Although it’s not a "blockbuster" release like the latest hotly anticipated Mystery Case Files or Azada title, the folks at MumboJumbo have struck gold with Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena, a superb hidden object game that introduces some fresh ideas into the popular genre.
Samantha Swift is an intrepid archaeologist who travels the world collecting rare artifacts to showcase in the Museum of Secrets Lost, which she runs with her partner Dr. Butler. She gets more than she bargained for, however, while trying to track down the six roses that are missing from the Shield of Athena – which puts her in direct competition with two shady rivals who are going after the same prize.
The game features bright and attractive hand-drawn scenes with objects that pop out and are easy on the eyes. In fact, at first the game almost seems too easy because of it. But there’s much more to Samantha Swift than simply seek-and-find gameplay.
The items Samantha needs to find in each scene (such as a battery, bowl and bunch of grapes) aren’t all created equal. Some of them are special "tool" items — like a shovel or hammer – that get added to her inventory and must be used somewhere else in the scene to reveal special hidden items (separated from "regular" items by blue text instead of white in Samantha’s list).
After all of the items have been found, a final secret item will be revealed, which you must find in order to clear the room.
Samantha Swift isn’t one of those hidden object game where you revisit the same handful of scenes over and over again. The story, which winds its way through Italy, Guatemala, England, France and beyond, is constantly moving forward with new attractive new locations to explore.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the items, which do tend to repeat frequently. On the upside, they’re mostly context sensitive in keeping with the story, so you won’t be asked to find too many off-the-wall items that don’t belong in the scene (like UFOs or igloos).
Adventuring isn’t confined to one room, either. Following in the tradition of Dream Chronicles 2 and Azada: Ancient Magic, puzzles can span more than one room, requiring you to go back and forth to use items collected in one room to complete puzzles in another.
While the game is squarely focused on hidden object gameplay, you will also have to complete a handful of other puzzle types, like symbol matching, navigating a maze (YUCK!) and designing a zen rock garden.
Samantha Swift is not a timed game, so you can take as long as you like to figure things out. If you get stuck, you can use a limited number of lightning bolt hints to reveal the location of an item. There’s a step in between that too, whether you can simply click on the items’ name in your list and your trusty scanner will show you what its silhouette looks like. Another thoughtful little feature is the fact that when you use a hint you can select which item you want it to reveal, whereas most hidden object games just reveal a random item.
The game isn’t perfect: some of the inventory-based puzzles seem completely arbitrary in terms of figuring out that a certain item is supposed to be clicked in a certain location (like shining a light on a specific spot in the wall to reveal a symbol). The cursor does flash a different color to indicate that an item needs to be used in that spot, but finding these can often involve slowly dragging your mouse across the screen until it changes color — a dull practice known as "pixel-hunting."
Still, gameplay is well-balanced enough that a relatively savvy adventure gamer should never run out of hints or get truly stuck. Like most casual adventure games, this one is on the short side. A determined gamer could blow through it in a single evening, but the good news is that you can replay the game with different lists of items to find.
Rounding out the great package is a rousing soundtrack and impressive trophy room where you can admire the artifacts you’ve collected displayed on the walls of Samantha’s museum.
With so many potboiler hidden object games flooding the market recently, it’s great to see a title that’s as inspired and fresh as Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena.