Review: Sister’s Secrecy: Arcanum Bloodlines Collector’s Edition (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on July 16, 2012

Sister’s Secrecy: Arcanum Bloodlines Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Space Monkey International
Genre: Hidden Object
Release Date: 06/22/2012

With about a dozen of these hidden object games under my belt so far this year, I’m almost willing to call myself an expert. There’s usually so little deviation between games, that I almost feel as if I’ve been running through one long series. Any small changes become extremely important, as they prevent monotony.

Sister’s Secrecy: Arcanum Bloodlines is a game that brings forth such a change. It’s a hidden object game that doesn’t strictly adhere to the hidden object part. It offers a choice, and I find that very interesting. What’s the choice? Read on to find out!

Story

Ariel and Belle are a couple of orphaned twins who’ve only had each other to rely on. So, when Belle goes missing, Ariel makes it a point to chase after her without a second thought. To compound things, Belle has been having mysterious visions that she believes are ties to a magical past the girls are unaware of. Ariel is less believing, but finds herself unable to deny the truth when her journey takes her to a magical place where dragons still roam and dark cults threaten the land.

Throughout the journey, Ariel will meet a number of characters. The most prominent of these are a ghostly apparition of her Uncle Arthur and a harpy that seems to threaten her at every turn. The game does a surprisingly good job of bringing closure to these secondary characters, as well as fleshing out a back story. A lot of the material is found written on notes and newspaper clippings.

The collector’s edition includes a bonus chapter which ties up a rather egregious plot thread. Since it had been dropped so abruptly in the main story, I chalked it up to me not reading something carefully enough. Nope. The game just decided to save that bit for a bonus chapter. There isn’t any story to that chapter besides this one point though. It’s mostly gameplay.

There were some issues I had trouble with. Ariel will refuse to move on until an area has been picked clean. This is done because there is no backtracking to some areas. However, realistically, there’s no reason for her to stay. Sure, that suitcase is suspicious, but you’d think that saving your sister would be more important. Even if that suitcase contains an item that will be important later on, there’s no reason for her to know that. Thus, staying behind seems quite odd.

Overall, I found the story quite enjoyable. It was good about keeping you moving from place to place at a decent pace. It actually had a couple of minor characters with actual stories to tell as well. I found it a cut above the usual riff raff, even if it doesn’t quite match up with some of the better stuff I’ve played.

Graphics

SS:AA has an interesting look to it. The magical world Ariel visits is one haunted by dark magic. As such, everything is a gloomy, macabre mess. Skulls litter the ground like leaves in the fall, twisted biological experiments lie dead for all to see, and a battlefield is strewn with skeletons and beaten down relics. No one has bothered to clean this place up.

The humans don’t look half bad, actually. They even move their mouths when they speak, though not in synch with the words. The dragon that talks to you looks like he’s starring in a English dub of an old Japanese film. It was hilarious and unsettling at the same time. Animations as a whole were limited, but still better than the average hidden object game.

It’s an enjoyable looking game. It comes equipped with the typical spooky lighting, bugs moving around during otherwise still moments, and other such fun stuff. It won’t set the world on fire, but looks fine for a causal game.

Audio

Musically, this is pretty much your typical HOG. The tunes are more about keeping a light tone than anything else. Things occasionally get tense, but the music really doesn’t go anywhere. Worse off are the abrupt changes in tone when you switch rooms. It can be jarring. The less creepy music is often at war with the macabre art style. It just doesn’t fit. The tunes are fairly decent though, so it doesn’t become too much of a problem.

There is quite a bit of voice acting in this game. Every character gets their own voice, and they’re all pretty decent. I was pleasantly surprised by this. Of particular note was Ariel herself. She has the most lines, including a long opening monologue. A poor performance would have started me off with a bad taste in my mouth. Instead, I was hopeful for things to come.

There are still some awkward moments. A couple of cut scenes have little to no audio, when there should clearly be noise. A large crystal doesn’t just hit the ground without so much as a whimper. It’s a problem quite common in the genre, and one that I still can’t appreciate.

The above average voice acting helps lift this game above most comparable titles. The rest of the package is typical, with good spots and bad spots. Still, I was never tempted to turn the sound off. That’s always a good sign.

Gameplay

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Most of the game is spent traveling from location to location. Your goal in each area is to investigate areas of interest. You’ll add items to your inventory, use items to get past obstacles, play mini-games, or activate hidden object sections. The game plays out like one giant series of puzzles. If you can solve them all, you’ll reach the end and save the day.

There’s a hint system in place to keep you from getting too stuck. The hint system is represented by a locket on the bottom right side of the screen. Clicking this locket will do two things in most situations. If you’re in an area where you can’t do anything, then the locket will point you in the right direction without emptying the hint meter. If you’re on the right screen, it will show the object you need to interact with. However, I did find that the hint wasn’t always helpful. It would lead me to areas where I had to do something, but before I had the right item to move forward. Still, it was helpful more often than not. During mini-games, the hint button shows the objective of the game. This was quite helpful, and I wish more games would do this.

The “small but big” difference I was talking about earlier comes during the hidden object sections. As per usual, you’re given a list of items to find, and a static screen to find them in. Some items are doubly hidden, so you’ll have to say, open a cabinet door or peek behind a leaf in order to find them. However, you can forgo all of this if you should chose. You can’t skip these sequences outright, but you can opt to play a match three puzzle game in order to cross things off your list. If you go this route, you’ll need to bring special pyramid shaped gems to the bottom of the screen. You do this by swapping blocks to make three in a row. There are special items, such as dynamite and a magical sphere to help clear your way. In addition, you can earn bonus gold here as well. Best of all, you can freely switch between match three game and hidden object game. So if you get stuck in one part, you can just go to the other.

Gold is a currency used to purchase unlockables. You can earn gold three different ways. Firstly, there are purple flowers on each screen of the game. Click these, and a gold piece is yours. Secondly, you can earn bonus gold by playing the match three game and bringing gold to the bottom of the screen. Finally, each mini-game and hidden object section awards you one to three gold based on how fast you completed the game. For fun, you can even replay these missions at will to increase your rank. The gold can be used in the store to buy concept art and music. Once purchased, you’re free to save the files onto your computer, which is pretty nifty.

With just a couple of seemingly minor changes, Secret Sisters manages to spice up the formula. The last thing I was expecting was the option to play a match three game in lieu of hunting down objects on a screen. The shop system was also a novel way to keep the player engaged. While the core concept is the same, this is one hidden object game that does enough to stand out from its peers.

Replayability

Playing through the game will take around four to five hours, give or take an hour depending on how often you uses hints. The story and puzzles are the same each time, so there is nothing to really come back for. There are three difficulty settings, but you should chose the appropriate level from the start, otherwise you’ll end up bored.

The shop system would seemingly add some replayability. However, I found that there was more than enough gold to buy everything and more in just one playthrough. I ended up with an extra fifty gold. To put that in perspective, nothing in the shop costs more than ten.

One way the game manages to be replayable is through the achievement system. This is where the game stores your rankings for all of the mini-games. You can replay them to get a better score, and play some hidden object scenes without playing through the whole game again. That’s pretty cool.

The CE comes with a bonus chapter. That adds about forty five minutes of game time onto the main campaign. It’s mostly navigation and puzzles, so there is little story to slow things down. As usual, I recommend getting the CE for this extra content.

Balance

The hint system is pretty generous. The meter recharges quickly enough that you’re never stuck for long, even on the hardest difficulty. Mini-games can be skipped after a couple of minutes as well. Hidden object sections have the one two punch of hints and the ability to switch to a match three puzzle game to help you get unstuck.

SS also uses a bunchy of smaller areas rather than one large area. Since you can’t backtrack, this means you have a limited number of places to look around. This makes it very hard to get stuck for too long. If you get stuck without a hint, it shouldn’t take you long to figure out where you need to go.

As always, this is a causal game first and foremost. It offers a challenge to those who refuse the hint system, but keeps the game accessible to those who don’t want to hunt for a single item for hours on end.

Originality

I honestly haven’t seen another HOG that allows you more than one way through the hidden object sections. It breaks up the monotony quite well. I found myself switching styles quite frequently, and making a game of trying to see which method could produce the fastest completion time.

The shop system is also a novel way of going about things. When you have to work to unlock extras, they mean more. It also gives players an extra objective when combing areas for things to interact with. Keeping the player engaged is always a good thing.

Beyond that, the game is a typical entry in the genre. However, these small changes make a big difference to someone who’s played a bunch of these games in a relatively short time span.

Addictiveness

I played through the whole game, bonus chapter included, in one sitting. That both speaks to the game’s short length, and addictiveness.

Giving players the choice of a match three game instead of hunting down objects proves to be a winning decision once again. Any time I began to grow tired of one, I’d switch to the other. It staved off monotony quite well.

These games in general are quite addicting. They’re easy to play, fun to work through, and usually come with just enough story to keep you interested. There’s a reason that Big Fish can put several of these games out each week. Fans keep coming back for more.

Appeal Factor

If you’ve grown even slightly disenchanted by the genre, I think this game will prove a much needed tonic for your woes. It mixes things up enough to be different, and has a fairly decent story. There are a lot of these games out there. They can seem like a dime a dozen.

For people trying to get into the genre, I’m not sure if I should recommend this or not. It could give you some false ideas about what to expect. Then again, it could raise your standards, and higher standards is always a good thing when there are so many options available.

In all honesty, this is one of the better HOGs I’ve played recently. If you’re someone looking for a quick casual fling, this will definitely work.

Miscellaneous

The Collector’s Edition comes with a few nifty bonuses to entice players. It has that bonus chapter, wallpapers for your computer, and an in-game strategy guide. The guide is probably unnecessary, but can save players who play on the hardest difficulty and don’t want to wait too long for a hint. These are the typical bonuses you see for these kinds of games, but the bonus chapter is always worth it.

I’ve played a bunch of these games, and I’m quite glad that I can still be pleasantly surprised like this.

The Scores
Story: Enjoyable
Graphics: Above Average
Audio: Above Average
Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Pretty Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Enjoyable
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Sister’s Secrecy: Arcanum Bloodlines is easily one of the best casual adventure games I’ve played. It avoids a lot of the little problems that plague comparable titles. The presentation is better than most, the story is enjoyable, and it sets itself apart by mixing things up in the gameplay department. Adding a match three element seems like such a minor change, but it does wonders to help set this game apart. It definitely earns my seal of approval.




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