You’ll play until the sun comes up
In Midnight Castle, the newest social hidden object adventure from Elephant Games and Big Fish Games, players are summoned to a dim and eerie castle after their uncle’s strange and unexplained demise, which seems to have something to do with the castle’s hidden Mystery Chamber. But one step onto the castle grounds and one interaction with the spooky cast of characters, and you’ll quickly see how the game’s stunning presentation and masterful exploration of the genre leave nothing dark or mysterious about its great and truly rewarding nature.
Despite being a free-to-play “social” hidden object game rather than a premium and streamlined “adventure,” Midnight Castle is presented in a way that would make any adventure fan feel right at home. Instead of some lifeless map you have to click around to move from scene to scene, every area in the game is beautifully laid out across an interactive landscape, where you will move from location to location, interacting with characters and entering hidden object scenes. Even the smaller details are incredibly cool, like the way you’re able to click to interact with key items in your inventory, and serve as a much-needed breath of fresh air for both sides of the HOG genre at large.
The hidden object scenes are pretty much what you’d expect from a social HOG, with speed and repetition being the primary focus. You’ll breeze through each scene finding small lists of items until you know their locations by heart and can start chaining together some high score combos from clicking on them in quick succession. Once you’ve played through a given scene numerous times, you’ll unlock its next tier of difficulty, which adds more items to the overall list and rearranges their positions for a nice and welcome changeup. Typical social HOG fare, yes; but the hidden object scenes themselves are still some of the most detailed and nicely drawn that I’ve seen from such like-minded games in a while.
What makes it even better is the fact that Midnight Castle never bombards you with constant nudges for in-app purchases, and actually lets you get accustomed to the game and how it works before arriving at some kind of paywall. Additional game features are gradually introduced as your character begins to level up, like crafting items, trading with friends, or acquiring pets, but all of these accentuate the overall experience in just the right ways, instead of coming across as other opportunities for the developer to nudge you towards the game store. One of my favorite features during my review playthrough was the Airship Tower, which lets you send off bundles of found items at designated intervals for an even greater gift reward.
Now of course, don’t get me wrong: there are still wait times and premium currency to encounter here, but I felt that both of these are handled in a very noninvasive fashion. Even the way these wait times are constructed is extremely clever, too. Since wait times are specifically tied to how frequently you’re allowed to enter into hidden object scenes, sometimes you’ll need to replay several of them just to acquire that one item on your quest list. For instance, at one point I needed to complete a hidden object scene in the crypt, to find a torch I needed to look in the burnt tree, to then find the Demon’s Eye needed to craft the Demon’s Seal for Inkeeper “Salty” Took.
In any case, when I finally did hit a longer wait time before I could progress, I felt okay with stepping away from the game for a while, because I was able to accomplish so much during each one of my play sessions. And that’s perhaps the best thing that Midnight Castle has going for it: the game is just downright fun and addicting. Everything about the ebb and flow of the game’s quests, from completing the hidden object scenes to unlocking the next overworld location scratches that itch for a deep and satisfying game experience, and one that constantly fulfills on its promise and rewards you for playing, rather than always stringing you along in want of something more.
If there’s really a weak point to be found in Midnight Castle, I’d have to say it’s actually in the storyline itself. If it seems like you’ve seen the old “travel to a creepy castle to investigate my eccentric and estranged uncle’s mysterious death” scenario a hundred times before, well, that’s because you probably have. Even the handful of quest givers you’ll meet along the way don’t do much to add to the tale, and simply bemoan about wanting hard-to-find item after hard-to-find item (what are they doing with all of them anyway?). It also takes way too long to actually step foot inside the titular castle, with so many of these similar fetch quests standing between you and the giant locked doors at the onset of your adventure.
But even if the setting and the story aren’t the most original things to ever grace the world of hidden object gaming, Midnight Castle‘s flawless presentation more than makes up for it, and honestly, this game could really be about anything and I would still keep coming back to play it. Standing as the perfect amalgam of hidden object adventure and social hidden object gameplay, you won’t need to find your very own Mystery Chamber to see the writing on the wall for this one: you need this game like Inkeeper “Salty” Took needs a new Demon Seal!