Mysterious Travel: The Magic Diary

There’s something to be said for simplicity. Sometimes you don’t want to think about characters or try to follow a plot or worry about what to do next; you just want to sit down, stare at a screen and try to find some stuff. And even though it’s rough around the edges, there are worse things you could do when those moments strike than spend some time with Mysterious Travel: The Magic Diary, a new hidden object game that generates mystery by tossing the story out the window.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a story. Like most games in the genre, Mysterious Travel kicks off with a fairly conventional tale in which the player, in the guise of a woman named Julia, wins a magazine contest with a Mediterranean vacation as the prize. Her whirlwind trip lands her at a seaside hotel in a room with a view where, as she finally begins to unwind, she notices a notebook sitting on a table. She looks inside, and that’s when the weirdness begins – for her and for you.

The first thing you’ll notice as the game begins in earnest is a distinct clunkiness in the English. “Hello! At last you have got this diary!” the book reads. “It’s up to you to believe but now you are the only person in the entire world. Meanwhile that’s enough talking. Go to reception to find number 7; don’t even think of escape.” The ominous edge is dulled somewhat by the awkward prose and while it never slides into an all-out linguistic massacre, the off-kilter cant is consistent and present throughout the whole of the game.

Graphically, Mysterious Travel is adequate but entirely unremarkable. The introductory “video” is a series of still images that look as though they were assembled from generic clip-art, while the hidden object scenes themselves are strictly run-of-the-mill. They can be a bit on the blurry side when the game is running in full-screen mode at high resolutions, although never to the point that it significantly impairs gameplay, and a simple click of the right mouse button turns the cursor into a magnifying glass which makes searching for tiny objects a bit of an easier task. The hint system is more than generous, however, and once the novelty wears off (which happens very quickly) the magnifier will likely be quickly forgotten.

Speaking of simple, the game also offers a handful of obligatory mini-game interludes, which most players will blow through in very short order. The “spot the differences” puzzles can be challenging but not insurmountably so, and all the mini-games can be skipped after a brief period of “mandatory play.” Scores are kept, with speed bonuses awarded for rapid-fire object finding and puzzle solving, but the levels aren’t timed so players can take as long as they like to solve them.

If Mysterious Travel: The Magic Diary sounds entirely mediocre and dull, that’s because it is – except it’s not quite that simple. Anyone looking for a harrowing tale of intrigue and murder most foul will be disappointed, but for simple, mindless hidden object searches across a series of near-random locales, it’s actually pretty decent. It hearkens back to a simpler time, if I may reminisce, when all that was needed for a successful hidden object game were some objects and a few places to hide them. There is a mystery at work here, as the title suggests, but the game is so unrepentantly disconnected, and the between-level narration so blindingly incoherent, that it’s irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what you discover in any given level because it will have no visible bearing on the next, giving players the freedom to just kick back, relax and enjoy a quick and easy HOG fix.

And there’s more to it than that. Mysterious Travel is cleverer than it appears; it’s not going to uncork a literary masterpiece but the endgame put a smile on my face and made it all feel a little more complete and worthwhile than I expected. It was a better resolution than some I’ve seen in deeper, more complex games; the only drawback, aside from the obvious subjectivity of the experience, is that it doesn’t add anything to the game until the game is over, which will be too late for a lot of players.

Mysterious Travel: The Magic Diary isn’t a great game. On a good day it’s a good game, but most of the time it probably shades closer to average. Even its length, which will top out at a couple of hours for most players, is squarely in the middle of the road. It’s not something that’s likely to end up on anyone’s “must play” list. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth playing, and anyone with an urge for uncomplicated, old-school hidden object searches and the patience to make it to the payoff at the end may very well find themselves enjoying it even more than they expected.