It was quite the night for Mike. Not only does this young security guard catch someone breaking into the museum after dark but discovers the rare artifact the intruder is after is tied to his own father’s mysterious disappearance. Such is the premise behind The Nightshift Code, a well-crafted hidden-object adventure that cleverly integrates a fun story and challenging mini-game puzzles into the familiar seek-and-find gameplay.
Available as a download for both Windows and Macs, PlayFirst’s The Nightshift Code follows Mike and Isabel as they venture across the globe – from the U.S. to Germany, Canada to the Greek Isles – in order to find key items, decipher cryptic messages and solve tough puzzles. To help push the story along, players will see attractive comic book-like scenes prior to each level.
The main game-play will be familiar to fans of these hidden object games. You’re presented with a busy scene, such as a messy room or outdoor courtyard, and you’re asked to find a dozen or more items listed at the bottom of the screen. Examples of items you’ll be asked to find include a sword, conch shell, green apple, sphinx, wheelbarrow, car, fan or mermaid. It appears the items you find are irrelevant to the story, which is a bit disappointing, but doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
At times, you’ll be tasked to find multiple items such as "Four tapes," and when you comb the screen with your mouse to find them all you realize they’re not all the same thing; in this scenario, the items are an audio tape, VHS cassette, measuring tape and sticky roll of tape.
Some items are spread out between two scenes, such as Mike’s apartment and office, so players are asked to toggle between two locations to find everything listed. One different – and thus, memorable — location was an ancient map, and your mouse cursor turns into a magnifying glass to find all the well-hidden items. Later on in the game you’ll also use the magnifying glass to examine fake artifacts.
If stuck, you can click on the Hint button up to three times, which reveals one of the items you haven’t found yet. Click on an incorrect item too many times and you’ll see your bonus points dwindle.
The Nightshift Code features 18 search locations spread out over the six chapters, some of which you’ll revisit multiple times to find a different set of items. Along with the main game is a straightforward story-less Arcade mode that provides more scavenger hunt fun. Only the Arcade game has a time limit per puzzle.
The Story mode also features six tricky mini-games spread throughout the game. The first one, for instance, is a "logoscope" puzzle where you must flip through numerous symbols, and by process of elimination figure out what word each symbol stands for to decipher a message.
While The Nightshift Code is a great example of a hidden object game done right, it’s not perfect. Not only are the items irrelevant to the story but some can be confusing, such as clicking what looked exactly like a thermometer proved otherwise (costing valuable points). Plus when returning to a scene a second or third time means you’ll likely remember where everything is, making it easier to solve (even with different items to find each time). On a related note, after you complete the game – which might only take you one evening – there’s little reason to play again since you’ll likely recall where all the items are on the level.
Overall, though, The Nightshift Code is a fun way to keep warm and entertained while cooped up inside over the winter holidays.