Shop-n-Spree is just about everything you’d want in a game. It successfully blends two popular genres (hidden object and time management) around a theme that most people love to do (shopping) with charming graphics to boot. Roll in a story about the underdog standing up to a Big Bad Corporation, and you have a bona fide hit on your hands.
The local family department store in a small, friendly town is threatened when a Super Store opens nearby and begins to steal all of its customers and employees. What the Super Store didn’t count on, though, was the importance of customer service. When it began treating its customers rudely, they started coming back to the smaller store. But now the small store was short-staffed, and the boss of the Super Store is threatening to buy it out, bulldoze it, and put up a parking lot.
The goal of each level is to sell a certain amount of merchandise in order to raise funds. To do this, you’ll put on sales in each of the store’s departments. Customers arrive along the bottom of the screen with wish-lists of what they want to buy (such as white blouse, green belt, and black wallet), and you must find the item on the shelf and drag it over to the customer. In Normal and Hard modes, you must meet the daily minimum cash goal to continue. There’s also an Untimed mode that puts no pressure on you.
You aren’t limited to fetching clothes for customers. Each department in the store is completely different, with dozens of interesting items to hunt for. There’s the bookstore, sporting goods, girl’s and boy’s toys, home electronics, jewellery and accessories, home and office supplies, music and hobbies, and even fresh produce and packaged food.
The layout of each department is where the hidden object portion of the game comes in, because you’ll often have to do a bit of hunting in order to find what the customer wants. Some departments are laid out logically, with the majority of items on shelves where they belong, but others are messier and more "hidden object" in nature, with items strewn on the floor and in unexpected places. Both scenarios are challenging.
In between levels you’ll play one of six different mini-games, such as Stock the Shelves (where you must drag missing items into their proper places on the shelves). You can skip the mini-games if you prefer, but winning them earns you prizes like extra hints. Once you beat the game, all mini-games become unlocked and playable from the main menu.
Shop-n-Spree does a good job of mixing things up so the gameplay never becomes tedious. Beyond the sheer number of different items to find, which is entertaining in itself, you’ll encounter different types of customer, each with their own special requests. The photographer, for example, shows you a picture of what he wants instead of saying it. The old man likes to stock up on items and will ask you to more than one of the same item. The Mom doesn’t quite know the name of what she wants, so she describes it by asking for things like "5 balls that are used in team sports."
You also might have to help get the store ready in the morning before customers arrive by doing things like finding five candles and returning them to the candle stand (earning extra hints).
The only time players might get mildly frustrated is when the particular scene is just too cluttered to find an object easily, or when the Mom asks for something obscure like "I want to make French fries." On the positive side, though, customers don’t lose patience so you can take as long as you need to find the items. And there are always three customers at a time, so even if you get stuck on one you can move to the others and just leave the other one alone without any consequences. There are also ample ways to collect hints, so you’ll rarely find yourself without one if needed.
There are a lot of cool little things about Shop-n-Spree that I could mention too, like the fact that the loading screen before each level helpfully shows you pictures of some of the items so you can memorize what they look like; or the fun "For Sale" tags that give you a cash boost if you can find them.
The bottom line, though, is that Shop-n-Spree is one of those wonderfully creative, charming and challenging titles that is just so much fun to play.
Gamezebo tip: If you liked this game, check out another Viqua Games time management game, First Class Flurry.