Help the Simmons travel across the country on their next family vacation.

The Simmons family leads an ordinary life in the suburbs. Dad’s an aspiring photographer, the son loves his electronics and baby sister plays happily with her dolls. One lazy afternoon, the family spends some time thinking about where to go on their next family vacation only to have one sprung upon them on the spot. Mom has earned a spot on “The Price is Nice,” and you’re all headed to California for the game show!

The gameplay in Family Vacation California is incredibly simple, featuring one hidden object scene immediately after the other, with comic book inspired cutscenes telling the story. Each scene contains a list of items to find, including a few that must be found in a drawer, behind a door, or in another location within the scene itself. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a while to find these hotspots (especially those found in unintuitive locations), as you’ll need to rely on a changing cursor, or simply wait long enough for the area to start to sparkle.

 California

Adding a touch more complexity to the experience are very simplistic puzzles, like a tile-sliding puzzle or Tangram. Back in the hidden object scenes themselves, you’re sometimes asked to find the various components to another item, like a Lunch Tray or Camera, and it’s unfortunate that we aren’t given puzzles during these instances as well, just to further flesh out the experience. As it stands, these puzzles come with fairly slowly charging skip meters, but their ease of difficulty isn’t likely to slow many gamers down.

As you advance the story, you’ll be able to take pictures of the family with dad’s camera for the family photo album, with these instances marking a transition from one area of the game to the next. For instance, after you pack up the family car, you’ll take a picture and will instantly zoom off to the airport. You can’t walk around and explore; you’re simply taken along for the ride.

Technically, the game functions well enough. Most hidden objects are simple to find, and are named appropriately, even though some the background graphics are incredibly straining on the eyes due to bright, complex patterns (a wall of magazines in the airport newsstand, for instance, was particularly jarring). And while the dialog does a nice job of representing the family’s wants and thoughts (the kids want window seats aboard the airplane, as one example), I was immediately thrown from the story by the simple fact that the Simmons’ youngest daughter, who can be no more than two or three, speaks better English than many adults.

 California

It’s unfortunate, too, that Family Vacation California doesn’t have voice acting, as it would have made the game all the more kid-friendly. As it stands, the game offers very little in the way of challenge or complexity, so hardcore fans of hidden object games will likely be more bored than entertained. For a gamer that’s just starting out however, it’s a nice introduction to the genre’s basic mechanics that we see time and time again. With voice acting, it would have completely eliminated the possibility that these young gamers wouldn’t have been able to read well enough to keep up. On the other hand, if you’re the type to play games with your kids, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

With Family Vacation California, you have a mixed bag, depending on what you typically want out of such games. If you’ve come to appreciate the growth and complexity the genre has experienced in the past few years, you’ll likely want to pass this one by. However, if all you’re interested in is something to pass the time, you could do much worse than this.