It seems like tarot cards are every hidden object game designer’s favorite theme these days, but the newest game to be based off the deck, Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey, is really something special. Stunningly designed, it offers some intriguing twists on the familiar HOG formula, and throws in a few clever puzzles, too.
As Tara (tara, tarot, get it?), you must travel the land with your talking peacock companion, seeking instruction from denizens of the tarot deck, such as the Empress, the Learned Man, and the Lovers. Their help doesn’t come for free, of course; you must first perform a task they set before you. Though the goals differ from chapter to chapter, you’ll run through the same sequence of events for each character.
First, in a fun reversal of hidden object mechanics, you must return a selection of items to the scene. The environment is faded to black and white, which makes spotting the objects – which appear in full color in your inventory – a little tricky. Returning all of the items to their proper places opens a pair of doors. Behind each door is a traditional hidden object level, in which you must locate the items provided on your list.
The hidden object locations are beautifully detailed and bursting with color, but sometimes the objects can be a bit small and hard to see. The game also likes to indulge in wordplay whenever possible; "gum" might be gumballs or a set of false teeth, while "nail" can refer either to the things on your fingers or what you use with a hammer. Your talking peacock pal provides an endless supply of rapidly-recharging hints, so feel free to call on her for help whenever you like.
Once you’ve cleared both hidden object levels, you’ll return to the area where you first met the tarot card character, and here is where Age of Oracles really shines. You must now use the "special items" that you collected in the two hidden object sequences to solve a puzzle. First, you must mouse around the environment to find glowing hotspots, then figure out how to use what’s in your inventory to manipulate the area in question. You might use garden shears to cut down branches, or throw a rock to knock a swing out of a tree. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult – the game pretty much tells you what you have to do – but they are clever, satisfying, and become gradually more difficult as you progress through the game. Solve the puzzle, and you’re on your way to your next encounter.
Before you can begin the next chapter, you must first play one of a handful of tarot-card themed minigames: pick three cards to form a jigsaw puzzle that you must reassemble; play a memory game by matching pairs of cards; or remove matching pairs of cards, mahjongg-style. Though each minigame is pleasant enough, they begin to feel quite repetitious before long. They feel like busywork, especially when compared with the rest of the game. Unfortunately, these portions can’t be skipped, but they go by quickly enough.
It’s a minor complaint about what is otherwise an extremely polished, beautiful, and charming adventure. The artwork throughout the game is marvelous, and although you will eventually begin revisiting areas, the detail is so lovely you won’t really mind. The voice acting and the music are just as well-done, adding to the fantasy, storybook atmosphere.
Age of Oracles: Tara’s Journey is a long, gorgeous, well-crafted adventure, with beautifully-constructed hidden object levels and creative puzzles. It can feel a bit repetitious at times, but it should please any hidden object fan.