Mary Kay Andrews: The Fixer Upper is a perfect example of a hidden object game that’s phoning it in. On paper, it has everything it’s supposed to: plenty of items to find, between-level mini-games, decent graphics and a fully-realized story. In practice, however, it’s a lifeless drudge of a game that’s unrewarding, unsatisfying, and completely devoid of charm.
The game begins with its heroine, Dempsey Killebrew, losing her job after arranging a getaway for a senator at which he partied with prostitutes. Not that Dempsey knew anything about the hookers, of course, but it’s still a pretty unsavory way to set the stage for her restoring the family home in Georgia in the hopes of turning a profit. Once she’s there, the plot improves somewhat, including a supportive dad, a cute lawyer, and even a dog, but the dialog is horrendous and stretches on endlessly in dreary cutscene after dreary cutscene. I think the writing is going for folksly Southern warmth, but it comes across as completely false, stilted, and forced. In fact, sometimes it’s pretty creepy.
The object searches fare far better; while they’re not particularly inspired, they’re not bad, either. You seem to have to find an unusually high number of pipes and scissors, but other than that, the hidden object levels are pretty straightforward. As you slowly restore the mansion to its previous glory, you’re provided with lists of items to find. Mousing over the name of an item will reveal its silhouette, while clicking on it will use up one of your hints to point it out to you.
It’s a decent system, so long as you don’t absentmindedly click when you simply meant to hover – I used a fair number of hints by accident when I was just trying to get a better idea of what I was looking for. You can only keep five hints at a time, but each scene includes a hidden house icon that’ll give you another one if you’re under your limit.
In between hidden object levels, you can try your hand at a variety of "mini-games", which I have put in quotes because there’s absolutely nothing gamelike about them. When the very first mini-game involves rolling a lintbrush over your suit, you know something has gone horribly awry. In better hands, mundane tasks like stripping wallpaper or trimming hedges could’ve been fun, but all that’s required here is moving the mouse and clicking. Sometimes you have to hold down the button and drag the mouse around, but that’s about as demanding – or entertaining – as these tasks get. There’s no skill, there’s no challenge, there’s no fun. Fortunately, you can skip them.
Actually, The Fixer Upper isn’t all that bad if you skip most of it. Remove the painful dialog and the tedious mini-games and it becomes a relatively enjoyable experience. Not particularly inspired or memorable, but serviceable. But really, given how many hidden object games are out there, that’s just not good enough. You’ll find games with better graphics, better mini-games, better item searches, and a better romance without even having to try all that hard. Unless you’re really, really hard up for a HOG, and you’ve played everything else you can find, there’s simply no reason to bother with The Fixer Upper.