The Agency of Anomalies: Cinderstone Orphanage is an incredibly polished hidden object experience
In The Agency of Anomalies: Cinderstone Orphanage, you’ll step into the shoes of an agent who must investigate the decrepit Cinderstone Orphanage, a home for children with paranormal abilities, in order to save the souls of the children and caretaker that were lost in a terrible fire that claimed the building.
Oddly enough, the orphanage doesn’t appear to be as badly damaged as the game’s story would lead you to believe, but this is actually a good thing, as the Christmastime setting offers pops of color with Christmas trees, lights and other decorations having survived the blaze. As you investigate the orphanage, backyard and other surrounding areas, you’ll complete two main kinds of scenes: a basic hidden object scene has you finding items on a list, and another that asks you to replace items to their proper locations in the scene (for instance, you might be given a rose and pitcher of water that need to be placed/poured into a vase in the scene).
As for the expected mini-games, these are fairly simple, requiring some trial and error (tile swapping games, for instance) or simply testing your observation, as you’ll need to judge the size or shape of items to figure out where they’ll go in the puzzle. These puzzles aren’t difficult, but they can be a bit time consuming.
Since the orphanage does have a limited amount of rooms, you’ll have to repeat some hidden object scenes, and while you’ll take new items away from these hotspots, the scenes also contain the same items you had already found previously. It’s a small issue in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a noteworthy blemish in an otherwise incredibly polished experience.
While many other games rely on newspaper clippings or journal entries to flesh out the storyline, here you’ll pick up these objects to see full cutscenes in the same gloomy, dreary graphical theme as the rest of the game. They contain full voice-acting, which is fairly nicely done, and add plenty of length to the overall title. Depending on your choice of difficulty, you can easily fly through the game, using the helpful hint system (which recharges quite rapidly on the easiest setting) to point out exactly where to go in a room (not just to find items in scenes), and can utilize a detailed collector’s edition strategy guide if you opt for that version of the game.
Adding one final element to the gameplay are the paranormal activities of the children themselves. As you save each person (by collecting items that meant a great deal to them before the fire), you’ll gain their abilities and can then use them in specific locations for the rest of the game. Your first ability, for instance, will allow you to change the size of objects. A toy axe or cannon, as examples, can be used to chop down debris or blow up brick walls, unlocking other areas of the orphanage to explore. Another ability grants you the power of telekinesis, or moving items that would otherwise require a larger tool to interact with.
All told, The Agency of Anomalies: Cinderstone Orphanage is an incredibly polished experienced, that may be lacking in challenge on the easiest difficulty setting, but makes up for that with highly detailed graphics, tons of cutscenes, an interesting storyline and intuitive, enjoyable gameplay. Whether you’ve played the first Agency of Anomalies game (Mystic Hospital) or not, Cinderstone Orphanage is definitely worth the price of admission.