Though I’m not a fan of them myself, I respect the Harlequin Romance Novel’s place in the universe. They are the literary version of the chick flick, a concoction of affection so perfect that it could only exist in one’s imagination. I thought Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire would be similarly endearing, but alas, it’s almost completely charmless.
You play as Allie, a reporter who’s talked her way into an assignment on the Isle of Aristo, covering the prince’s 30th birthday gala. The prince is devilishly handsome, but also quite the cad. He also seemingly is behind a plot to steal the gemstones, but surely someone that dreamy can’t be all bad, right?
The plot, told through chat bubbles and poorly drawn panels, is the worst kind of plodding romantic drivel. Allie, a smart, ambitious reporter one moment, becomes a brainless puddle of stupidity the moment the prince walks in the room. I guess it’s supposed to be her way of giving herself up to fate, or being whisked away on gossamer wings of desire, or some such like that, but it made me not really care what happened to her. I wondered why the game offered you the option to skip the story completely right from the beginning, but the more I played, the more I wished I’d clicked that particular checkbox.
The hidden object levels (hidden object of desire – get it??) are rudimentary and completely devoid of imagination. You get a list of objects, you search a clumsily assembled room full of junk for them. At least one item on your list will be necessary to advance the plot – your photographer’s hidden memory card, or the dress you’ll be wearing to the gala – but they’re not really treated any differently than anything else on your list. You find them, you get a brief comment from your character, and you get back to searching. The environments aren’t particularly interesting or well-drawn – Aristo isn’t the exotic location the game would have you believe, I guess.
You have rechargeable hints at your disposal, and three ways to refill their meter: just wait, find two items in rapid succession, or find the Harlequin logo hidden in each location. Most objects aren’t particularly difficult to find, but the ability to juice up the recharge is still appreciated.
In between the hidden object levels you’ll be running through the kind of mini-games and puzzles that have become rote in HOGs. You’ll spot the differences between images, reassemble destroyed notes, and put together jigsaws. While none of the mini-games are overwhelmingly bad, they’re not particularly interesting, either. You’d think a game that encourages you to skip the plot would have a bit more to offer than the same old tired gametypes.
Hidden Object of Desire is overwhelmingly ordinary. Its romance isn’t deft enough to be engaging or cheesy enough to be a guilty pleasure, and its gameplay, though competent, is completely unimaginative and dull. If you’re a devotee of HOGs at all, you have already played this game, many times – and in more interesting ways. If you’re a truly hardcore Harlequin fan, you may eke enough enjoyment out of this to justify the purchase, but anyone else should simply not bother. There are far, far better ways to get your hidden object fix.