Who knew that botany could equal mystery?

Natural Threat: Ominous Shores is an unusual title, thanks mostly to its unusual “mad scientist” theme. I know what you’re thinking; we’ve seen mad scientists in hidden object games before. Well sure we have—but not generally intending to do humanity good, and not in a botanical setting. The unique approach employed by Ominous Shores not only works the way good sci-fi and horror fiction does, (by tapping into some of our basest fears), it also makes for some good entertainment.

The strangest thing about Ominous Shores is its weird hero swapping. I started the game as a young lab assistant working for a brilliant botanist/genetic scientist. I really enjoyed the role, having never gotten to play it before. Just as I was getting into it, however, the context abruptly shifted and I was swept through time and space and stuffed into the consciousness of a different protagonist, a young day-tripper out sailing with a group of friends. While other games have swapped heroes on me before, they’ve never done it in quite this way, and I found the process disorienting and slightly off-putting.

 Ominous Shores

Shortly after becoming the carefree day-tripper, I was shipwrecked on the very same tropical island on which I’d worked (as my other self) as a lab assistant. Dragging myself onto the beach, I realized my friends were gone. Every last one of them, the useless jerks. I began exploring the island on my own and found the overgrown remains of my old botanical lab. No wait—that wasn’t me! I’m not a lab assistant, I’m a shipwreck survivor! OK, so I um, found the remains of a lab I’d never, ever seen before, and was in the middle of cursing my shiftless buddies when I saw one of them being dragged off by a gigantic plant and realized something was amiss. Yeah, I’m quick that way.

I began digging through the ruins in earnest then, collecting journal entries from a Dr. Steiner, a crackpot who believed the future of mankind depended on splicing human genes with those of plants and animals. The good doctor was nowhere to be found, but the more work of his I discovered, the more I realized the danger I—we—were in. From that point on, I was determined to find my friends and get the heck off that island.

Natural Threat: Ominous Shores does a lot of things well. As you might have guessed, the story did a good job of sucking me in. A big part of that was the amount of attention paid to sprinkling the environments with interesting descriptive text and cool things to look at. The game’s flora-filled graphics were truly impressive; in fact, I’d say developer Butterfly iSoft did the creepy plant thing so thoroughly and so well, that they wanted nothing less than to create their very own Little Shop of Horrors.

 Ominous Shores

Of course a beautiful facade means nothing if the gameplay stinks, but Ominous Shores scores highly in that regard as well. The game was one of the more complex hidden object games I’ve played, with scenes and puzzles interwoven from beginning to end. Puzzles, for the most part, were of a middling difficulty and were more about finding things and putting things in their place than actually solving anything – but they were still fun to do. I particularly enjoyed an interesting mini-game take on mahjong and the end puzzle, which while a little click-heavy, was somewhat unexpected.

The one thing Ominous Shores could improve is its sound. While I really enjoyed the melancholy musical score (for some reason, it kept calling to mind themes from Showtime’s Dexter),

it came and went in a really strange way. There seemed little rhyme or reason to when the music would kick in or when it would stop, and that often marred the mood for me. Fortunately, the game’s surprising number of storytelling cutscenes more or less made up for it. Now if only there’d been a little voiceover…

Natural Threat: Ominous Shores does what I never thought possible; puts plants at the center of a mystery and makes it interesting. (Stop grinding your teeth, plant lovers. It’s not good for your enamel.) Although the idea of changing heroes mid-stream is a little odd, and the music cues could use some work, Ominous Shores is still without question, a fun, beautiful and immersive hidden object adventure.