Hidden-object games are a hot commodity thanks to Big Fish Game’s Mystery Case Files. And, like most wannabe products, they run the gamut in quality. Hidden Expedition Titanic, Travelogue 360: Paris, Hide and Secret, Paparazzi and Dream Day Wedding, to name just a few, depict the wide spread.
What sets Abra Academy apart from the rest? Well, at its base element, a spell-concocting storyline.
A training ground for witches, Abra Academy is populated by instructors and students of the magical arts (for Harry Potter fans, it’s akin to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry). In the guise of Wanda’s assistant, your job is to help this fledgling sorceress pass her tests and graduate Witch Extraordinaire. How? By guiding Wanda through the various locations at the academy and helping her locate numerous hidden objects, which (as opposed to witch) become the ingredients in a special potion. The more quickly she finds these items, the sooner she receives her diploma.
If you’ve played any of the aforementioned games, you know the gist of Abra Academy. Each scene is packed with a menagerie of unrelated items, reminiscent of the homes of those suffering from major compulsive hoarding disorders. Mixed in with all this accumulated "junk" are the items you need to locate based on a spell ingredient list. Click on each required item, once located, and it’s added to a bubbling cauldron. Simple enough, right?
Well, a few additional factors need to be considered. Click too rapidly four times in a row and a gargoyle with a water pistol appears to douse your fire. So, careful selection is a must. Nevertheless, it takes more than a dozen trips for him to quench the fire. But, if he succeeds, you can easily rekindle it. Four matches are hidden in each scene. Click on the ones you find to get the fire going again.
You also have a built-in hint system. Fairies, when released (kept in a bird cage until needed), point out a remaining item from your list. You start with three and can earn more via several mini-games. Serving as short interludes between levels, these diversions are mostly similar in design. For example, in one you must find words hidden among a conglomeration of letters on a stone tablet. When you spot a word, catch the correct letters to spell it as they meander their way across the screen, dragging them into place on the tablet. In another mini-game, objects flow by that you grab and drag into the cauldron in the order in which they appear on a list.
One other point, unlike most games in this genre, there’s no real urgency. The count-down timer, taking the form of a fire under your cauldron, moves so slowly (depicted by dwindling flames) that you can literally take a lunch break and when you return still have time to complete the scene. So, you can pretty much take it easy. You’ll only lose significant time when you cause the gargoyle to appear. Even then, it’s just a matter of finding a match or two to get the fire going again and, in essence, add time back on the clock.
As for the items you need to locate, they cover a whole range from regular household stuff like pencils and pens, various fruits and vegetables, dolls, toy cars and keys to the more unusual such as crossbows, magic wands, scrolls, swords and a smattering of various animals, birds, reptiles and insects. Don’t anticipate, however, that these items will always look exactly as you expect. Sometimes they appear in an unnatural color to blend into the background (gray broccoli anyone?).
In all, Abra Academy features 24 levels of play spread out over a four-year school term, six levels for each year. A near-zero learning curve means it’s easy to get started, while the built-in hint system aids in locating hard to find objects (though, you’ll seldom need it). Attractively-detailed scenes and highly-atmospheric music round out the high points in this magical diversion.
But, loose bricks and mortar also abound at this sorcerer’s institute. Play is incredibly easy. Some levels can be cleared in under a minute if you’re even moderately competent at hidden-object games. The same is true with its mini-games, which also lack diversity. Further, objects always appear in the same place. So, as you return time and again to a location, you quickly learn where most objects are hidden. Add to the above a single game mode and replayability is basically non-existent. As for the storyline, it’s relatively juvenile and punctuated with childish banter.
Due to its pronounced simplicity, Abra Academy is suitable to play for younger children as well as adults. It’s not without charm and is fun to play. Just don’t expect its magic to last much longer than four or five hours at best.