So, you’ve probably noticed that all of these games have something in common: they’ve all got that little “G5” branding on them. Not only that, but all of these are HOGs: Hidden Object Games. I don’t know what it is about HOGs that appeals to me so much. Maybe it’s nostalgia from Highlights magazine and Where’s Waldo (who, incidentally, celebrated his 25th birthday just recently), but there’s something satisfying and zen-like about looking at a scene and finding the objects hidden within.
I’ve mentioned a few HOGs in the past — my kids and I both enjoy playing them — but lately I’ve played through a bunch of them for the iPad and thought I’d group them together. It’s interesting to me that in nearly all of them in which you’re playing a character, it’s a female; I’m sure that has to do with the demographics of HOG players. In this set, the two Magician’s Handbook games don’t really have a specific character that you’re playing, but in all the others you’re a woman. One of the rare exceptions that I’ve played was Sinister City — but even in that case it’s sort of a romance story anyway.
Some are more straightforward object-hunting, and some use a little bit of object-hunting but involve a lot more story elements. The one feature that I wish were present was a zoom feature. Some objects are easier to find than others, but even on an iPad I’ve found that some things just don’t show up well enough to be found.
Also note: most of these games have an iPhone version and an iPad version. I’d recommend the iPad version simply because it’s hard enough finding things on a big screen; I can’t imagine trying to play a HOG on a smaller screen.
Masters of Mystery: Crime of Fashion – free demo; $4.99 iPhone unlock, $6.99 iPad unlock
Crime of Fashion lets you play a rookie homicide detective, investigating some foul play among some fashion designers and models. It’s my favorite of the bunch because of the mechanics and gameplay, but it’s also the only one that had PG-13 language and some innuendo, and the attitude of the boss and the fashion world toward the female cop is quite insulting. It may be realistic, but it made me somewhat uncomfortable.
What made the game interesting, though, is that you’ll find specific tools that you can then use in the search scenes: the UV light makes blood stains glow, and the fingerprint duster reveals fingerprints which need to be found. The mini-games can be a little hokey, but at least have some connection to the murder cases. You don’t generally get a lot of choice in the order that you investigate various scenes, but you get a little bit. And unlike some games in which items are just hidden anywhere regardless of scale, things are actually put in proper perspective here, so it can be harder to find a champagne bottle that’s clear across the room.
A clever hidden object game where you feel like you’re actually looking for things that need to be found — most of the time, anyway.
The Magician’s Handbook: Cursed Valley – free demo; $2.99 iPhone, $4.99 iPad
The titular Magician’s Handbook is this thing you ordered off a late-night infomercial, and when you end up bored with your job you decide to take a trip to the Cursed Valley to see what’s going on. The book walks you through various locations where you collect enchanted objects in order to learn various spells. One of them, the Reveal spell, actually helps you during the game by getting rid of the various distractions or lighting up the dark rooms. The rest of them are mostly for humorous effect.
One interesting thing about this one is that for each spell you’ll need to collect a specific number of objects, but you don’t need to complete an entire location before moving on to a different one and searching there. You’ll get a better “grade” on a chapter if you find all of the objects, but once you have enough you can stop and play the mini-game to learn the spell (and complete the chapter). One mini-game is sort of a connect-the-colors game that’s not especially interesting, but the “complete the chant” game is kind of fun. You have to find enough of the phrases to spell out the chant, some gobbledy-gook like “quixao virrayast finzoa.” But the little word snippets floating around the room might overlap — do you want “qui” or “quixao”?
There’s a bit of humor in the text of the book itself if you take the time to read it, but otherwise it’s a fairly straightforward HOG with some mini-games in each level.
The Magician’s Handbook 2: Blacklore – free demo; $4.99 iPhone, $6.99 iPad
This sequel to The Magician’s Handbook was just released this week, though I got an early peek at it. Like the first, it has you collecting magical objects to complete spells. This time, however, there are also extra keys hidden in some of the levels — find them, and you can go to the Safe Haven to unlock chests, which contain parts of magic wands, spell boosts, and other things that aren’t necessary to completing the game but will give you other achievements.
Some of the end-of-chapter puzzles in this one are quite a bit more difficult, but there are different types. I ended up using the “Reveal” hint button quite a few times because sometimes things just weren’t very clear to me exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Overall, some good puzzles but some of the things were just nearly impossible to spot, even after I used the hint to see what I was supposed to be looking at.
Bigfoot: Hidden Giant – free demo; $4.99 iPhone, $6.99 iPad
Honestly, this one’s my least favorite — the story is about Bigfoot, industrial espionage, and … I don’t know. You’re a reporter investigating Bigfoot when you discover some shady business. That in itself could be okay, but the game is one of the least forgiving. At times, I’d spot what I thought was the item, tap on it several times with no effect, and then finally give up and use the hint … only to find that I was looking at the right object and just missed tapping on it by a few millimeters. The other big problem is that some of the images just don’t have a very good resolution, like a poorly compressed JPEG, and that can make it frustrating when you’re looking for tiny little objects on the screen.
I’d give this one a pass in favor of the others.
Nightmares From the Deep: The Cursed Heart – free demo; $4.99 iPhone, $6.99 iPad
Here’s one for fans of Pirates of the Caribbean: you play a museum director, and as you’re putting together a display about a dastardly pirate, he comes to life and kidnaps your daughter, sailing away on his ghost ship full of undead pirates and a weird dwarf guarding a treasure chest. The plot of the story owes a bit to the Pirates story, though it’s not exactly the same. The artwork in this one is gorgeous with lots of atmospheric effects; it can be a little creepy as well but it shouldn’t be too scary for most kids.
There are some cut scenes that are integrated into the game, so you’ll be poking around when the pirate captain shows up and talks to you a little, and then it goes back to the game. One downside to this one is that you’ll spend a lot of time walking back and forth. Although there are maps that you can use to see where you are, you can’t use them to navigate to a room you’ve already visited — you just have to traipse all the way through the long paths to get from one end of the ship to the other.
One other interesting feature that I hadn’t seen in other HOGs is that you can play Mahjongg instead of searching for items if you choose. On any hidden object scene, you can tap the tiles in the corner to switch to the tile-matching game; match the special gold tiles and it crosses one item off the list. I suppose you could play the entire game through just by playing Mahjongg, but I’m not sure why you would.
Nightmares From the Deep also has a bonus game included — if you complete the game you can play out a shorter storyline about what happens after you’ve rescued your daughter but are still stuck on this island.
Epic Adventures: La Jangada – free demo; $2.99 iPhone, $4.99 iPad
La Jangada is based on a Jules Verne story, though not one of his science-fiction tales. You play Minha, a young woman engaged to be married. Your father charters a huge ship, sort of like a floating village, to sail to Brazil for the wedding. But then you find out your father is being blackmailed by a crew member for your hand in marriage — something to do with past crimes.
The story was somewhat interesting, but the game has a lot less object-searching and a lot more cut scenes to move the plot along. A lot of the hidden object scenes have to do with finding evidence, but the story is definitely central to this game. One odd thing is that the narrator’s spoken words don’t always match the captions exactly.
I suppose if you really want to read a story that’s interspersed with hidden object games, check out La Jangada. But if you want more game and less plot, it’s not really ideal.
Spirit Walkers: Curse of the Cypress Witch – free demo; $4.99 iPhone, $6.99 iPad
Spirit Walkers is another one that is more storytelling and sometimes more like a point-and-click adventure than a hidden object game. Sometimes you’re looking for particular items, but more often you’ve got one item to find and then you have to figure out what to do with it. So on the plus side you’re not always searching for things that have nothing to do with the plot, but if what you’re really after is that Where’s Waldo? experience then this feels a little odd.
The story is a bit weird — you’re off camping with your friends when you get caught up in the world of the Cypress Witch — a woman who was cursed by her groom’s father when she was trying to get married. You pop in and out of a sort of spirit world, and you get sent back in time to make the wedding happen without the curse. The game is a bit shorter than some of the others.
Tales From the Dragon Mountain: The Strix – free demo; $2.99 iPhone, $6.99 iPad
Tales From the Dragon Mountain involves some evil spirit called the Strix which has trapped various magical beings. You have some vague memories of your grandmother talking about this sort of thing but now that she’s gone you’re investigating. This is another one that is really hard to figure out without using some hints — there are hidden object scenes, but there are also a lot of puzzles and tapping around to see where you can walk. Many of the items you find will have to be used somewhere else. Not everything you’ll need to solve a particular problem will be present on the same screen, so you never know which scene you need to search.
There’s some humor in this one, but the 3D models of the characters are sort of expressionless and don’t really convey the emotions quite as well. There were some interesting puzzles to solve, but this was also not one of my favorites of the hidden object games.
Well, there you have it: if you like searching for things, here are several to check out. The free demos give you a good sense of the game before you have to pay anything, and the variety of game styles gives you a few different options.
Disclosure: I received promo codes for the apps reviewed here.