looking at the scenes. There were a few inscriptions here and there. My viewpoint character never spoke. I can see now why the ‘Mystery’ framework is so popular for HO games. Being allowed to tell myself the story through the scenes I encountered was just splendid. Sometimes I built up suspense for myself that didn’t pan out (“what’s in that chained and locked cabinet in the princess’s room? Oh, her Mom’s Scepter, that’s all”) but when any possible plot point turned out to be just another use of the primary game mechanics, I… didn’t mind. Right now I have a vague story in the back of my head about what happened to Briar Rose and her family and it’s… pleasant. It’s not as good as a great story told to me but it’s significantly better than a terrible story.
It also managed to convey an excellent sense of pacing. I remember Drawn doing this well (but not how it did it) and Awakening had a little of it and City of Cyan not at all. In Dark Parables’ case, it worked because there were several elements of a few collection-based progress locks scattered throughout the game. As I acquired the pieces to complete the locks, so I got closer to the end of the game. It definitely contributed to a mild sense of urgency that kept me up much later than I’d planned to finish the game.
It wasn’t a perfect game by any means: the final puzzle was a new mechanic (always bad), I only tolerated the reuse of the same scenes for new HO collections, and some of the evocative locations were lessened by a truly silly map layout and the utter randomness of what was hidden behind progress locks. A little rearrangement could have done wonders for the self-narrated story.
But if it’s a choice between City of Cyan and Curse of Briar Rose, run, do not walk toward Dark Parables.