Deadtime Stories will thrill hidden object fans but story not for the faint of heart.

Hidden object fans with a fear of all things creepy are going to find themselves forced to make a tough choice. Deadtime Stories is a marvelous, challenging stunner of a game, but its voodoo-rich story is almost sure to send a chill down your spine. Do not expect to hear Jessie Bodeen’s tale and emerge unscathed.

Jessie is just one of the residents of Edward Blackgate’s special cemetery waiting to share her story. A rich white woman hires voodoo queen Jessie to cast a curse on her rival, to keep her out of that season’s parties. At first, Jessie refuses – such magic is evil – but eventually can’t refuse the princely sum of $150 for her efforts. You’ll have to follow Jessie’s path yourself to learn the rest, traveling throughout New Orleans, learning voodoo spells, and communing with spirits. The drama unfolds via still drawings in cut scenes, and while the accents are a bit dubious at times, for the most part the voice acting is convincing.

Deadtime Stories is a well-balanced blend of hidden object searches and adventure game style puzzle solving. Each level is structured generally the same: You must gather ingredients necessary for creating one of the potions in Jessie’s book of voodoo, then use the potion to learn the next part of her story. You’ll come across some of the requisite items during the hidden object levels, which you’ll revisit several times over the course of the game. Some of the things you have to find are pretty gruesome – no great surprise, given that you’re in the heart of voodoo territory – but the shopping lists vary nicely from search to search, so they never feel too repetitious, even when you’re coming around for your second or third look. The clues were occasionally somewhat frustrating, at times because they were too vague (what’s an “ornament”?) or because the game’s historical setting made it tough to guess what the item in question looked like. Maybe you know what an inhaler from the 1800s looks like, but I sure don’t. Using a rechargeable hint solves those problems easily, however.

Deadtime Stories‘ hidden object levels are very well done, but they’re nothing compared to the game’s puzzles, which are wildly imaginative and challenging. Even when they lean towards the more traditional – like unscrambling letters to reveal a message – they’re given a clever twist that makes them feel completely fresh and vibrant. The puzzles are skippable after a short period of time, or you can also get a hint to help nudge you in the right direction. You’ll have to do a fair bit of backtracking to collect the items you need to create the potion or solve a puzzle, but the game does its best to help you by highlighting areas that need your attention with a purple glow.

In case you thought I was joking about Deadtime Stories‘ creepy nature, let me be absolutely clear about it now. If you are at all offended or frightened by the practice of voodoo or black magic, you will probably want to steer well clear of this one, brilliant though it may be. Skulls, serpents, loa (voodoo spirits), curses, ghosts, chicken heads, poison, blood: you name it, Deadtime Stories has got it. While that will undoubtedly make some players uncomfortable, it adds an authenticity to Jessie’s story that cannot be denied.

My sole complaint about Deadtime Stories is that it’s a bit short, clocking in at perhaps 3 hours. The story was so enthralling, it felt like I was done in five minutes, however. The one consolation is that Jessie’s tale seems to be the first in the Deadtime Stories series; there are many other ghosts in the graveyard, after all, each with their own story to tell.