Insider Tales: The Stolen Venus comes perilously close to being a forgettable game. Its hidden object sequences suffer from being ordinary, repetitious and at times inaccurate, but the varied and creative minigames that lie between levels save The Stolen Venus from an ignoble doom. While it might not quite be the hidden object game you were hoping for, you ‘ll likely still find The Stolen Venus entertaining enough to see it through to the end.
You play as Francesca DiPorta, who’s called in to solve the mystery when the Botticelli painting "Birth of Venus" is stolen right out of its frame at the Uffizi Gallery. After consulting with art expert Pietro Abinoni – who’s a dead ringer for Bill Murray in "The Life Aquatic" – Francesca whisks off to the village of Castiglionbasso, where she believes the culprit has fled. While in town, you’ll visit different locations, such as the hotel, the local shop, the pier, and the police station, by selecting them on a map of the area. Playing the game is as easy as clicking your mouse, but The Stolen Venus walks you through the first few levels, just in case.
The story takes some random and baffling turns at times (you have to rescue Pietro from jail, where he’s been imprisoned for stealing food), and the dialog feels awkward in places, thanks to some less-than-perfect translation. Even when the wording is perfect, it’s never particularly compelling. The story is told via flat and uninteresting cutscenes in which cartoon representations of the characters talk to each other via speech bubbles. If you finish Stolen Venus, it definitely won’t be because of its gripping narrative.
The game’s hidden object levels come in two types: finding and assembling pieces of larger objects, and finding lists of objects. The levels in which you must find, for example, a flower that’s been chopped into five pieces are far more satisfying and varied than the more traditional track-down-the-list sequences, so it’s a shame they weren’t used more frequently.
The list levels suffer from a feeling of sameness, as many objects are repeated from level to level. You can only hunt for the same stack of books so many times before you get a little bored. Adding to the frustration is the game’s difficulty with terminology. Not only does it use European terms – which isn’t quite so problematic when you’re looking for a spanner as it as a football – it also simply flat out misidentifies certain things. You may be asked to find a lamp, but what you’re really looking for is a light bulb. The coconut on your list is in reality a gourd and though you’re seeking a hat, it’s not the derby on the left, but rather the mortarboard on the right.
Fortunately, clicking on an item’s name displays its silhouette, which should help you in these situations, but if that doesn’t do it, you can always rely on the rechargeable hints to see you through.
Though the hidden object sections are disappointingly ordinary, the plethora of minigames that take place between levels almost makes up for them. They come in all shapes and sizes, from puzzles to skill challenges, and are so pleasingly varied that you never know what to expect. You’ll arrange chocolates so that they fit together in a box, reassemble pictures a la jigsaw puzzle, snap photographs of fast-moving butterflies, spot the differences between images, rearrange boxes to slide a wine bottle out of storage, and even remember ever-changing sequences of flashing stars in the sky. These minigames achieve just the right amount of challenge, too; never too hard to be game-stoppers, but tricky enough to keep your interest.
I wish that The Stolen Venus was a collection of minigames and puzzles with some hidden object levels thrown in, instead of the other way around. As it is, you find yourself enduring the relatively lengthy hidden object sequences solely to see what new all-too-short minigame you get to enjoy, which throws the game’s chore-to-enjoyment ratio seriously out of whack. When The Stolen Venus‘ hidden object levels aren’t annoying, they’re dull. Fans of hidden object games can find far better examples of the genre, and though anyone can enjoy the minigames and puzzles, you simply have to put up with far too much tedium to get to them.