As a history buff/folklorist, I’ll admit that Antiques Roadshow is a show I’ve watched now and then on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s not something I set out to watch, but if I’m in a hotel or visiting relatives and the show is on TV, I’ll watch it. I’m not really a big TV person, but it seems to be a show everyone can appreciate, if not enjoy. Back in 2009, I had to read and comment onthe Antiques Roadshow book before it went to print for the Amazon Vine program so I’m quite familiar with how the show is put together. Heck, I even tried for tickets when it was here in Washington D.C. this August just because it was here and I thought it would be neat to say I went. However, hearing historical tales about old pieces of furniture or baseball cards is one thing, but to make a video game out of it? That’s something entirely different.
I wasn’t really sure what this game would be like when Namco quietly announced it. I mean, was it going to be an appraisal sim? A party game when you try to pick something out of an old house and the most valuable object wins. Then in November it was revealed it was going to be a hidden object casual game. Well, I’m fine with hidden object games. I’ve reviewed several for the site, from good (Vanishing Files), to mediocre (Vampire Moon) to the outright bad (Mystery of the Crystal Portal), so I was more than willing to pick this up and review the game for the site, especially since my curiosity about how one could possible make an Antiques Roadshow game was piqued and I couldn’t stop being mystified by the idea. So how was the game? Was it a hidden gem, or should it be thrown into someone’s attic and forgotten about?
I’ll be frank – whoever made this game has no idea how either the antiquing business works nor how the Antiques Roadshow operation works. I was constantly annoyed with the characters and plot of the game and was shocked the actual show didn’t stop the developers and say, “If someone actually did this, they would not only get on the show, but we’d report them to the police as possible fraudsters and unethical behavior in our industry.”
So, your main character is Julia, a thirty-something-ish history teacher who one day decides to quit her job and enter the world of retail antiquing after watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow. Because having a guaranteed salary, summers off, tenure and a pension is nowhere as good as minimum wage plus commission, right? Well, she gets a job with an elderly British man who just reopened his antique store after thirty years and he hires her without any experience or knowhow. He’s also trying to solve the mystery of a torn up photo that comes with a decoder. Somehow, through the power of bad plot writing, the antique dealer knows where each of these rare pieces are and sends Julia to find them, along with other things from each location (which is the justification for the hidden object motif). Along the way, Julia also finds an object or two which she then takes to Antiques Roadshow and of course they are worth tons of money. There’s also an incredibly stupid and contrived plot twist half way through the game that will leave ANYONE, casual or diehard gamer alike rolling their eyes at the flatout stupidity of the secret connection both Julia and her boss end up learning they share. It’s that bad.
What I did like is that with each Antique Roadshow segment, you get a bit of history about each item. Sure the items aren’t real and the history is fake, but it’s very well done and feels just like the actual show. I would have liked to have seen something be a dud or worthless, but that didn’t happen. As well, Julia gets in to every AR taping (and on TV to boot) which is a flat out impossibility. First of all, you can’t walk into the show. You have to apply for tickets and MAYBE you’ll get lucky enough to win a pair. Second, you can only get tickets to a single show in a season. If you try for another lottery or to double up, you’ll be removed from all and can’t attend that season. Third, you can only show two items total to the appraisers. If a person even remotely tried this, they’ll be barred and blacklisted from the appraisal/antiquing industry and people would also start to be suspicious of how said company was getting all these items. I realize that video games need a degree of suspension of disbelief, but the whole stupid story of following a weird treasure clue set across America coupled with the stupid subplot about Julia and her boss left me nothing for this point. In the end, I ended up finding the game extremely insipid and poorly written from beginning to end. Considering half the appeal of a hidden object game is in the plot, this is a really bad strike against Namco Bandai’s first dabble in this genre.
Story Rating: Bad
Like most hidden object games, the graphics in this game consist of static images. You have static images for telling stories, static background images, and static objects on your screen. Occasionally you get a bit of animation, but even calling it the bare minimum is a bit kind. For example, in one level all that moves is a fan. Seriously. In Georgia, you’ll have the occasional strobe light effect to act as lightning during a storm. Oy. You’ll also get a bit of movement on the occasions you need an object to interact with something else, like using a hammer or crowbar to pull down some boards. You might get a dozen animated effects throughout the game, so if you have a problem with static visuals, you’ll have a problem with Antiques Roadshow and just about every adventure game out there.
Now the good news is that the static images are nicely done. There is a lot of detail put into the cut scenes, the characters and the background. I’ll admit that a lot of appraisers look odd to me, but that’s the artist’s renditions rather than a knock on the quality. In the hidden object levels, the graphics are quite nice for the backgrounds, although the items tend to be hit or miss in terms of detail. What’s here is nice, but I’ve definitely seen better looking hidden object games in terms of visuals on all levels.
Graphics Rating: Decent
There’s not a lot I can say that is positive in this category. It’s nice to have the theme song from the T.V. show in here but they play it so often it starts to grate on you. As well, the other songs in the game are pretty awful. The music was either annoying, painful or flat out awful. To be honest, you’re better off muting the game because the audio WILL get to you; it’s just a matter of when. If you’re wondering about voice acting – there isn’t any. This is a budget PC game after all.
There really aren’t any sound effects to speak of either. You get a happy noise when you find an item and fireworks when you find them all. Occasionally you get another noise like the squirting of glue or a mass of buttons rattling together, but these are very rare. There’s just not a lot of noise to the game and what’s here is really bad whether you take it on its own or compare it to other $6.99-$9.99 PC titles.
Sound Rating: Bad
4. Control and Gameplay
Antiques Roadshow is your basic hidden object game, which means the bottom of your screen has a list of objects you need to find and then you use your mouse to find the objects. Occasionally you’ll have to choose between several locations and go back and forth through them. Now the game does have its own twist where if you make enough wrong guesses, you’ll kick up dust and then have to “scrub” your screen with the mouse as if it was a rag. You also have a choice between timed or untimed play. With timed play, you have a limited amount to find the items in each level, but your remaining time is turned into bonus cash (points). With unlimited time, you have as long as you want to try and find the items, but then you’ll have a lower score.
Besides the hidden object bits you’ll have several mini games to play through. You’ll have one at the start of a chapter where you use a decoder to decipher a few words. You’ll then have to play two of them before the Appraisal part where Julia somehow gets on to every AR taping in the history of the show. These games include stitching things, gluing things, cleaning a dirty item, trying to find a set of buttons in a big mess of other buttons and piecing together a certificate of authenticity. Gluing and Stitching is just moving your mouse in a straight line, the button game is just another hidden object game, and the certificate thing is the most complicated thing you’ll play in the game, but since it’s always the same, you should never have a problem piecing it together before time runs out.
So the controls are simplistic and sometimes the game has issues noticing that you clicked on an item, but what’s here is passable, especially since this is a budget game.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent
Most hidden object games are exceptionally linear. The story and levels unfold the same way each time. A lot of them even have the same exact hidden objects each time. Antiques Roadshow actually gives a gamer a lot of replay value, especially for its price point and genre. You have two play modes, and the appraisal scenes can unfold differently depending on if you found the hidden bonus item for each, as well as whether you passed one, two or none of the pre-appraisal mini games. The core plot stays the same, but at least it mixes things up a bit. As well, the game tracks your high score, so you can replay to try and outdo yourself or a friend or family member that plays the game on the same PC. So if there is one area where Antiques Roadshow actually performs well, it’s here.
Replayability: Above Average
There are two big problems with Antiques Roadshow. The first is that often items are all but impossible to see. Maybe there will be a few pixels sticking out of one and some others are completely hidden so that the only way to find them is by pressing the hint button. When you do that a circle appears around where you should click and then you’ll be aghast to discover something like a piano or roman column was completely covered up by a lunch box or a teddy bear. It’s really aggravating to see that some items are inaccessible outside of using the hint button and this is the first time I’ve ever encountered a hidden object game that suffers from this problem. It’s not like you can move things around on the screen so you have to wonder what Namco Bandai was thinking here.
The other problem is that sometimes the game will have a description of the item and either there are multiples of that item on your screen and you have to guess which is which or the description will not match the item. For example, I once was told to find a tomahawk and the object was actually a hand axe. This wouldn’t be so bad if I had to find a tomahawk on a previous screen and it was an actual tomahawk. Another time I was supposed to find a “Horace necklace” and I had no idea what that was. Then I finally realized they meant a HORUS necklace, as in the Egyptian god. Issues like this plague the game and they really destroy not only the balance, but the potential of having any fun with the game. This is just a badly made game from beginning to end, especially here.
Balance Rating: Bad
They are literally hundreds of hidden object games released a year. You would think that at least a game based on Antiques Roadshow would provide a silver of originality, but then you’d be wrong. There have been at least two other games with a similar premise, if not the brand name itself. We have Antique Roadtrip> and Antique Shop. The first is another hidden object game and the second is a time management sim. Still, it shows that even the antiquing bit had been there, done that with this genre. So Antiques Roadshow might have a brand name going for it, but that’s the only snippet of originality going for it unless you want to count a sewing mini game.
Originality Rating: Bad
Usually I can wade through a hidden object game pretty easily, but this was a chore. I wanted to like it. I really did. The entire premise of a video game based on Antiques Roadshow had me intrigued. However, the game fell apart in nearly every respect and this is coming from someone who doesn’t mind casual games to supplement his Ikaruga/King of Fighters/Planescape: Torment outings. The story was loathsome and you could tell the dev team had little to no experience with hidden object games as there were horrible mistakes that just shouldn’t be done in this genre. Again, I wanted to like it, but after a few levels, I was only playing to finish the game so I could write my review.
Addictiveness Rating: Bad
9. Appeal Factor
I don’t really know that anyone was clamoring for an Antiques Roadshow video game. There doesn’t seem to be much of a crossover appeal. Nor does Namco Bandai seem to be even remotely interested in promoting the game. Even looking at the AR Facebook page, which over 111,000 people have “liked,” The show has only promoted the game once, and then less than one-one THOUSANDTH of a percent likes that topic and only ten people commented on it. There’s not even anything on the official website for the show about the game. Clearly, everyone involved knew they had a dud on their hand and so have only paid the game lip service. Honestly, everyone I’ve talked to is shocked there is an Antiques Roadshow game and even more shocked that I played it. But hey, that’s the mark of a quality reviewer right? Stepping outside my usual tastes and comfort zone. ;-)
There are so many better hidden object games out there that I could rattle off several dozen without even trying. Games that cost as much as this one, but are far superior in every way. Truly the only people that are going to be interested in this game are extreme fans of the show or people who devour every hidden object game they can find. The former category really doesn’t play a lot of video games when you compare the demographics and the latter can still do a lot better than this. This was just kind of a mistake on all fronts, and the audience for the game will be slim to none.
Appeal Factor: Bad
Look, I’ve been pretty hard on Antiques Roadshow, but that’s because I know the game could have been a lot better. It’s not that hard to make a quality hidden object game, but somehow Namco Bandai fouled things up on several levels. I also fell bad for kicking around a $6.99-$9.99 game (depending on where you buy it), but honestly, I’ve only been comparing the game to other point and click titles in its same price range. It would be unfair to compare this to some big budget release, but as I’m a member of the Big Fish Games website and I buy at least one casual game a month to play through when I don’t feel like slogging through a long RPG or testing my hand to eye coordination with a fighter or bullet hell title, I think I can say with ease that Antiques Roadshow is a pretty lackluster hidden object game even for a super budget game. Again, you can find scads of similar titles with better stories and gameplay. Are you really going to buy a game that has the Antiques Roadshow branding for anything other than morbid curiosity? I appreciate the attempts to put replayability into the genre, but I’d have preferred a solid story that didn’t make me ill or a hidden object game that didn’t suffer from the astounding flaws this one had. I still think there is potential in harnessing the Antiques Roadshow license, but you’re not going to find it here.
Miscellaneous Rating: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Below Average
FINAL SCORE: POOR GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Look, even for a budget game, Antiques Roadshow isn’t very good. It’s one of the few hidden object games that actually outright HIDES the objects you are supposed to find so that they aren’t on the screen at all. Not even a pixel. You have to use the hint button to find some of these. It has a story that was written by someone who doesn’t understand the antiquing, appraisal, or Antiques Roadshow businesses at all to the point where your main character would be arrested or at least investigated for unscrupulous activities. This is just a very poorly done hidden object game and this is a pretty hard subgenre to louse up. Keep your seven to ten dollars and spend it on something else, like a Mystery Case Files game or a Cate West title if you want a hidden object game.