Christmas Stories: Nutcracker is one of the best presents you’ll open this holiday season

Relationships are difficult at the best of times. Poor Albert – he really didn’t need the added difficulty of a magical rat king that thinks he’s human kidnapping his girlfriend and turning him into a nutcracker. If he can’t rescue her in time, this just really isn’t going to make for a very happy Christmas.

Christmas Stories: Nutcracker is a hidden object game developed by Elephant Games loosely based on the classic Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. The beautiful Princess Mary is kidnapped by the Rat King (who is completely infatuated by her) on Christmas Eve. Her Prince, the handsome Albert, has until midnight to rescue her or she will be lost to him forever.

Christmas Stories: Nutcracker

You play the game finding yourself invited to a Christmas Ball at the Royal Palace. You’re very excited about the fabulous event, reflecting on how you must have finally made it in society now that the Royals are inviting you to their big bash. You imagine the delicious food you will eat, the elaborate decorations that will adorn the Palace, and the handsome suitors you will dance the night away with.

However, typically, you are late, and arrive to find that when you finally arrive the ball has, in fact, finished. The butler kindly tells you that you are allowed to take a present home with you from under the tree instead. You pick one and open it to find… a talking nutcracker! You were kind of hoping for an iPhone 5, to be honest.

The talking nutcracker turns out to be Prince Albert, who’s been cursed by the nefarious Rat King. The Rat King has also made off with Princess Mary, after turning her into a porcelain doll. Since the Prince has a limited ability to do, well… anything save cracking walnuts now, a nutcracker, it’s up to you to help him out.

Christmas Stories: The Nutcracker combines adventure-style gameplay with hidden object rounds and mini games to make a great Christmas-themed title that both kids and adults will enjoy. The hidden object scenes are nicely drawn and suitably festive, filled with Christmassy items like wreaths, frosted pine cones, gingerbread trees and colourful baubles.

The mini games are almost all very fun, and ones that you’ll want to complete yourself rather than hitting the ‘skip’ button. They include a ball dropping game where you have to remember the order the different colors of balls fall down into a grid to match them up the right colored pegs, and a jigsaw puzzle where you have to turn all the hexagonal pieces the right way round.

Christmas Stories: Nutcracker

The adventure parts involve finding and picking up various items that are scattered around the game world, and using them to open up new areas or unlock mini games. A cool feature is that you will find companions – the first of which is the nutcracker right at the start of the game – that each have special abilities. The nutcracker, for example, might not be able to defeat the Rat King, but one lowly rat is no match for him – so you can send him into battle against low-level opponents. It’s a good mechanic, as it makes you think more about puzzles – do I need to use an object here? Or one of my companions? Or do I need something else that I haven’t found yet?

There are three levels of difficulty to choose from, and the different options should keep everyone happy, from those who enjoy playing casually with lots of hints and sparkles, to those who want absolutely no help whatsoever.

The game features short cut scenes of just the right length as you enter some rooms, and these flesh out the background story of Albert and Mary and also how the Rat King came to have special powers. There are also excellent voice overs and some of the most distinctive music from the show.

The only downside to this game is how frequently it expects you to backtrack – particularly towards the end, where the game designers seem to delight in sending you back and forth between the two furthest points in the game world again and again. And again.

Christmas Stories: The Nutcracker is an excellent hidden object game, and only loses half a point because of the silly amount of backtracking you have to do. Once you have finished the lengthy main story, the Collector’s Edition a bonus game unlocks with a new (much shorter) story, hidden object scenes, characters and puzzles. It’s like a present within a present! And there’s no doubt about it – you’re not going to want to wait until December 25th to open this one.