A demon’s curse prematurely ages a young boy after he’s tricked into making three magic wishes

Elephant Games stampeded onto the hidden object scene a few years ago and since then, its games have been lauded by both critics and gamers alike. So far, 2012′s seen the release of three more stellar games from three separate franchises. This month, the company continues its charge toward genre domination with yet another excellent hidden object adventure—the third in the Grim Tales series—called Grim Tales: The Wishes.

Grim Tales: The Wishes begins with a young boy’s mysterious deterioration. One day, this perfectly normal kid wrinkles up and starts lurching around like a wizened old man muttering something about “it’s all his fault”. His mother is of course, horrified, but is unable to do anything about it. Desperate to discover what’s behind her son’s quick decay, she sends for the boy’s favorite aunt in hopes that she can find out what’s causing it.

Grim Tales: The Wishes

Now I don’t usually talk about a game’s graphics right off the bat, but I must admit to being put off during The Wishes’ intro cinematic by its unintentionally scary character animation. The bizarre blend of photograph and 2D painting seen there courses through the entire game and creates nightmarish effects, especially on what are meant to be normal people. Fortunately, while noticeable, it’s not a deal-breaker.

The game’s great looking environment graphics, puzzles and hidden object scenes do a good job of making up for (or at least deemphasizing) it. What they don’t make up for is the game’s uneven sound design. The main issue here is the voice acting. The boy and his mother are frankly, hard to listen to. And that’s bad, because they’re the ones who talk the most. In a Freaky Friday-like swap, the boy’s speech patterns make him too adult (although this is as much a function of the writing as the acting) while the mother sounds like an 18-year old  college co-ed. On top of this, the game’s music often cuts in and out, detracting from scenes rather than adding to them.

It’s perhaps strange to call a game “excellent” and then talk so much about its flaws, but this handful of minor issues doesn’t prevent Grim Tales: The Wishes from being great. While there are a few things it could have done better, the rest of it adds up to a lesson in solid hidden object game-making. For one thing, it provides you with different kinds of objectives. Varying in complexity from straightening picture frames to fixing industrial machinery, your goals are changing all the time. True, there’s a good amount of finding medallions to unlock boxes and doors, but it’s balanced out with a range of other activities.

Grim Tales: The Wishes

For another, the game’s approach to hidden object scenes is admirable. They’re beautiful, well-constructed, consist of hundreds of location-specific items and are staged in unexpected places like inside a hollow log or in a rank puddle. These new contexts not only broaden the types of items you can search for, they enlarge the possibilities for item set-ups. Related to this, item usage is often creative and makes the solutions to situation puzzles (such as, “how do I cross this gap?”) feel more organic and improvised. Finally, the puzzle aspect of the game fits right in with these innovations by including a good number of fresh new puzzle concepts.

Belonging to a series called Grim Tales, The Wishes should have a well-crafted narrative and in that regard, it’s definitely admirable. It starts with a fairly simple premise, but moves on to explore multiple side stories through the concept of wishes. It’s a clever device that allows the game some fanciful context changes and offers the player a more varied adventure. (Granted, the game’s initial context is a weird blend of the modern and the historical: a place where 19th century garments somehow co-exist with 1970′s station wagons.)

Keeping track of and traveling among these different contexts is made easy by the game’s map, which not only shows images of each location, but lists each location’s specific objectives. This comprehensive map allows you to teleport among locations, minimizes backtracking and prevents overuse of the Hint button.

Grim Tales: The Wishes

The Wishes’ main game satisfies by offering us a surprising collection of narrative twists and turns that come to an exciting, logical conclusion. The bonus chapter then picks up where the main story leaves off, and through the re-purposing of various locations and the addition of a few new ones, creates an additional hour of compelling gameplay. The end of the bonus chapter does feel a bit haphazard, but oh well. At that point, the game’s definitely given you your money’s worth. Besides, in addition to the bonus chapter, you get all the usual Collector’s Edition extras: wallpapers, concept art, music and a built-in strategy guide.

Despite a few flaws (so-so sound design and ugly facial animations) Grim Tales: The Wishes is—as I said at the beginning—an excellent game. Impressive graphics, interesting objectives, creative puzzles and hidden object scenes, lots of variation in setting and a storyline full of surprises make it one of the best hidden object games released this year. So folks, if you’re still unsure about betting your entertainment dollar on Grim Tales, don’t be. Grim Tales: The Wishes is a sure winner.