All you wanted to do was restore peace to a desert village. Was that too much to ask for? Now you’re a prisoner of the Chaos God, trapped in an orb that contains a world of strange sights and sounds. On the plus side, you know who the bad guy is. On the minus side, you’ll have to escape this crystal prison before you can do anything about him. Time to start finding items!

Mystery Age: Liberation of Souls is a casual adventure game with epic appeal. The story could have been ripped out of a Neil Gaiman graphic novel, what with all these warring gods, lost cities, and people entombed in swirling crystal orbs. The setting is a wonderful mix of dark fantasy and Arabian Nights, not something you usually see in a casual adventure game. Right from the start Mystery Age hands you satchel full of intrigue, and it only gets better from there.

mysteryage1

Liberation of Souls keeps you on your toes. You’ll move around the map at a rapid pace, often skipping new areas without even solving any of its puzzles. The items you need are strewn across the world, forcing you to explore, backtrack, and experiment. Don’t expect your usual battery of household objects, either. Since Mystery Age takes place in an evil god’s crystal world, things like rubber bands and hair brushes just don’t exist. Instead, you’ll hack things with sickles, hunt down dragon eyes, discover mysterious horns, and pry open chests with ornate keys. It’s a small difference compared to other hidden object games, but those details go a long way.

Hidden object scenes are infrequent but always welcome. You’re presented with a handful of item fragments on the bar at the bottom, each organized into tidy little groups. Search the scene above for the pieces you need, and when an item is complete, you can use it to help solve the HOG puzzle. This neatly divides item hunting into stages and breaks the endless pixel hunting into digestible bits. At the end you’ll net an object used out in the world. Probably something cool like a talisman or a magical emblem.

mysteryage2

With all of its storytelling and gameplay successes, Mystery Age: Liberation of Souls has very few drawbacks. It’s missing a few extras present in many modern hidden object games, things like pages of achievements and difficulty selectors, but honestly you’ll be so involved in the story you won’t even care. The non-mundane items are a treat to see, but since their use isn’t as obvious, this can lead to some slight puzzle ambiguity. Does the sickle cut those ropes, or does the axe? Fortunately, the flow of the game separates many of these confusing pairs by a few puzzles, so you won’t run into it that frequently.

Mystery Age: Liberation of Souls has a lot of heart. It quite comfortably competes with other casual adventure games by providing a unique setting, interesting items, and puzzle design that makes the world feel larger than it is. You won’t find all the bells and whistles common in today’s hidden object stock, but when it comes down to it, you don’t really need them.