So, what do a Venetian mask, butterflies, the Catholic Church, a cannon, and an assortment of mechanical cranes have in common? The answer – they’ve all been magically altered by Val’Gor, the villain in the puzzle / hidden object game Val`Gor – Dark Lord of Magic. Apparently, Val’Gor has eclectic tastes, but you’d expect that of anyone a few centuries old.

A letter, sent from a scholar of the Middle Ages, warns that a dark lodge of magicians has been discovered. Lord Val’Gor, the leader of this secret lodge, is not impressed with this unveiling, and seeks to destroy all evidence of the lodge’s existence. His dark deeds include making subtle changes to the world, which can only be revealed by comparing old photos with new, catching the changes in a magic album.

Your goal is to spot the differences between two near-identical photos, which you do by clicking on each spot with the mouse cursor. Incorrect clicks are marked with a red "X", while correct clicks are circled in green. Changes are extremely subtle, like the whiskers on a dog’s forehead, so it’s worth fetching your reading glasses.

Each of the 13 chapters has 8 original pictures, which you may select in any order. Some of the pictures include jigsaw challenges, which you need to complete before you can play. The jigsaws involve moving and rotating tiles until you assemble the picture. Making combos, two or more clicks with quick succession, can sometimes earn you bonus hints, and always increases your score. Your total score for each round is based on picture bonus, combo bonus, correct clicks, and clicks within limits.

Throughout the game, Val’Gor will try to surprise you by throwing in hidden challenges. For example, he will sometimes "darken" your screen, leaving you to spot the differences with a randomly roaming spotlight alone.

The hint system is a mixed bag. Aside from your bonus hint coins, which instantly circle one change for you, hints are flashed continuously throughout the game. Areas where potential differences may sit are highlighted by these flashes. Notice I said potential, and not actual… This is because the pictures are different each time you play, so sometimes an area flashes which is NOT relevant for your particular picture.

Even if you lose – and you will, eventually – all is not lost. You get the chance to complete a word search to score bonus time. This word search is timed, and the words occasionally change as you are playing, but you shouldn’t have much trouble completing it. Finding all five words on the list will grant you that prized bonus time, so you can go back and replay the chapter. However, you can only do this three times before Val’Gor wins and you’re sent packing.

Just for fun, after beating each chapter there is a bonus matching round which improves your score. You have one minute to find objects which are the same in a slew of butterflies, bears, or seashells. Sounds easy? Trust me, it’s not. The differences can be very slight, so you really need to look carefully.

Once you’ve beaten a chapter, the mini games can be replayed alone. That includes the jigsaws, word searches, and object-matching games. This is kind of cool, because it’s like getting several games in one.

The music is light and entertaining, although the same melody repeats the entire game. The sound effects, while limited, are good too. Val’Gor made me jump often with his evil laugh!

There were some things that made me a bit crazy while playing. For one, some of the surprise challenges were just too hard. It’s hard enough to spot the differences in full light, let along with a randomly scrolling torch. Maybe it would have been easier if the player could control the spotlight, but it’s near impossible when you have no control it. I lost a lot of time this way.

Also, if the bonus time isn’t enough, you will have to replay the whole chapter. Yup, that includes the jigsaw puzzles, which is a major bummer! After spending ten minutes piecing together the Roman Cathedral, I was in no mood to do it again.

The pictures used, and background music, didn’t really fit with the fantasy theme of the story line. It would have been very cool if everything was kept within the theme of dark magic.

Val’Gor is a fairly original game with an interesting story and lots of potential, but it’s lost some of its draw by being just a bit too difficult for extended play. I’d love to see a sequel to this game that minimizes the surprise challenges, and instead focuses on providing more unified game play.