I find myself changing as I get older. My waistline has expanded. My hairline has not. It may be that I don’t have quite the same sunny disposition that I used to. And my mental faculties, well, let’s just say that my tack isn’t quite as sharp as it once was. What’s a poor old gamer to do? Whatever the answer to that question, it’s a safe bet that Memory Clinic won’t be a part of it.
So-called “brain training” games are nothing new. They offer a series of repetitive mental exercises like simple mathematics, pattern recognition, memory games and other activities, all wrapped up in a single package that will supposedly help add some youthful vigor to aging grey matter. To that formula, developer Digi Ronin has fused a heaping helping of hidden object gameplay, adding a layer of legitimate entertainment to a genre that is often lacking in it.
Memory Clinic looks impressive at the outset, with a relaxed, zen-like launch screen and upbeat, vaguely inspirational soundtrack. The hidden object searches take place across a wide variety of backdrops, with difficulty levels that run the gamut from simple to insane. A further twist comes from the clues themselves, which in later stages are sometimes displayed with missing letters or are replaced entirely with silhouetted images. It’s not exactly a game-changer, but with the HOG arena as crowded as it is, anything that mixes it up a bit is welcome.
It’s good stuff, if not exactly revolutionary, but when the hidden object searching ends and the game moves to one of its between-level “memory trainers,” the fun factor very suddenly and dramatically drops off a cliff. I have no idea whether or not these mini-games have any actual value in reinforcing mental faculties, but as entertainment they fail miserably. Mechanically they’re very simple, requiring players to repeat flashing patterns on a checkerboard or a sequence of musical notes on a keyboard or drum kit, but it’s a dull, monotonous business.
Furthermore, while Memory Clinic purports to help with “speed, attention, memory and problem solving” and keeps a record of statistics like accuracy, hints used, total time and clicks per object, it’s essentially meaningless; none of the data is given any context, nor is there any sort of long-term comparative analysis to track improvement at any of the various tasks. Regardless of whether or not my ability to mimic random patterns is doing anything to improve my brain function, I can’t even tell if I’m getting better at it. The mini-game segments are easily skipped, which is good from a gameplay perspective, but it also makes me think that even the people who made this game realized what an unnecessary interruption they are.
The hidden object searches are quite difficult from the outset, with as many as 20 objects per level to find and time limits that start at only six minutes per level (and get even shorter as the game progresses). Hints are available at a rate of just one per minute. Later levels can get downright fiendish and if you’ve got two minutes left and can’t find three objects, you’ve got a problem.
We occasionally encountered some strange bugs as well. Sometimes if you run out of time in a hidden object level an “out of time” message appears on the screen and from that point on, every subsequent hidden object level displays the same notification the moment it begins – and then immediately ends. Other times the timer started at a seemingly arbitrary countdown, like two minutes or ten seconds.
For gamers who do encounter these glitches I suspect it will be just the last nail in the coffin that takes Memory Clinic from the merely unremarkable to the outright unplayable. It’s a shame, because the hidden object elements are varied and tough enough that they might hold some appeal for HOG fans looking for some punishment, but the combination of sloppy programming and an ill-conceived, poorly-executed “brain training” angle has left it a mess. It might be worth a look if Digi Ronin can tweak some of the game’s issues, but unless and until that happens, don’t waste your time.