The biggest mysteries are in the game design
Hidden object games are best-suited for desktop computers, mainly because a large part of the gameplay involves searching densely-packed, highly-detailed scenes – a task that’s clumsy to perform on a smaller screen. Moreover, the complex puzzles of adventure games are also better-solved with a mouse than with touchscreen controls. Haunted House Mysteries for iPad is a nice-looking game that suffers by appearing on an inappropriate platform.
As so many hidden object adventures do, Haunted House Mysteries begins with a terrible tragedy. A famous archaeologist and his family are murdered in their New England vacation home, presumably because of a rare artifact being kept there. Years later, Nancy, a young graduate student writing a thesis on modern-day superstition, is called to the home by her elderly aunt. On the surface, the invitation is for Nancy to enjoy a few days’ R&R, but she soon discovers her aunt’s true intention is for her to investigate the site’s alleged paranormal activity.
Haunted House Mysteries was obviously made by a team of talented artists, since from the first spooky scene it makes a good impression. Nancy and her aunt are sharp and attractive by design, and so are all of the game’s locations. (I’m fairly sure the exterior of the main house is the Norman Bates Psycho house.) The game also sounds pretty good thanks to a nice music score that effectively augments the lugubrious Victorian interiors.
Things start going haywire for Haunted House Mysteries,though, when it comes to gameplay and controls. The touchscreen control scheme is simple enough, but the controls on a few of the puzzles are as squirrelly and unresponsive as a fussy four-year-old. Navigation’s also a touch disorienting, since arrows that appear to take you forward often take you backward. One glaring omission is the fast-travel map, which if it existed, would make moving so much easier. The awkwardness of transitioning without such a map is exaggerated by the annoying load screens that appear every time you move from one location to another.
A bigger problem than these, however, is the game’s hidden object scenes. On the positive side, they’re very nicely designed and provide a good challenge. On the negative, it’s often hard to see things. The zoom function allows you to move in closer, but then the scene can’t be taken in as a whole. Zooming in and out and having to shift the screen right, left, up and down gets tiresome after a while, especially since Haunted House Mysteries often asks you to replay a hidden object scene right away. Moreover, there are a lot of hidden object scenes. It feels like there’s barely time to rest your eyes before you’re asked to play yet another one, and as such, Haunted House Mysteries cries out for either more puzzles or some kind of storytelling element to break up the monotony.
Haunted House Mysteries has some good things going for it. It has nice visuals and sound, and for the most part, it controls well. Although it’s a little light on the puzzles and a little heavy on the hidden object scenes, it’s a decent game. Still, with thousands of games out there vying for attention, is “decent” really good enough? Probably not, since gamers these days expect games to be free or to deliver more gameplay, more story, and more extras for the money. Haunted House Mysteries may be inexpensive and even reasonably good, but in today’s changing game market, that’s just not enough anymore.