A few years ago there was a sudden proliferation of “find the hidden object” games. They were everywhere. You couldn’t turn around without encountering one. Essentially computerized versions of “Where’s Waldo?”, these games would wrap a thin veneer of story around their central mechanic. A trip to Africa! A locked-room mystery! No genre was safe.
Generally speaking, this veneer was tissue thin, and this made most of them unbearable. Occasionally, though, someone can take a tired game and breathe some life into it. Alawar Entertainment has done this with Vampire Saga: Pandora’s Box HD. Vampire Saga is, yes, a find-the-hidden-object game, but it is also a point-and-click (well, OK, point-and-tap) adventure game, and one that tries to tell a story with some degree of seriousness.
In each stage of the game, you have access to a small number of locations. Advancing through the game means figuring out how to solve small puzzles. For example (and I’m making this up, but it is within the spirit of the game), perhaps you need to get past a sewer grate. The sewer grate has a lock on it, so you need to search for a crowbar with which to break the lock. In another location, there will be a find-the-object diorama, and one of the objects you are looking for will be the crowbar. When you’ve solved that diorama, you can return to the sewer grate, use the crowbar on the lock, and now have access to the area behind the grate.
This serves a double purpose, both of them good and honorable: first, there are actually things to do besides the find-the-object puzzles, and second, the puzzles themselves are slightly less arbitrary. Instead of looking for eight random things, you’re looking for seven random things, and one thing that is actually explained by the plot of the game. This by itself puts the game ahead of most of the games in its class.
The actual find-the-objectificationism works well. There’s a time-release on-demand hint system that you can use if you get frustrated. Or, if you’re me, you can just drum your fingers lightly over the surface of the iPad – there’s no penalty for guessing wrong here. The art is moody and appropriate, and the objects are, usually, hidden cleverly yet fairly.
Kudos should also be given to Alwar for trying to tell a story in this format. It did not resonate with me particularly, and there’s something about the production values that feel, well, Eastern European. But this isn’t really a criticism, as much as an observation. It did not resonate with me, but again, the mere presence of the story puts them ahead of the rest of the pack.
Diclosure statement: Alawar Entertainment graciously provided Tea Leaves with a review copy of this game.