There’s a theory that ghosts are those whose lives were cut short before they could realize their potential. If that’s the case, the developers at Gaming Hungama might want to keep the Ghostbusters number handy, as Ghost Town Mysteries: Bodie is the mangled remains of a promising concept, struck down by poor choices that killed what might, if treated more gently, have produced a star in the hidden object genre.

First the good: a fresh and interesting concept. Take a real ghost town and the story of a real ghost-a little girl said to be the region’s "guardian angel."  Give her a story worthy of a blockbuster movie. One hundred years ago, she witnessed a crime, and shortly afterwards was killed violently. Was it an accident-or murder? 

There were 12 witnesses to the girl’s death, but each died in mysterious circumstances soon after. Their tombstones have been vandalized, and a reporter comes to town to investigate.  This gives you 12 individual stories to explore, and the ghost town provides a period setting perfect for a hidden object game.  Add spooky sound effects and a couple of paranormal twists and you have what ought to be the ideal Halloween HOG.

And that’s when things started to go wrong. How many times do we have to tell developers that you can make a scene FEEL dark without making the objects indistinguishable? Mystery Case Files did it-three times. Other games have succeeded as well. You either provide players with tools like torches or you use color and line to make objects findable even when the setting is "a dark and stormy night."

Ghost Town Mysteries does try to keep some light in the scenes-but the objects are small, grainy, blurry, and often dark for no reason at all. Even a dressmaker’s mannequin and a candlestick are black. Finding a black shoe in a black closet is hard enough. Finding a grainy, blurry black shoe in a grainy, blurry black closet is impossible. 

That might be ok if it happened just once in awhile and the hint system was good. But this hint system adds insult to injury. Apparently you have trained spiders (you can only carry two at a time) that, on command, will go find an object in the scene. Only while the spiders are easy to spot, the object they’re after isn’t!  In one case I had to use two hints and a lot of random clicking just to find one object that still ended up looking like a splotch on the wall.

If you use up the hints you have, you can get two more on your way into a new building by finding six flies. This may sound easy, but just like the indoor objects, the flies are blurry, dark, and almost impossible to spot.  Refreshing hints was so frustrating I didn’t even bother most of the time.

Then there are the mini-games. Find the Differences pictures would be more interesting if we knew who the people are, but at least the photos themselves are intriguing. The differences are very hard to spot, and there are no hints and no skip option.

Jigsaw puzzles require you to reassemble the missing tombstones. These get harder as the game progresses, and again offer no hints. Worse, the pieces don’t match the slots they’re supposed to fit. I don’t know if it’s the highlighting or the way the shapes were drawn, but although there are plenty of bumps and edges, there’s often no way to tell whether a piece will fit without trying it. You end up having to do large sections of the puzzles by pure trial and error.

It was so frustrating, because at every stage you could see the idea of a fantastic game lying right beneath the surface of this really annoying gameplay. The same objects in the same locations but drawn more clearly with a decent hint system would have bumped this game from two stars to three and a half immediately.

Add hints to the mini-games, improve the clunky rotation mechanism, and draw the jigsaws more precisely, and it might well have hit the Halloween Hall of Fame.

If you’re looking for a spooky hidden object game with an interesting storyline and you’re willing to deal with the limitations of the artwork, you may still find Ghost Town Mysteries: Bodie worth exploring. You should be able to tell after the first 3 locations whether it will be worth your time to continue.

For more spooky Hidden Object games, try: Mystery Case Files Return to RavenhearstWomen’s Murder Club Twice in a Blue Moon, Redrum, Cate West: The Vanishing Files, or Hidden Secrets: The NIghtmare.