The Hidden Mysteries series has quite the following with numerous PC games covering all manner of subject matter, yet the Nintendo DS only received a smattering of ports over the years. Whilst Cubed3 has so far never had the chance to try out Hidden Mysteries: Titanic or Hidden Mysteries: Buckingham Palace, Gunnar Games' 2011 release, Hidden Mysteries: Salem Secrets, Witch Trials of 1692, was definitely a great prospect for fans of adventures incorporating intriguing puzzles and plenty of Hidden Object scenarios. The same team is back, this time with a tale surrounding the ever-popular topic of vampires…
Following a short video cut-scene - voiced! - where a young businesswoman called Claire Donnelly has a stress-induced haunting vision and decides to go to Savannah, Georgia to visit her Grandmother for a much needed break, players are thrown right into the thick of the action. Upon finding her granny to be missing, and suffering from even stronger visions of evil forces at play amongst the locals, she sets off to explore the eerie city and uncover the truth behind not only the image-laden migraines but also something much more sinister.
The tale may be a little sketchy at times, lacking enough depth to really gain too much traction along the way, but the combination of 'seek and find' object scenes and mind-bending puzzles is particularly impressive, appealing to those out there that enjoyed games such as Azada on Nintendo 3DS or Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy, with a little added exploration thrown in for good measure.
In many ways, as with Salem Secrets, Vampire Secrets plays out almost like a regular point-and-click game, rather like a light version of Broken Sword or Monkey Island, except with Myst-esque screen jumping (also seen recently in the superb Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. In other words, instead of walking around, different scenes are viewed by tapping somewhere on the current area and the viewpoint automatically changing. To aid with this, holding down either shoulder button on the DS will bring up 'hot spots' to reveal what can be picked up and added to the inventory, what can be zoomed in on and interacted with, as well as showing directional arrows to allow progression to other areas.
There are many instances where items must be used in a specific way with other pieces of scenery around the mysterious locations visited, normally leading to a variety of conundrums that must be overcome. See some candle holders? Well, undoubtedly there will first of all be some long pieces of hard wax to slot into them, as well as some means of setting them alight afterwards. Finding key items around the present vicinity is one method, but completing hidden object puzzles is another, and unlike the recent disaster that was Secrets of the Titanic: 1912-2012 (also courtesy of publisher GSP / Avanquest UK), it actually handles the style very well indeed. Scenes are well drawn, with all sorts of random objects strewn all over on the bottom touch screen, with a list of items to find on the upper. Although there are no penalties for random tapping, items not currently shown on the list cannot be snapped up, meaning it forces a little more care to be taken, clearing the current line-up before seeking out more.
Spread over ten chapters, Hidden Mysteries: Vampire Secrets is not the longest example in this puzzle adventure genre, yet for a budget release it proves to have some impressive value for money, with a great challenge for even the most hardened puzzlers out there. Anyone stuck on the non-hidden-object-puzzles along the way can use special books collected in certain hidden object areas to gain hints on solving them, but there is also the opportunity to use a 'skip' function that takes a set amount of time to refill after each use so as to not allow for constant dodging of tasks. There are fifty adventure scenes, thirty hidden object areas to scour, as well as more than thirty mini-games mixed in. It may not be as visually appealing as the PC game it is based on, but what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in content.
Whilst the story may seem flimsy, the content backing it up more than makes up for it, blending some smart Hidden Object goodness with oftentimes extremely tough mind-bending puzzles!
Some cut-scenes from the PC original have made the leap to DS, but in highly compressed format that looks rather unappealing, whilst the rest of the visuals have a grainy look to them. Thankfully, though, everything is represented well enough to still appear decent and clear, especially during vital puzzles that require a lot of focus.
There is a little bit of speech included that helps lift the atmosphere and make the game feel as close to its PC forebear as possible, whilst the eerie themes definitely work to set the correct mood for the vampiric antics.
The ten chapters themselves are not particularly long, and if the tricky puzzles prove no match for the seasoned gamer, this could well be polished off in as little as five hours. However, saying that, around ten is more realistic for those taking their time, exploring everywhere and reading up on how best to tackle the challenges on offer.
Hidden Mysteries: Vampire Secrets may not have the most intriguing storyline, but it proves to be a great success in terms of mixing engaging 'seek and find' puzzles with some extremely challenging mind-benders and conundrums. After Hidden Mysteries: Salem Secrets, this latest from Gunnar Games and GSP / Avanquest UK is yet another Nintendo DS winner.