Mystery Cruise Review

By Chad Sapieha |

It’s no mystery why you may want to skip this taking this cruise.

If you received a letter in the mail informing you that you had won a free cruise, would you crumple it up and toss it or immediately pack your bags and head for the dock? Our protagonist in Alawar Entertainment’s new hidden object game Mystery Cruise does the latter, and without even so much as a momentary furrowed brow. It’s not only a portent of her astounding gullibility, but also an indication of how little respect the game’s developers seem to have for their audience’s intellect.

The problem isn’t just our dopey leading lady—who spends most of the game investigating a cruise ship that has seemingly been lost in time—that will make players roll their eyes. That would be forgivable, since plot is far from the most important element of a good HOG. Nor is it the game’s lackluster visual design, which is utterly bland and reuses the same canned reaction drawings of our heroine far too often. The biggest issue is with the gameplay. It seems the game’s developers think people aren’t really interested in playing an innovative, cleverly designed game.

Searching for objects just isn’t much fun. The items are generally quite dull—typical examples include play card suit symbols, numbers, and animals—and often have no business residing where we find them. Worse, these objects are repeated from one puzzle to the next ad nauseum. We end up searching for the same cell phone, bell, wrench, and comb in room after room. We’re even forced to search for objects we’ve found before in the same room in which we originally found them, sometimes only minutes after we last visited the scene.

More bothersome, though, is that many of the objects for which we search aren’t even objects per se but instead shapes, like the shadow of a bicycle on a speaker grate or the faint outline of a butterfly on a wooden panel. Whenever I play a HOG that uses this tack for hiding items I can’t help but think that the developers were just too lazy to try to think up objects that actually belong in a scene and figure out a way to properly hide them in plain view.

This lame approach means most of the scenes are quite easy to solve. There were times that it took less than a minute to find all items in a given location. A lens frame that becomes available later in the game and is used to find invisible objects makes things even easier; it takes just a few quick sweeps of this seemingly magical gadget to find all of a scene’s otherwise unseeable items.

Of course, there will be a few occasions when you do get stuck (like, say, when you’re tasked to find thread and it turns out to be a texture-less beige blob 80 percent of which is hidden by a toolbox), but a hint button that takes about a minute or so to recharge ensures that you’ll never be trapped searching for one object for long.

Scattered between the hidden object scenes are a handful of mini-games that, thankfully, are a bit more engaging. One involves twisting a quartet of intersecting circles, each with five gemstones on its circumference. The goal of this game is to swap gems from one circle to another until the three outer circles are studded with matching stones. Another is a sliding tile puzzle that has players attempting to move blocks of various sizes around a grid with the aim of keeping them from covering a group of bright red lights below.

But the activity most players will remember best is a trial-and-error puzzle that has players finding their way to various locations around the ship via a tricky gridded map. Players collect light bulbs in some of the rooms they visit, and these bulbs are needed to light the way through the ship’s dark corridors. We place a bulb on each tile of the map, lighting the hallway and showing adjacent paths and rooms. Many areas are unreachable at first, only becoming available once the player finds enough light bulbs to light his or her way to them. It’s a compelling way to navigate from one room to the next.

However, just as I was starting to get into a rhythm finding my way from one room to another, my progress was arrested by what seems to be a randomly occurring bug. The game’s narrative specifically told me to go back to a room I had already visited called the “Hold,” but when I did I was told I “have nothing else to do there.” I tried revisiting the rest of the rooms I had unlocked and received the same message. I then exhausted all possible pathways (several times) via the light bulbs, but I didn’t have enough to find any new rooms.

So there I was, with just a couple of rooms left to explore and a few more mini-games to conquer, stuck. It was enormously frustrating. I couldn’t bring myself to go back and suffer through the 150 minutes that it took to work through the game up to that point (about the three-quarter mark, according to our walkthrough) to see if the glitch happened again.

It was the final nail in the coffin of a thoroughly middling HOG. Suffice to say, it’s not one I’d recommend.

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