iPad – Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient Review
If there is one word that can sum up Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient it is “tedious.” However, to be harsher one might instead give it the moniker of “boring.” Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient is a shining example of how great the hidden object genre truly was…ten years ago. Then again, even back then the game would have a hard time standing out from the crowd due to the truly horrendous gameplay pitfalls that make the title a true slog.
Beginning with the positives, Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient offers the player an easy and hard mode which is a nice feature as the difference in gameplay is quite pronounced. Easy mode makes the hint and skip buttons recharge much faster and totally eliminates the time limits imposed on each area. This last point cannot be stressed more as the game in hard mode is incredibly punishing by giving players a very stringent time limit that when it expires forces the player to fail and have to repeat the level.
Another huge difference between the two modes revolves around how the game treats errant and random guessing when players arbitrarily tap the screen in a vain effort to find the items. In easy mode the screen momentarily will turn black indicating that the player had abused screen tapping too much but a few seconds later the blackness is lifted and the player can return to mashing the screen again if they chose to with no penalty. In hard mode, too many wrong guesses will result in the timer being reduced which raises the player’s stress level. Hidden object game veterans are going to be pushed in hard mode and I fully admit that I don’t have the patience I once had to complete the game under a time constraint.
The game does make an attempt at spinning a coherent narrative featuring two mystery agents named Scott and Saraya who are tasked to investigate the case of disappearing individuals and whether they are related to a magical amulet. This focus on narrative is certainly a plus in my book and the game offers a plethora of dialogue scenes between the cast. However, much of the dialogue comes of wooden and is almost always either perfunctory or a lame attempt at creating some needed character interaction ala Hepburn and Tracy but instead feels more like it was written by some tween who had seen too many Twilight films. The dialogue scenes themselves really add to the overall feeling of cheapness as the player gets to watch the exact same character art pop on screen with word bubbles. It might have been nice to at least attempt to add either voiceovers or include a few different illustrations showing the characters emoting or changing stances.
The core gameplay is almost fully centered on finding hidden objects but there is also a strong emphasis on spot the difference areas. Other minigames include an initially confusing and obtuse disc game that is hard just because the instructions are too vague as well as match three gems and the requisite jigsaw puzzles. All in all the mini games at least add some variety but they also are prone to showing up at different points in the narrative under tenuous reasoning.
Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient does have some nice character art and background designs but these assets are rendered totally moot by the ridiculous amount of repeating items the game tasks the player to find. Each area is basically littered like a junkyard filled with every item imaginable although they rarely conform to reality. At one point the male protagonist walks into the female protagonist’s house only to find it a pig sty that no one in their right mind would dare enter. Another area features a construction site with scaffolding littered with teddy bears and odds and ends you expect to find in a garbage can. Other scenes place ridiculous items in awkward places such as a teddy bear next to a dart board on the roof of slum house in India or a muffin in a pot of soil. Truly, all sense of reality has been thrown out the window.
This lack of reason is wholly irritating and adds to the game’s difficulty level merely because a player can’t use simple deduction into guessing where items should be unlike better hidden object games which place items in semi-logical positions. Although there is some degree of backtracking at least each area is distinct which sadly does not apply to the objects. Each area is chock full of the exact same items albeit rendered slightly differently. At one point I went through four consecutive areas where I had to find the same damn camera and by the end of the game my eyes were almost tearing up for joy that the agony was almost over.
Why? Because the game makes another cardinal mistake for making many of these items incredibly small. This might not be so bad if the player were on a PC or MAC where the screen resolution is much higher but here on the iPad/Ipad 2 the lower resolution makes it much tougher to spot.
In the end, Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient is a game that is going to test the player’s patience with its ridiculous reliance on overused art assets and hidden objects. Those diehard HOG fans who love pixel hunting with a fine tooth comb under the threat of a rapidly diminishing timer might have a blast but considering how far the genre has come with newer titles it makes Mystery Agency: Secrets of the Orient feel positively Neolithic.
Throw in initially pleasant Indian-themed music that repeats ad nauseum until it drives the player’s eardrums to bleed and an abrupt and altogether limp ending and it gets very hard to recommend this title to casual genre fans especially since other great titles are readily available. Whatever small positive factors are included such as a flashlight only area that forces the player to hunt through the darkness are quickly overwhelmed with frustration that each area is a grind of the worst kind. Making matters worse, if the player has played A Vampires Kiss, another game from the same developer, they are going to experience a massive case of déjà vu since they both seem to have been created from the same cookie cutter assembly line. While the game does provide statistics such as number of hints used and a game timer I very much doubt players will want to replay the game if they even finish it in the first place. At $2.99 this universal app is much cheaper than iPad only hidden object games such as Awakening: The Dreamless Castle but considering the dreary game play my recommendation is to save your money for better offerings.
Final Score: *1/2
Reviewed On: IPad 2
Date: April 7, 2011
Reviewed Version: 1.0 – April 10, 2011
Size: 91.7 MB
Developer: dtp entertainment AG
© 2011 The Galactic Pillow