Antique Mysteries offers up an equal blend of puzzling mini-games and hidden objects
Losing your mind is terribly unpleasant business, but when you’re an eccentric billionaire, it’s the sort of thing that seems largely unavoidable. Such was the case for Sheldon “Shelly” Howards – an oil tycoon who, in his final years, built all sorts of crazy secret rooms in his sprawling mansion. Now that Shelly has gone to the grave, it’s up to you – an expert in antiquities – to explore his home and find all of his hidden treasures.
As you do, you’ll discover the story of Shelly’s madness – though unlike most modern casual games, it’s nothing terribly sinister or dark. In fact, it even made me chuckle a few times. I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’ll just say that there are some gnomes in this game that end up being decidedly more mischievous than the typical garden variety.
Rather than endless hidden object scene after hidden object scene – a scenario you might expect from a game that’s all about hunting down priceless antiques – Howard’s Mansion offers a fairly equal balance of puzzle challenges and hidden objects. If you’re a fan of puzzles, this is a glorious thing. If you’re just looking for a straight HOG though… maybe not so much.
The puzzles run the gamut, from sliding puzzles and picture puzzles to match-3 and Pipe Dreams puzzles. There’s a little bit of everything in here. Some of these turn out better than others, but you can’t help but applaud the developers for the sheer variety they’ve included.
Many of these puzzles result in new objects for your inventory, which in turn task you with solving adventure-style puzzles (something that should be familiar to any hidden object gamer). The problem, though, is that some of these defy logic. For example: to get the fire you’ll need to light some dynamite, you’ll have to insert a crank into a giant stone head on the lawn to open its mouth and find a lighter inside.
It’s the sort of nonsensical puzzle that many adventure gamers dread – but thankfully, the developers do a fair bit of handholding so that you’ll never feel lost. In the above example, a quick click on the hint tab in the journal told us that “The statue head outside the mansion contains a fire source.” Tips like this turn an otherwise frustrating experience into something smooth and simple that’s accessible to any level of gamer.
By remaining accessible though, Antique Mysteries ends up lacking some of the challenge that more hardened HOG/adventure gamers crave. The game strikes a fine balance between HOG scenes and puzzling mini-games, but the puzzles themselves are often fairly simple to solve. And if you ever find yourself struggling, every single one of them can be skipped. Design choices like this will likely be applauded by novice puzzle gamers, but for the rest of us, between the ample hints and skippable puzzles, much of Antique Mysteries ends up feeling a bit like it has training wheels on.
Still, there’s no denying that some of the puzzles have a few tricks up their sleeves, and so long as you don’t give into the “skip” temptation, a few can be real noodle-scratchers. And it’s not like we’re trying to say that the game doesn’t offer any challenge – it’s just that it’s a little bit lower than genre veterans might expect.
In terms of visuals, Antique Mysteries manages to shine in certain parts, but not as much during others. Some moments – like the animation of a crumbling wall or a toy train going around a track – look absolutely splendid. And some close-up hidden object scenes really show a terrific amount of detail. But in other moments, the game looks decidedly run of the mill. Not bad, per se, but just… unexceptional. Not as good as the rest.
It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, it’s a little on the short side, and the puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag, but Antique Mysteries: Secrets Howard’s Mansion does more than enough to entertain for the time that it lasts. If you’re looking for a charming little hidden object game that’s mixed with plenty of puzzles, Antique Mysteries is a great way to kill a Sunday afternoon.