Guardians of Beyond: Witchville doesn’t score any points for originality, but is still an enjoyable HOG
Another day, another dollar, another town facing disaster thanks to the supernatural shenanigans of a woman with a grudge: that’s Guardians of Beyond: Witchville, a new hidden object game that doesn’t score any points for originality but still manages to serve up a very enjoyable experience.
The trouble with most hidden object adventures is that they don’t do anything to stand out from the crowd, and Guardians of Beyond: Witchville is certainly no exception. The beginning of the game finds you racing toward a town in trouble to save it from some unknown mystical mayhem. Suddenly, a ghostly apparition distracts you and your car careens off the road! You crash! You’re trapped! Curses! Wait a second. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?
Oh well, never mind. Just because you’ve seen it all before – and believe me, you have – doesn’t mean it’s not worth another look. And Witchville certainly looks good. The town is about to celebrate the 321st anniversary of some well-deserved witch burnings, not exactly the sort of small-town harvest festival you see every day, but everything in it is bright, colorful and even cheery – or at least it would be, if not for the fact that nearly everyone in town has been turned into a ghost. The animation cup doesn’t exactly runneth over but there’s enough high-quality action on the screen to keep things lively, and the music is decent and actually quite nice in some spots, although the occasionally upbeat pieces that play during some definitely down moments can be a little jarring. There’s also plenty of on-screen dialog, but voice acting is non-existent.
The hidden object scenes are clear and cleanly rendered, with a couple of tricky bits thanks to either rough translations or, in one case, a word I straight-up didn’t understand (and Google didn’t help with). Similarly, most of the puzzles were fairly straightforward, but a couple seemed designed solely to test patience and one I simply did not get at all. Then again, I was about to give up on another puzzle involving magic symbols that I did not get at all either, until in an “a-ha moment” I suddenly did it get and all was well. Your mileage may vary, in other words, but overall the brainteaser segments of Witchville, like everything else, is pretty routine.
Regardless of your skills in such matters, a standard timer-based help/skip function is at hand for those moments when you’re really and truly stuck, unless you’re playing at the highest of the game’s three difficulty levels. The “casual” level gives you standard hints, skips and highlighted interactive areas, while the “advanced” skill forgoes the highlights and has slower hint recharges. If you’ve got the intestinal fortitude to take on the challenge of the “expert” setting, however, you really are on your own, as no hints will be given nor skips allowed.
As with all Collector’s Editions, Witchville offers a selection of bonus materials, in this case wallpapers, concept art, a soundtrack and a bonus chapter. It’s a decent if entirely unremarkable mix, but in an unusual twist, the game doesn’t force you to wrap up the main adventure before you can get to it. It’s all immediately accessible, even a “preview slice” of the bonus chapter, although you can’t complete it or even save your progress until you’ve finished the game.
There’s at least one technical glitch involving a pallet of crates that’s meant to block a path but that can be walked straight through, and one instance of bad translation (and only one, oddly enough). The inventory window has a bad habit of popping up uninvited, which probably feels like more of a problem than it actually is. There’s also no map, although that’s mitigated somewhat by the fact that the game is a relatively linear progression between areas and there’s not a lot of opportunity to get lost.
But the biggest knock against Witchville is that it feels like a raw checklist of standardized features: intrepid heroine, hapless partner, ancient wrong, historical ambiguity, isolated town in peril, surprise plot twist and a world-beating villain who can’t figure out how to properly hide some keys, all wrapped up in a story that makes just enough sense to be confusing. Make no mistake, it does what it does very well and it does it for a quite a long time – I would say at least four hours, and be prepared to spend a lot longer than that on it if you’re brave enough for the “Expert” mode – but there’s just no “flow” to it. It’s incredibly formulaic, paint-by-numbers game design.
But if breaking new ground isn’t at the top of your priority list (and let’s be honest, if you’re a hidden object adventure fan, it probably isn’t) then Guardians of Beyond: Witchville brings a lot to the table. It’s pretty, it’s challenging, it’s big and most important of all, it’s fun. It adds nothing to the genre, but it’s definitely worth playing.