Nearwood Collector’s Edition
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: MagicIndie Softworks
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 08/08/2013
One of the first hidden object games I reviewed was Brink of Consciousness: Dorian Gray Syndrome. It was awesome. I have yet to find another one that matches that game’s level of atmosphere. So when I heard that Nearwood was being made by the same company, I became extremely interested. Plus, they say that this will be their last HOG. That just built up the anticipation.
So Nearwood has you playing as a young woman by the name of Jane Lockwood. When she was young, her mother died and her father disappeared. Now an adult, she has been given the key to her family home. There she finds a creature from another world, who tells her that she and her family used to visit the land of Nearwood when she was a child. That world needs help, and it’s apparent that her father is trapped there. Jane heads off without a second glance.
There’s not really all that much of plot to this game. It’s all about heading to a specific location, and when you get there, the game ends. However, there are several stops along the way that introduce you to the denizens of the world. These sections are pretty cool, apart from the one that defies all forward progression in the feminist movement. It involves a village where all the men were kidnapped. The woman you talk to laments that they have no one to hunt or fix things. Sigh. Still, the atmosphere is quite nice, and the world is a nice one to visit. The bonus chapter has you returning to the land in order to stop a new threat, and shows off how easily it would be to expand the lore through the addition of more races and places.
Visually, the game is solid. While the character models don’t animate too much, at least the whole head moves when someone is talking. The game also does a pretty good job about showing emotions in characters, which is a rarity for the genre. The land of Nearwood is pretty great looking. They really went out of their way to create a unique style for the game. The first thing you see when you arrive is a giant hulking magical mech that has fallen to ruin at a fork in the road. It sets the tone quite well. I also think of this as one of the few games where the weird thingamabobs you need to open doors or unlock pedestals actually fit with the world they inhabit. Nothing seems horribly out of place.
Where the game works best is the audio. There are a bunch of different voiced characters, and they all sound pretty great. There were only a handful of awkward lines. Normally, that would be a fairly large percentage of the voices, but this game is chock full of voice acting. I would say that I’m impressed, but considering how incredible the voice work was for Dorian Gray, I expected nothing less. The rest of the aural package is pretty solid. The music has this nice combination of wonderment and sadness that harkens to the feel of the Harry Potter soundtrack. It fits like a glove. The effects are as solid as ever, and nothing sounds out of place. It’s above the bar on all accounts.
Nearwood uses a different kind of hidden object mechanic. Instead of giving you words on a list, the puzzles are more of a visual nature. You’re given the shadow of the object you need to find. On top of that, you usually need to find pieces of a larger object. For example, to make a rope ladder, you need to find the ropes and rungs separately. The downside is that finding pieces is really easy, since they stand out against the background. Another type of HOS the game uses is one where you need to move objects on screen to a certain spot. For example, you have a mural with a bunch of gnomes on it. They are missing items, as shown by the outline of said items near them. You need to find the items on the screen and drag them into place to continue. This was pretty cool. I always enjoy when developers mix things up.
Most of the game, as usual, is classic point and click stuff. You move from place to place, finding items to add to your inventory and using them to progress. It can be as simple as finding a key to a door, or using a umbrella handle to fish out an out of reach item. There are plenty of times where you need to find multiple objects to open a single door as well, so don’t be surprised if you get some inventory clutter. There’s a map system in place to help you teleport to where you need to be, but it takes time to recharge. You can also use the hint system to find where to go. Both of these are helpful, because the game often has you flying between seven or eight screens to get to where you need to be. The amount of backtracking is nuts, even for a genre where that kind of thing is commonplace.
This game has plenty of mini-games for you to crack. On top of that, they tend to be more involved puzzles that will test your puzzle solving mettle. I skipped more than a couple of them just to save time. Also, they were the kind I really suck at. As usual, you can skip them if you want, and there’s no penalty for doing so. They’re strictly there for those looking for a bit of an extra challenge. Pretty much every puzzle type shows up at some point, and the controls work solid for all but one of them. You can view instructions for each puzzle as well, which keeps you from getting lost. If I recall correctly, there’s actually more mini-games than there are hidden object sequences, which has to be a first.
If you grab the collector’s edition, you’ll get the standard assortment of goodies with the game. This includes the soundtrack, wallpapers, concept art, and a bonus chapter. The bonus chapter adds about half an hour to an hour of gameplay, and is a fun side story. However, you don’t need to play through it to finish the tale, which is nice. The CE also gives you the ability to find little creatures called Snoop-Sees. Finding them will unlock pages in a little storybook that tells you all about the little dudes. It’s nifty fluff material, but nothing worth paying extra for.
Short Attention Span Summary
Overall, I really dug this game. It had solid production values across the board. The story, while not as involved as I would have hoped, was fun in its own right. I certainly would like to explore Nearwood again, maybe with a more pressing danger at hand to build up tension. If this is truly MagicIndie’s last shot at the hidden object genre, it’s a pretty good way to go out. The game is certainly well above average in every respect. If you’re a fan of either the developer or the genre, you should probably check it out.