One of the biggest gripes I have as a game reviewer who follows the casual space closely is the lack of ingenuity. That is, once there’s a breakthrough game type – such as match-three, time management or hidden object puzzles – along come 101 clones that do very little to push the genre forward. Sure there’s such thing as a well-made copycat, but critics like me smile ear to ear when a developer dares to try something different.

Such is the case with PopCap’s Wizard’s Pen, a highly entertaining puzzle game that puts a unique spin on the hidden object genre. It’s not a completely unique experience, no, but keeps players on their toes with a wonderful assortment of puzzles to keep things fresh and exciting. 

Gamers play as an apprentice to a wizard who has gone missing. By finding his trusty sketchbook you hope it will reveal some clues as to his whereabouts, but immediately discover all the pages are blank. No problem, the wizard’s magic pen can help fill in the pages and shed some light on how and why he vanished.

The game is divided into two parts: the first is trying to guess what pictures are on each page of this magical sketchbook and the second is closer to classic hidden object puzzles in messy environments (though with a bit of a twist). With the former, players use the mouse to click somewhere on a blank page in the wizard’s sketchbook and part of a hand-drawn image appears, such as beads of a necklace, the leg of a chair or the stem of a martini glass.

Your goal is to figure out what the object is and then type the correct name in the shortest amount of clicks possible and before the candle burns to the end. Fortunately the game is forgiving – therefore typing in “sailboat” instead of “yacht” is fine, as is “sofa” instead of “chair” or “bottle opener” instead of “corkscrew.”

Most of these puzzles are straightforward, and all divided into themes per each of the 16- page sections of the book. But every few puzzles players will have an added “challenge” that makes this task a bit more difficult. “Memory Challenge,” for example, erases your last click with each new one; “Mosaic Challenge” purposely shows the image blurry and the more clicks you make the clearer it becomes; and “Zoom Challenge” is where the image zooms out to better reveal the item.

Once you complete the 16 puzzles per section you’ll see a familiar hidden object location, such as a disheveled room with dozens of items lying about. A list of items will be listed on the right-hand side of the room – but instead of finding those items (as with most of these games) the items are missing on the screen and you must click on the appropriate spot to fill it in! For example, it might say “string” (and you’ll see a bow and arrow in the room with its string missing), “tail” (with a pig missing its tail) or emblem (so you click on a shield with a missing insignia). You get the idea.

OK, back to the picture-deciphering portion of the game, which you’ll spend the most time on. If you solve the puzzle in few clicks you can earn more credits used to unlock one of seven additional sketchbooks (every time you reach 200 points). Players can also select from one of 10 potions that give you special powers to help reveal images easier. The first one is called “Potion of Perception” that quadruples your drawing area for one turn.

Wizard’s Pen also looks and sounds great, from the moment you type in your name to the final puzzle, the charm is irresistible, as everything is tied to this wizard theme. Hey, PopCap knows production values.

The only issue that ran through my mind is that I wouldn’t want to play the game a second time around. Why? Because you already know what the items are. Because of this fact it likely doesn’t have the same kind of replayability as a Bejeweled 2. Hmm, it would be great if every few weeks PopCap made available a free downloadable puzzle pack for paid customers. Just a thought.

That said, Wizard’s Pen is a highly recommended game for any puzzle lover looking for a magical little gem that stands out from the pack.