On first glance, Howlville: The Dark Secret is perfectly packaged to imitate its long line of Collector's Edition ancestors who've thrilled audiences with their haunted houses, car crashes, and mysterious towns—or at least bombarded them into a numb acceptance of commercial standards. But from the title screen forward, Howlville distinguishes itself from the gloomy flock with a unique twist on the tried-and-true gameplay of hidden-object games. Instead of puzzles and hidden objects existing as separate entities; they've nested puzzles and tons of interaction into each hidden-object scenes, creating a very different pace and strategy for familiar mechanics.
- Historical landmarks are vanishing across the globe: everything from the pyramids in Egypt to the Statue of Liberty in New York... all in a maverick magician's attempt to reign supreme. You're employed in Shattered Minds: Encore to save the monuments and unmask the magician. And allthough the magician may be able to hide behind a magical mask, the gameplay can't. As the plot points and cinematics are revealed, you'll wonder if you're playing a remake of a variety of other popular hidden-object puzzle-adventure games.
- In the land of magic, where a beautiful fairy queen reigns supreme, mystical waters babble, and haunted forests enchant, there are real-world problems: housing shortages, rent increases, lining of the mayor's pockets with gold. If reality invading your imagination's sanctuary makes you cringe, you can relax—the real magic is the quirky storyline, perfect pace, and varied tasks—all of which makes Build-a-Lot: Fairy Tales a fantastically entertaining time-management game.
- Ancient aliens have invaded the popular consciousness in recent years, so it's no wonder that their reach has extended to the universe of Nancy Drew in Tomb of the Lost Queen, the franchise's 26th installment from Her Interactive. Where conspiracy theory, unsolved archeological mysteries, curses, and eternal love intersect is 100 kilometers outside of Cairo at the University of Kingston dig site. There you'll ferret out the fact from the fiction by investigating a burial tomb and interrogating members of the expedition.
- Criminal Minds stays true to the television series' narrative format and beloved characters, creating the rare casual game of investigative substance. But while it's intriguing to profile the unknown subject (UNSUB) as an expert of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), if you're not a huge fan of the show, it may be difficult to endure this licensed game's low-budget aesthetics.
- City of Fools, a self-proclaimed light-hearted and clever detective romp, is a welcomed thematic departure from the macabre mysteries that populate the hidden-object, puzzle-adventure (HOPA) genre. Absolutist can be applauded for attempting to break the thematic mold, even if the barrage of jokes about bodily functions falls flat and the execution is the most reminiscent aspect of classic adventure games (meaning, you're at the mercy of the dev's logic). The gameplay mainly consists of the townsfolk (or townsfools in this case) sending the player on meaningless retrieval tasks interspersed with a few puzzles and hidden-object scenes.
- Kate Reed, the prosaically named novelist/heroine of the House of 1000 Doors series, has become a "house hunter." Not that I blame her, as the Alawar Five-BN team's latest installment, House of 1000 Doors: The Palm of Zoroaster, is a metaphysical treat for players. The game itself functions like a crystal ball of hidden-object tropes, giving us a glimpse into the past by employing the founding conventions of the genre, yet reminding us of how sophisticated we've become by fully realizing those conventions.