Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena
Developer: Mumbo Jumbo
Publisher: Mumbo Jumbo
Genre: Adventure (Hidden Object)
Release Date 07/27/2010
The Samantha Swift series has been around for several years as a PC exclusive casual game series. The franchise has three different games out currently and Mumbo Jumbo has finally decided to test the waters by porting the first game in the series over to the Nintendo DS.
We’re no strangers to reviewing hidden object games here at Diehard GameFAN. Just this year we’ve reviewed The Mystery of the Crystal Portal, The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes 2, The Tudors, and Becky Brogan and the Mystery of Meane Manor. If you click on each of those reviews though, you’ll see all have been for the PC save for one, which is on the PSP. One would think that due to the touch screen controls of the DS, hidden object games would be a great fit for the system, but so far they have been few and far between, with the best being a port of Cate West: The Vanishing Files. So how does Samantha Swift hold up? Do we have a nice little title for casual gamers or, like Crystal Portal, does a PC to handheld port just not work? Also, I want to apologize for the screenshots being in German – that’s all they had. Crazy, huh?
The plot of Samantha Swift is little more than a rip off of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The game starts with Samantha, who is a daredevil archaeologist, finding a rare and valuable object in Greece, only to have it snatched away from her by the insidious Ravena Stryker once she escapes the ruins. We even get Ravena paraphrasing Belloq’s, “Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.” From there Samantha and her team discover the shield of Athena, which is missing the six roses that were once attached to it. Each rose is a literal incarnation of the virtues of humanity, and if all six are applied back to the shield, the bearer will gain the power of the Goddess herself. Again, this is somewhat similar to the Ark of the Covenant but more family friendly. The game becomes a race around the world as Samantha’s team tries to find the roses before Stryker and her evil backer find them. The game even ends with an Ark of the Covenant moment where well, without spoiling things, let’s just say the bad guys in both the movie this game’s plot rips off and the game itself meet the same squishy ending.
Even though the game’s story is mostly a rip-off of the first Indiana Jones movie, it does change things up. After all, Indy never had hidden object puzzles to solve, and he didn’t travel to Japan, China, Paris, London and as many locations as Samantha visits. The plot is very cute, even if it is merely window dressing for the puzzles and hidden object screens. The characters are cute, and even though the game lacks the substance and deep storyline a lot of hidden object games have come out with as of late to counteract their “casual” gameplay, I can definitely see why Mumbo Jumbo has managed to find an audience for this game and its two sequels.
Samantha Swift is cute and family friendly, but there’s no real originality to the story and said tale is very light compared to a lot of other games in this genre.
Story Rating: Decent
There’s very little animation in this game. Cut scenes are mostly static with only the briefest of animations, which generally consist of an arm shaking or the screen shaking to simulate an explosion. Needless to say, this game doesn’t push the visual boundaries of the DS. Meanwhile, the hidden object and puzzle graphics are rather nice, if not impressive. The backgrounds are rather detailed, everything is brightly coloured and there is no mistaking, say, a pear for a canteen like in a few other hidden object games that I have played.
There can be a bit of animation in the actual gameplay portions, such as when you use an item on something else on the screen, but it is generally only for a few seconds The most movement you will see on screen is when you are doing a puzzle that involves using your stylus as a rake or to drag and drop items to create a picture. Now this is somewhat par for the course for games of the genre, so if you can stand a game that is mostly static images coupled with some cut scenes graphics that are a little jaggie, you’ll be fine
Graphics Ratings: Decent
There’s no voice acting to Samantha Swift and there is very little in the way of sound effects. You’ll get a happy pinging noise when you find an item or use a tool correctly, but although this is the majority of sound effects in the game, it’s by no means the least. There is a bit of voice-over work in the “museum” section of the game that shows off items that you have found, but it’s a five second repeating loop and it’s mostly gibberish. Still, it’s a nice effect to re-create what a crowded museum feels like. You’ll also get an occasional noise like a secret door opening, or the crackle of a fire once you’ve started it. Things like that. Again, the game is pretty light on sound effects, which I suppose lets you concentrate on your search for hidden objects.
There isn’t a lot of music in the game either. There are a few tracks and they work as typical casual game background music. They’re forgettable but not annoying. That’s really all you can ask for. Overall, the game continues its trend of being inoffensive and somewhat cute, but nothing truly special.
Sound Rating: Decent
4. Control and Gameplay
Gameplay is pretty cut and dry. You have a list of hidden objects at the bottom of your touch screen. Ones in white can be found normally while ones in blue require a previously found object to help you find them ala a normal point and click adventure game. You collect items by finding them on your screen and then touching them with your stylus. If you are right, you get the item and if not… nothing happens. Repeat through eight worlds (the prologue one, the six rose based levels and the final boss lair) and you’re done. There is no actual punishment for randomly clicking or time limits like in other hidden object games, so feel free to mess around if you don’t know what an item is or just can’t find it.
There are several puzzles in the game as well. These vary between putting a statue together, using the four elements to collect corresponding elements, making a map out of a Zen rock garden or just putting a picture together. These puzzles generally come at the end of a level and make for a nice change of pace. Even though they are generally quite easy, it does help to prevent hidden object monotony.
The only downside is that there are some stylus detection issues. No, they aren’t extensive or even commonplace, but when they do happen you will get annoyed. There were objects I had to click on two or three times for the game to register them. Now it could be that the coders just didn’t assign enough pixels to the area the object occupied in terms of detection, but regardless, it’s very annoying to have to repeatedly click an object. It would be even worse if a time limit was involved. As well, you are supposed to be able to zoom in and zoom out by holding your stylus to the screen, but this too doesn’t always get recognized and so you’ll have to do it a few times to get the function to work. Eventually, I just left the game zoomed in.
So some annoying (but minor) gameplay bugs aside, Samantha Swift is fun for what it is and plays like any generic hidden object title.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable
The better hidden object games offer some replayability by randomizing the objects you have to find. The best ones have either a really good plot, multiple endings (ala The Vanishing Files), or both. Sadly, Samantha Swift has none of that. It’s a very linear game, with the same object lists each time and the same solutions to the few puzzles you get. After you beat the game, it’s over. You can’t revisit an old level – you’re just done. Now there IS a museum to look at all the objects you have found… but you find every object in the course of completing the game so it’s just kind of there rather than any real perk.
Unless you like the characters and plot, this is a “one and done” game, which is pretty bad for a $29.99 title.
Replayability Rating: Bad
Most hidden object games can actually be challenging. Sometimes the items are artfully hidden, while others are just poorly drawn or the description of the item doesn’t match what you are actually looking for. Obviously we all prefer the former. Well, Samantha Swift is amazingly easy. Nearly every item is in plain sight and you should be able to complete the puzzles and the object maps without the slightest challenge. I whipped through the game is a few hours, and I think the only time I had to use the hint function was to find a pencil on one level, and that’s because I was looking for something yellow and discovered pencils in this game are neon blue. I thought it was a crayon. Ooops.
Samantha Swift is probably best as an intro to hidden object games or for very young gamers. There’s no challenge, there is no penalty for randomly guessing and tapping on things, there is no time limit and there is no score. It’s just a very simple and easy game, and after beating it, I felt a bit cheated because of how easy it was. The game might has well have played itself.
Balance Rating: Bad
For the most part, Samantha Swift is a fairly generic hidden object game. Even the included puzzles that are meant to mix things up can be found in similar games in this genre. Spot the difference puzzles? Commonplace. Putting an object together? Commonplace. Matching games? Ditto. The only thing that really makes this game stand out from any other hidden object title is the plot, and even that is cribbed from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Compare that to something like Vampireville, which has 24 levels, each with four games to play in each level, a pretty long and intricate (if insipid) storyline and a lot of variety to it. Something like Samantha Swift just doesn’t hold up. Everything has been done before and been done better.
Originality Rating: Bad
Although we’ve seen that Samantha Swift does have some flaws, it’s still a fun game. I ended up beating the game in two play sessions. There’s something about the simplicity of hidden object games that makes them especially easy to get into and while away a few hours with. Take a look how successful they are on the PC front. These things sell like hot cakes because they are cute and catchy. You find yourself saying, “just one more map” which quickly becomes “just one more chapter”. Before you know it, you’ve spent hours trying to find cat statues, rutabagas and katanas or decipher a code made of Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Samantha Swift may not be all that original or innovative, but it’s certainly fun and that’s really what matters most in a game.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
As mentioned repeatedly throughout this review, Hidden Object games do big business on the PC and they are staggeringly popular, especially with the casual crowd. However, I can’t really think of any that have sold well on the DS. There’s Cate West, Mystery Case Files and a few others, but I’ve never seen them tear up the sales charts like they do the PC ones. More than likely this is because by the time the games have hit the DS, they have been on the PC for years and cost two to three times (if not more) that of the PC version. With those two factors in mind, it’s no wonder Hidden Object titles remain a bastion of the PC gamer rather than the handheld one.
Samantha Swift is cute, but it’s nowhere as good as the other hidden object games for the DS and it is pretty cost prohibitive. Most DS owners should look elsewhere for their purchases unless they absolutely love this genre or series. Just remember you can get it cheaper for the PC and if you have a laptop, that’s only slightly less portable than your DS.
Appeal Factor: Poor
Okay, Samantha Swift on the DS costs $29.99. That’s insane, especially when you realize that you can purchase all three SS games for the PC for roughly seven bucks a pop. That means you could buy all three of those and have enough left over for a fourth casual game, especially if you use something like Big Fish Games. Speaking of Big Fish Games and Samantha Swift, you can play this entire game FOR FREE on your web browser. Just click here. And before you ask, yes it is legal. So basically Mumbo Jumbo, which doesn’t even advertise this DS version on their website, wants you to play $29.99 for a game that can LEGALLY be played for free? Not cool. Not cool at all. This makes the DS version a very expensive rip-off and nothing more.
Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Samantha Swift and the Hidden Roses of Athena is a cute but generic hidden object game that has a few touch screen detection issues. Although it’s a mostly harmless game, the huge red flag that prevents me from being able to recommend this title is that the DS version has a MSRP of $29.99 while you can buy it for the PC for only $6.99 or even play it for free on your web browser of choice. If you’re going to pay for a hidden object game you might as well pay for one that isn’t already free and has a lot more in terms of substance and story, right? Maybe if they had included all three Samantha Swift games on the cart for the price, but even then the PC would still be a much cheaper alternative. Pass.