Divorce. Revenge. A mysterious death. A missing Will. Two teams of thieves in an empty casino. No, it’s not the latest Hollywood drama-it’s a new hidden object adventure game from Funkitron called Slingo Mystery. An ambitious attempt to combine a sophisticated mystery with a casual game where every object and mini-game is part of the plot, the end result falls short of instant classic status but still provides a lot of original entertainment.

First, the good news: the designers have largely succeeded in their goal of making every action meaningful to the story. Hidden objects are mostly realistic, and often provide clues to the mystery. Some inventory solutions are far-fetched (bamboo arrows to take out a security camera? Really?), but no worse than a typical caper movie.

I want to especially give the writers credit for something I can’t remember in a casual game before-crazy solutions that don’t work out. Several times the character will try something, say banging on a control panel to try and open a door, and you’ll think, "That can’t work."  And then it doesn’t! The character has to look around the room again and try something different.  This would be frustrating if the story was weaker, but it works well here.

In addition, they’ve done a fantastic job of blending Slingo mini-games into the story. Slingo is a combination of Slots and Bingo. Mostly luck, but some strategy. Here, the dead casino owner was a Slingo fanatic, and he’s built special Slingo machines that appear in many rooms. Play them, and you get a clue to that missing will. You might have to get a high score, or make a certain number of Slingos or complete a particular pattern, and the power-ups also vary.

At first I thought Slingo fans might be disappointed because the machines only appear in every third room. Then I found the Bonus Features on the main menu. Every time you find a Slingo machine in the main game, you unlock it for unlimited play in the Bonus Features Game Room. That’s a nice feature, although you have to stumble on it yourself.

Length is very good. There are 30 locations, and for each one you will get multiple short Find Lists, several inventory tasks, and possibly a Slingo game. It’s not as long as Mushroom Age, for example, but it’s definitely longer than many hidden object adventures.

The Adventure portion is clearly designed for casual gamers, and I mean that in a good way. You can only work in one location at a time, and the objectives are understandable and fit the story well. You won’t get lost here not knowing what to do next. Oh, and make sure you watch all the way to the end of the closing scene, as there are some good plot twists there.

There is no timer, and the only penalty for wrong clicks is that the cursor dances away for a moment.

Now for the not so good news. Character development is weak. You play as Maggie, the ex-wife of Freddy Gold. She’s broke after their divorce, and one of her kids needs a special school. So she decides to break into thecasino. Sometimes the story indicates she’s just there to get her wedding ring back, but along the way she steals every coin, jewel, and valuable item she can find. Later in the game she does other questionable things. It’s just not clear why we’re supposed to think this is all justified. Or necessary.

She has a partner named Kyle, but we never find why he’s helping. And at one point a completely random old man turns up, and we have no idea who he is at all.

None of that would matter if the story weren’t a big part of the game, but in this title the integration between story and gameplay is its most unique feature. Players deserve a few more details.

Then there’s the gameplay. The Slingo games are great, but the hidden object portion is frustratingly uneven. Often you have to find five of the same thing, like five security cameras or five tanks of propane. Four will be easy to find. The fifth will be almost impossible, because all you get is a tiny sliver of color since most of it is hidden behind something else.

The artwork doesn’t help, since it’s comic book style, flat 2-D with hard edges. So although the characters are drawn well, there’s no sense of texture or depth to help find hidden items. The game offers two modes. In normal/easy mode, the problem is solved because the cursor turns to a hand every time there’s something you can click on, even if you don’t know what it is yet! 

Apparently during Beta Testing a number of experienced HOG players felt this made things too easy. So the developers added Expert/Hard mode. The only difference is that now there is no change in the cursor. I guarantee you can spend an hour trying to figure out exactly which tiny sliver of gray is supposed to be the edge of a hidden camera. It’s harder, but it’s not more fun.

There is an "Aha!" button that gives you a hint, but it recharges very slowly. I found it easier to play most of the game in hard mode, and then use the OPTIONS menu to switch to easy mode when I was completely stuck. It’s easy to switch back forth, even in the middle of a scene, but it’s still awkward to do so. A hint system that recharged a little more quickly would have been more convenient.

I hope to see more titles in this series. They’re definitely on the right track, and the goal of fully integrating adventure, hidden object, and mini-games is great. Gameplay needs to be more balanced, the characters need to be fleshed out, and the hint system needs to be improved. Slingo Mystery is worth playing, but I think we’ll see a much better game next time around.

For similar games, try: Escape the Museum, Women’s Mystery Club: Twice in a Blue Moon, Slingo Quest, or Slingo Supreme.