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By Marc Saltzman | Jul 10, 2009 |

One of my favorite trends in the casual gaming space is the fusion between hidden-object games ("HOGs") and adventure game-like puzzles, like Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst and Dream Chronicles: The Chosen Child.

Last fall we also saw the debut of Alawar's first HOG, Magic Encyclopedia: First Story, an atmospheric hand-drawn puzzler that successfully merged these two game styles together -- despite some nagging technical bugs that marred its initial release.

Well, the developers at Vendel Games are back with Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light, a sequel that's bigger and better than its predecessor (and allegedly, going from 4 to 14 developers compared to the first game).

During a cinematic -- and somewhat animated -- intro sequence, we learn about the young and beautiful Katrina who heeds her brother's call to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his professor. Unable to resist an adventure, Katrina, a student of magic, begins a globe-trotting race for the truth and in doing so, uncovers some disturbing facts, including a dreaded werewolf curse (that's also plaguing Katrina's dreams).

Rather than scouring a busy scene for a list of items (such as "statue" or "clock"), Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light has players look for pieces of items, such as four parts to a statue or a clock, and compile it all at the bottom of the screen. It can be challenging to find some of these shards as the designers cleverly hid them in the environment (and they can be quite small, too, which might frustrate some players). Gamers can also click on some areas of screen to zoom into a secondary area (such as a closet, drawer or bird's nest) and some levels have two full-screen areas you'll need to swap between in order to find everything.

The adventure game-like puzzles involve using an item you just compiled in the environment in order to find more objects. For example, you might find five parts to a key and then open up a locked box with it in order to get a piece of paper. On that paper might be a spell you need to cast on a stone effigy to bring it to life. You get the idea. Figuring out how to use the object you compiled isn't too tough, as the game will give you a hint if you put your mouse over the highlighted area (example: "This drum looks like it needs a beating").

In total, the game features 1,900 hidden objects spread throughout 32 different levels, so it's considerably bigger than its predecessor. There is no clock you're working against, nor will you be penalized for clicking incorrectly too many times (as is the case with most HOGs). You can get a hint often by clicking on a crystal ball that, once used, must be replenished again (which takes a minute or so) before it could be used again.

Every few levels players will come across one of the 18 mini-games tied to the story. These include some common ones found in HOG adventures (sliding tile puzzles, matching games, and so on) but there are some welcome surprises, too, including an awesome head-scratcher that has you placing fortune-telling cards on a grid based on their element (water, fire, air, earth) and species (man, woman, plant or mineral). Great fun. After you play through the puzzle (or if you wait a couple of minutes you can skip it altogether), it will be unlocked and available to you from the main menu.

When it comes to production values, Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light enjoys beautiful hand-drawn graphics complimented by melodic music, and proves even more impressive than the first game in the series.

One thing that might be an issue with some players is the fact the items will be placed in the exact same spot on the screen if you decide to play it over again. Because of this, it will likely hurt the game's replayability factor and thus doesn't offer as much value as games that put items in a different spot, should you want to play through a second or third time.

Shortcomings aside, this game should satiate fans of HOGs and adventure games. If you're a fan of the series then you most certainly won't be disappointed in this sequel - and be sure to keep a few extra bucks in your pocket for the fall when the third game in this franchise will be available.

For similar games, try Magic Encyclopedia: First Story, Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, Dream Chronicles: The Chosen Child, and Mortimer Beckett and the Secret of Spooky Manor.

Pros:

  • Challenging hidden object game with adventure game-like elements. Hand-drawn artwork. Many mini-games. Decent story and cut-scene sequences. Can play completed puzzles again, if you like.

Cons:

  • Items always in the same place (hurts replayability). Some item pieces simply too small.

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