Two mages, Gabriel and Anna, live happily in a small house in the forest. One fateful day, however, when one of them stepped away from home, sinister goblins broke in and kidnapped the other mage. And so you must decide to play as Gabriel or Anna and work towards rescuing your loved one by searching for clues, solving puzzles and fighting evil.
Such is the premise behind Hidden Magic, an excellent hidden object game (HOG) with an engaging story, multiple gameplay elements and tons of replayability because of many modes, unlockable content and randomly-placed items in levels. Not everyone might like the combat mechanic, but it certainly takes the HOG genre in a new direction.
The game starts with familiar HOG gameplay, where you’re tasked to find well-hidden objects in a busy indoor or outdoor scene – but Hidden Magic shows you a silhouette of objects to look for instead of listing objects with words. For example, instead of the word "book," you’ll see an outline of a book and must find all of its pieces. We’ve seen this before in HOGs, sure, but not only are the items you’re searching for relevant to the scene – which usually isn’t the case for HOGs (and drives me batty) – but in many cases they’re used to complete the puzzle, such as finding scraps of a map to take you to the next location, putting a hook on a fishing rod to yank something out of the water or building a ladder to reach a cave.
You won’t be penalized for incorrect clicks in the HOG levels, plus there’s no timer and you can click on hints, when needed, to reveal the location of an object. Some are really hidden, so while you might get frustrated at a brown piece of paper on a tree trunk, at least you can get some help if you need it.
Every few levels you’re presented with a minigame, but once again, they’re all cleverly tied to the story, such playing a match-3 game (think something that looks like Bejeweled) and you need to collect a spell by bringing it to the bottom of the grid. Or playing a jigsaw puzzle that puts together a diary entry, a cryptogram that spells out a hint or Concentration-like memory game that’s tied to a level where you must find 25 bones in a cave.
What really separates Hidden Magic from the rest of HOG games is the combat. Every few levels you will be facing off against a foe – such as a witch, zombie, golem, skeleton, pixie, earth elemental or giant eye – and create offensive attacks (and healing potions) to win the fight against the enemy. For example, you’ll see three spells you can create at the bottom of the screen, such as "freezing arrow," "healing" or "blinding light," and which items you need to find on the screen and drop into the cauldron to make it.
Once you make the potion by finding up to seven items (e.g. black spider, blue feather, yellow snail or green jewel) it performs the attack, with a neat special effect, and you might see your enemy’s health drop from 25 to 19, for instance. Defensive spells, of course, help your character resist damage better, as the enemy will attack you, too. When you win the fight, you move on. This combat portion always places the objects somewhere different on the screen, which is a good idea so you can’t memorize where an object can always be found.
At the end of the combat sequence you’re given a score, so if you click too randomly on every single item in the hopes to quickly make all potions in order to ward off attacks (my first strategy), you’ll be penalized in the points breakdown. Very clever.
New spells are unlocked as you play the game, which are added to your spell book and then accessible in this combat screen. Plus, you’ll grow stronger over time, too, which means you’ll start at a higher number before a battle. This role-playing game (RPG)-like element adds some welcome depth and replayability – and takes the turn-based combat past what other casual games have done (such as PopCap’s Bookworm Adventures).
As seen on the map screen, the main game is one long adventure thanks to multiple stops on your quest to save your lover. But along with the Normal mode we finished, Hidden Magic offers a lot more, including a Relaxed mode (hints recharge faster, monsters are weaker and the hero/heroine can’t die), a tougher Expert mode, plus there’s Battle Challenges, Puzzle mode, and more – some of which need to be unlocked by completing the main game.
Truly, I haven’t enjoyed a HOG game like this in a long time – and this reviewer plays his fair share of them on a weekly basis. True, the combat mechanic might not be for everyone, plus the game can get quite tough about half-way through the main game, but between its many gameplay elements, multiple modes and great production values (including an exceptional music soundtrack), you couldn’t find a better way to spend a few evenings.