With Little Shop: World Traveler GameHouse is now half a dozen games into its popular Little Shop series of hidden object games, and it’s clear the developer is holding firmly to the old philosophy of "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Despite a change in theme (rather than working local shops we now travel around the world to hunt down specialty items), returning players will immediately recognize the franchise’s distinctive hint systems, bonus modes, and game design.
And with that recognition comes the memory that all of these elements add up to a pretty satisfying HOG experience, which means you’ll likely be happy to play by Little Shop’s rules once more.
The game begins with an answering machine message from a friend who references a contract from an anonymous buyer looking for rare objects from around the world. As a professional shopper, you accept the contract and head out on a trip to visit a trio of exotic locations.
That’s how each new chapter unfolds: an answering machine message followed by a new trip. The writing is actually pretty sharp. I laughed aloud when I received a voicemail from the player character’s brother (who had taken up residence in her place while she was away) in which he talks about how he has solved the apartment’s "lack of ice cream problem" by buying a goat and milk pail. Funny enough on its own, but then he goes on to discover-while leaving the message-that the goat he procured is a billy rather than a nanny.
The trips slowly introduce each of the game’s 16 location-themed puzzles, which range from Egypt to Antarctica to Peru to Tibet. As players have come to expect of Little Shop games, the settings of these puzzles have been expertly rendered to be both attractive and vexing. A busy Japanese street, for example, does a good job of including both the exotic-dragon statues, fish socks, and temples-and the familiar, in the form of robots, calculators, and street signs. Meanwhile, pink petals float across the screen on a light breeze, cleverly drawing our attention away from the lush scenery and our work.
Indeed, GameHouse uses just about every trick in the HOG playbook to conceal items, whether that means hiding a tyrannosaurus rex behind a bush with only its nostrils showing, running a red hose along a railing, or making a boot naught but a vague wisp of mist in a cloudy sky.
In fact, a few placements are downright unfair. I was particularly miffed to discover a dragonfly I’d been searching for high and low was the size of a car and hidden entirely behind a flying saucer. The only trace of its presence was an extremely faint, ghostly shadow on the ship’s scuffed hull.
Luckily we’ve been provided a variety of hint systems to help us find the game’s trickier items. Returning from previous games are hidden cameras (which show the location of all the items for which you are currently searching for a split second), thermometers (which offer hot and cold cues for up to five items), and question marks (which provide pictures of the items you need to find without revealing their proper size or orientation).
New to the hint mix are exclamation marks. Find one and you’ll be given an object that fits the theme of the current puzzle-like, say, a compass in jungles of Madagascar-which will become agitated the closer it’s moved to an item for which you are currently hunting.
As usual, all of these hints are one-time-only affairs, which means you might be better off saving them for the next time you visit the puzzle rather than clicking on them the moment you first find them. That said, by the end of the game you’ll likely have visited each puzzle enough times to be able to find each object in your list within seconds.
And that’s where Little Shop‘s patented Blitz mode starts to become fun. Once you think you know the location of every hidden object in a given puzzle you can test yourself to find them all-as many as 100 items, in some cases-as quickly as possible in this bonus mode, then compare your times with those of other players around the world on a global leaderboard.
A new Blitz puzzle is unlocked each time you finish a Shake-It bonus puzzle-quick little find-x-number-of-matching-objects-that-meet-a-certain-criteria conundrums set in a drawer the contents of which can be shaken and rearranged. These take place at the beginning of each trip.
There are a few other tweaks to the Little Shop formula-for example, each puzzle has a trio of suitcases and a passport stamp to be found; necessary items for players looking to earn all of the game’s trophies-but these are minor innovations for the series.
When it comes right down to it, Little Shop: World Traveler is merely a slight variation on an established and successful HOG formula.
And, for many players, that will be enough.