In The Mysterious City: Golden Prague, players take on the role of Dr. Ellis, a woman looking for a professor who’s gone missing. If he isn’t found within a week, the unveiling of The Golden Clock exhibit at a local museum will be put on hold. Dr. Ellis must examine the places the professor has been for clues left behind in order to discover what has happened to him in this seek-and-find adventure.
The game’s story is told through a handful of comic panel-style sequences that, from the perspective of narrative, are more confusing than they are elucidating. Best to just click through them and get to the real reason you’re looking at your screen, which is to find some hidden objects.
Play is broken into seven days, each of which has eight levels to complete and 30 minutes in which to do so. The majority of levels are composed of scenic photographs of Prague that feature a variety of random objects—clothespins, ties, cars, spiders, what have you—hidden throughout.
As is the norm for such games, objects are sometimes found in locations that make sense—such as a fish in the water or a mirror on a wall—but for the most part have been cleverly hidden in the pictures’ natural patterns. A ruler might be camouflaged along a vertical line of a building; a tire iron could be hidden among the intersecting lines of a railroad track.
After a while, TMC: Golden Prague begins throwing the odd curveball. Players will encounter puzzles that force them to examine a scene by the narrow beam of a flashlight, and others the pictures of which have been rendered in black and white, making it more difficult to find objects typically identified by colour, such as strawberries or cheese. There are also puzzles in which players are provided a group of silhouetted shapes rather than a list of word clues, which makes things much trickier; an outline of a circular object could represent a ball, a wheel, a marble, or any other number of round items.
To keep players from overzealously clicking all over the screen as they hunt, a penalty of 30 seconds is conferred if you click too often and too quickly without success. Players should also be careful to click precisely on objects—that is, don’t click the holes of a grate or the space between the points of a compass—or it may not register. You can request hints as to the location of objects you are having a hard time finding, but clues cost two minutes a pop.
More worrisome than the penalties are an unfortunate number of prominent software glitches. As I played, I experienced everything from game crashes to an inability to save. Also, an object was once located in an area in which I was unable to click, which forced me to quit out of the game and restart (it was, according to hints I received, directly under the menu that listed the items I needed to find).
I also found myself somewhat distressed over object descriptions, which were often entirely inaccurate. I’ve no problem with clues meant to be vague or misleading—such as “clippers” (which could mean anything from nail trimmers to sailing ships)—but I do not appreciate being asked to look for objects that simply don’t exist in the picture.
I was once told to find a “horn” that turned out to be a flute, a “tennis ball” that was really a baseball, and a “sphinx” that was in actuality a mummy’s casket. Did the game’s makers have such a poor grasp of English that they didn’t know the true names of these objects? Or did they simply intend to infuriate players? Either way, I wasn’t impressed.
Scattered amidst the game’s traditional hidden object puzzles are a few other kinds of visual conundrums. We must, in one of these challenges, find subtle differences in nearly identical pictures. In another, players are required to rotate picture tiles that are constituents of a grander image in order to create a cohesive whole. These side games are generally quite easy, though they do provide a welcome change of pace.
While The Mysterious City: Golden Prague is occasionally compelling, there are plenty of better hidden object games available—games that have more original art direction than simple postcard-style pictures, a greater diversity of puzzles, and fewer glitches and mislabelled objects.
Genre devotees who have already devoured the best of these games and are ravenous for a quick fix might find some satisfaction here, but casual fans and rookies would be better off trying (or sticking with) those games that have made hidden object hunting so popular, such as Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, the Dream Day series and Forgotten Riddles: The Moonlight Sonatas.