What’s the difference between Mysteryville and Magic Academy? Honestly, not a lot. Both hidden-object games were developed by NevoSoft (though, Positive Games assisted with the latter). And, both bear a striking resemblance to each other in design and play. In many ways, Magic Academy is the same game dressed in a new set of clothes.

But, that’s okay. While similarities exist, a fresh story and entertaining mix of puzzles make Magic Academy a worthy investment. In fact, it’s a smidge better than its precursor.

As with Mysteryville, an enigma must be solved. In this case, a missing person (rather than fictitious felines). As Annie, a freshman at the Magic Academy, you investigate the strange disappearance of your older sister, Irene, who vanished a year ago. With the help of instructors, and a Harry Potter lookalike classmate, you search for clues to her whereabouts, learning how to remove protective spells, reveal invisible objects and gaze into the future. Ghosts, ancient spells and magic artifacts all come into play.

Of course, this game’s mostly about finding objects hidden in rooms overflowing with more accumulated debris than your average junkyard. Some items are relatively easy to spot, while others are so well concealed they’re nearly impossible to detect. It’s an obsessive-compulsive hoarder’s nightmare.

Items are selected with a click of the mouse. However, unlike many hidden-object games which force you to pause between selections (for item removal), Magic Academy allows you to select objects in rapid succession — a much appreciated feature. But, avoid random clicking. Too many rapid, ill-placed clicks elicit a time penalty.

Again, as with Mysteryville, there are 21 stages of play, each with multiple levels of item-based puzzles to solve. In keeping with the genre, mysteries consist of finding objects of a particular category (butterflies, spiders, scrolls or flasks), locating various bits and pieces from a list (bat, potion, mouse, candle, pen, compass, etc.), detecting objects based on their silhouettes, and locating items that differ between two “almost identical” side-by-side scenes. In a few instances, you even have to perform searches in the dark aided only by candlelight.

Get stuck at any point and you can employ the game’s hint feature. Simply click the Tip button and a missing object is revealed. Once used, the Tip meter slowly replenishes itself. So, rather than having a limited number of hints at your disposal, you can seek additional help as long as time permits.

Hidden-object levels are punctuated by several mini-games. Many will be familiar to those who played Mysteryville, but a few new permutations have been added. Jigsaw-like posers are still incorporated every few levels, but the “I spy” action is broken up by other diversions, as well. Rotation puzzles are employed where pieces remain in their original position, but are rotated into correct alignment. Another of the new challenges is based on the old memory game of Concentration. Flipping tiles over reveals a pattern on their back; match patterns and those tiles are removed from play.

Continuing with the framework established in Mysteryville, interaction with the academy’s inhabitants plays a significant role in moving the story forward. In contrast to similar games, you actually become acquainted with the residents of this magical institution as you converse with them. As for replayability, once you’ve completed a stage, you can return as often as you like to tackle its puzzles again. Conversations, thankfully, can be skipped at any time.

Magic Academy, like Mysteryville, features beautifully-rendered locales and inhabitants, an enjoyable mix of engaging conundrums and a well-integrated story that improves on its predecessor. Audio is also a step above, adding significantly to the game’s atmosphere. However, Magic Academy is cursed with its forerunners weaknesses, too. Top scores aren’t accessible, a relaxed mode is still notably absent and, once completed, there’s little reason to replay the game as item locations are fixed. Couple that with a rather brief four-to-six hour play time, and the enjoyment ends all too soon.

Nevertheless, Magic Academy is one of the better hidden-object games available. Fans of the genre will find the experience a magical delight. It’s an academy worthy of your enrollment.