PassionFruit Games (a new casual games studio founded by former Her Interactive employees) is inching closer to the release of its debut title Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box, the romance-themed hidden object adventure based on the novels of Marjorie M. Liu that the company first announced back in December. Gamezebo spent some hands-on time with a pre-release build of the game and we can tell you that this isn’t your usual sappy, throwaway love story. Be prepared for a plot that has some kick to it, with gameplay to match.

Tiger Eye stars Dela, a young woman with psychic abilities and a unique sensitivity to certain materials (such as metal). A series of strange dreams lead Dela to China, where she visits a dirt market in Beijing and buys a mysterious riddle box. Opening the riddle box unlocks Hari, a supernatural slave that’s bound for life to whomever opens the box. Use to lifetimes of mistreatment by his former owners, Hari expects the same from Dela, but Dela promises to be different and treat Hari with respect instead of simply ordering him around. As the story unfolds, the unique relationship between the two characters deepens…

 Curse of the Riddle Box

There were still a lot of features and polish missing from the early game build, which was a shame given that one of the things PassionFruit says it’s planning to emphasize in Tiger Eye are the game’s romantic and exciting cutscenes. Still, we got to spend a great deal of time checking out the gameplay and mini-games.

Gameplay is a blend of hidden object and adventure. Although you’ll routinely be asked to hunt for objects, the scenes we saw were attractively drawn and free of random clutter. Instead, we were asked to look for focused lists of items like “10 metal weapons” and “8 pipes.” These items become vital to solving the game’s generous smattering of puzzles and mini-games. After collecting the pipes, for example, we got to play a pipe-fitting mini-game so that we could fix the plumbing in our hotel room.

Hints could be used to reveal the locations of tricky items or get through mini-games. If you get stuck you can click on your “psi orb” to help you out, but you can only use it so many times before you’ve exhausted all of its psi points and will have to wait for it to recharge. You’ll earn more points as you progress in the game, and if you get enough points the orb will apparently even change its appearance. There are five different orbs to obtain, and of you reach the fifth orb you’ll unlock some bonuses in the main menu.

 Curse of the Riddle Box

PassionFruit plans to release Tiger Eye: Curse of the Riddle Box in April, and based on what the company said back in December the game will be part of a two-game series, the first of which takes place in China and the second in the U.S. in keeping with the plot of the book. With gameplay already looking solid, we can’t wait to check in again in April to see Dela and Hari really come to life in the final product.