Ghosts and ghouls can’t be bothered with the internet.
Dark Manor is a brand new spooky hidden object social game from Big Fish Games, with a unique strategic and city-building twist. In the game, you’ll be guided by the two ghosts of your great ancestor’s deceased wives, who lead you on a journey to restore your family’s haunted manor in all of its ghastly glory. Because hey, as luck would have it, you happen to be able to see and communicate with these ghosts as well!
A lot of what you’ll find in Dark Manor is typical of a social hidden object game with a city-building twist. Each chapter is made up of several hidden object scenes, which you’ll use up energy to play over and over again in order to collect more ectoplasm. Collect enough ectoplasm to fill enough jars, and you’ll be rewarded with a number of items that are used for completing in-game missions and quests. Buying and placing objects around your mansion grounds will grant you JuJu points, which can be used to unlock additional hidden object scenes.
That all sounds pretty familiar, right? But the big difference here in Dark Manor is that the game pulls off each and every one of these expected elements so extremely well. We saw a glimpse of the whole day vs. night mechanic in early previews of the game, but seeing this change in action? Well it feels downright exhilarating. All of the visual changes in the game are seamless, and with the simple tap of a button, you can watch your manor and the grounds around it literally transform, and the amount of distinctiveness between day and night objects is especially impressive. One of my favorite parts about the city-building component is that you can even place little people around your manor, who transform into ghoulish beings by nightfall, and can grant you additional JuJu points as well.
But all of these things are nothing compared to the hidden object scenes in Dark Manor, which are an absolute joy to play no matter how many times the game asks you to complete them. Each hidden object scene features an alluring, almost 3D effect of utilizing multilayered environments, where zooming in and out or panning around the screen gives you an entirely new perspective on the stale, static hidden object scenes of old. For instance, in one early scene that depicts the manor’s messy grand staircase, the chandelier and awnings nearly pop off the screen, and by zooming in and panning around, you’ll actually be able to see some additional objects that may have been obscured behind this top-most layer otherwise. Now of course, you could always just zoom out completely and cause the multilayered effect to somewhat disappear, but each scene is so cluttered with clever objects that are so challenging to find, that you’ll surely be getting up close and personal with these different layers on more than one occasion.
The only real perceivable misstep in the game (which sadly turns out to be a fairly big one), is the mandatory internet connectivity that’s required to play the game. That’s right, even though Dark Manor is largely a single player experience, you’ll need to always be connected to the internet in order to even play it. The idea behind doing this is so that the game is constantly synchronizing your save data to the cloud, so you can seamlessly pick up where you left off on another iOS device. I guess it’s trying to give some flexibility of play to the gamer, but really, how often are you going to be switching between your iPhone and iPad to play the game? What’s more, it’s likely you’ll be restricted to only playing at home on your WiFi connection anyway.
The whole “always online” thing wouldn’t have been such an issue, if the Dark Manor servers were anything close to stable. Playing on a steady WiFi connection, it took about an hour’s worth of hang-ups and restarts just for me to get out of the tutorial section. I was lucky if I could play for a full minute without the game just stopping in its tracks to put up a “Synchronizing” screen, and then throw me back to an earlier moment on my journey. This even happened once or twice during the hidden object scenes themselves, and when you’re trying to find all the objects as fast as you can to boost up that combo meter, this becomes a little exasperating, to put it lightly. I’m sure the servers will be better stabilized before long, but at least for now during the launch window (and coupled with the mandatory need to always be playing online), Dark Manor manages to shoot itself in the foot before it ever has the chance to really get going.
But even though Dark Manor suffers from some needless online restrictions and early connectivity issues, once you’re actually able to get going on your hunt and start building up your haunted mansion, then the game becomes an absolute blast. From a wildly effective day and night mechanic, to multilayered and flexible hidden object scenes, there is very little of this game’s presentation that doesn’t downright shine. This one is here to remind us why Big Fish remains the king of the hidden object game.