Hidden object games are pretty much a dime a dozen. Big Fish makes a living by putting out at least one game a day, and a good deal of them are HOGs. As such, it’s pretty darn hard for any of them to stand out. Would be players are pretty much left with no choice but to try out demos or wait until enough other people talk about the game to see what’s worthwhile. It can be a trying experience.
Of course, you can do what I did, and pick one at random. Because somehow, that worked. Child of the Forest is one of the better HOGs to come out so far this year, and one of my favorites since I started covering the genre here at DHGF.
The story starts off with your husband (you play his wife) running off into the dark forest. You’d go after him, but said forest is cursed. You see, not long ago, the trees came to life and started murdering anyone who tried to leave your home town. The only thing that keeps the trees from entering the town is a lighthouse, as powerful light is the only thing that can keep them at bay. (The sun hasn’t shone since the curse began.) It’s a scary situation, and one that can only be solved by charging up an old family amulet and using its magical light powers to clear a way through the forest.
It sounds silly, but the story is actually fairly well done. A lot of what’s going on isn’t initially explained. You pick up on the back story by reading articles, journals, and letters throughout the game world. Suffice it to say that a dark power has taken root in the forest and has legitimate reasons to hate the town and the main character’s husband. To say any more would really ruin it. There’s a nice sense of progression, and the whole thing works as a fun tale. The characters aren’t particularly developed at all, but the events themselves are worth exploring. I usually find myself shaking my head at stories for these kinds of games, but this was some enjoyable stuff.
Production budgets for these games are pretty much nonexistent. As such, this game is far from a powerhouse. The models look good for the most part, though some are a little goofy. The evil trees aren’t among the goofy ones, which was surprising. The animations are a little lame though. It looks like someone is manipulating cheap paper cut outs. For the audio, the music is low key but enjoyable. The voices are much better than I’d anticipated, although not up to par with mainstream games. It’s a solid package overall, and right in line with the budget price point.
If you’ve played one hidden object sequence, you’ve played them all, right? Well, this game takes a neat approach to the concept. While you’ll always have to scour static screens for items, the how and what change dramatically. There are standard lists, ones where clicking the listed item moves it out of way so you can get at a puzzle piece behind it, some where you find parts of an object that you then have to assemble, and a few sequences where you’re given silhouettes that represent a category. For example, if you see a silhouette of a hat, you don’t look for that specific shape of hat. Any hat will do. Constantly mixing these sequences up keeps the mechanic fresh throughout the length of the game. More games should pull something like this.
The adventure mechanics are pretty much par for the course. Clicking on items adds them to your inventory, dragging a key to a door unlocks the door, etc. However, this part of the game has seen some nifty tweaks as well. Let’s say you add a journal to your inventory. You notice a plus sign next to it. This means you have to interact with that item. In this case, the journal can be read after you break the lock. Another example has you straightening out a hanger so you can turn it into a long hook. The situations you come across differ regularly, so that you don’t use the same tricks over and over again. There’s even a degree of connectivity to the other parts of the game. One hidden object sequence has you finding parts to a soldier doll. You can then put the doll together in your inventory, but you can’t keep it together until you find some glue. It’s much more involved than what you’d usually find in this type of game.
Mini-games are another part of the game’s repertoire, and yet another part that sees a significant upgrade from the usual fare. Again, variety is king. While there are some simple slide puzzles to occupy your time, there are more complex puzzles as well. One requires you to decipher symbols on your own and then use them to locate hidden gems. It’s the kind of puzzle you’d expect to find in some of the more challenging adventure games. Another puzzle type has you answering riddles by clicking on the items that best answer said riddles. There are even boss battles after a fashion. Missing a step sets you back and forces you to restart that section, whether it be figuring out where to block an attack, or which minion to attack first. It’s solid stuff all around.
The collector’s edition adds the typical bonuses. You can download the soundtrack, read character bios, download wallpapers, and play a bonus chapter. However, even the bonuses have a nice trick to them. In order to read bios, you have to put together a short jigsaw puzzle for each character. That’s just cute. If you find all of the hidden acorns in the main game, you unlock a separate bonus section that allows you to complete an extra long hidden object sequence. You find things until the room is bare. The game keeps track of your best score, and does so for all of the sequences in game as well. There are also achievements to earn, and many of these require real work to acquire. While the main game is only about four hours long, there is some incentive to go back and find everything. That’s rare. Also, the concept art comes with a paragraph from the developers about how they came up with the design. It’s just another cherry on top.
I’ve been playing these types of games for awhile now, and I’ve come to expect a certain level of quality. This game exceeded those expectations by just doing more and giving the player a more involved experienced. This is still a casual game, but it dares to be a better casual game. With stronger characters, it could have been the best HOG I’ve ever played. As it is, it still has the best gameplay.
Short Attention Span Summary:
If you’re a fan of hidden object/adventure hybrids, this is one game you don’t want to miss. Child of the Forest has it all, enjoyable story, solid presentation, and gameplay that actually tries to evolve the genre. The collector’s edition has some nice bonuses, and is worth the price of admission. Honestly, it raises the bar for all future hidden object games.