Secrets of Treasure House
Casual adventure games are gaining ground as titles such as Azada and the Dream Chronicles series cut out the complexity and serve up a little lighthearted gaming alongside item-based puzzles. Natalie Brooks: Secrets of Treasure House follows suit in an adventure that uses optional hidden object scenes to earn hints to solve puzzles in the main quest. It's a good blend of genres that, despite its rather short length and occasional grammatical hiccup, holds your attention with an interesting story and varied gameplay.
More of a linear adventure game than anything, Natalie Brooks: Secrets of Treasure House plays out through a series of first person locales interspersed with comic-style cutscenes that progress the story. Natalie has inherited her grandmother's home and learns there's hidden treasure somewhere within. She quickly discovers the house is scheduled for demolition, however, and begins her quest to save the family house. Gather items and talk to townspeople as you try to solve puzzles in each area. Puzzles are self-contained, meaning the items you pick up in one area will be used right there, so you don't have to lug things from scene to scene.
The interesting mechanic in Natalie Brooks is the use of hidden object scenes as a mini-game of sorts. If you're stuck in the main part of the game, simply click the magnifying glass at the bottom of the screen. The area you're in will be littered with items and a short list of things to find appears. Find the items within the time limit and you'll earn a few hints to point you in the right direction. You can even hop from location to location while in hidden object mode, breaking the monotony quite well. These diversions are short and rather easy (although some of the item names are a bit too vague), so even if your mortal enemy is hidden object games, you can have a good time.
Analysis: Natalie Brooks: Secrets of Treasure House is one of those games that grabs you early on and never really lets go. The protagonist is likeable, the characters just comical enough to make you grin, and the overall art style keeps your eyes plastered on the screen. The distilled adventure-like puzzle solving is done quite well and, despite the linearity to each quest, manages to keep you guessing without laying on too much obtuse ambiguity.
I was initially skeptical of the hidden object scenes (not my favorite genre), but they're so short and easy they become a welcome change of pace. As the game progresses you have to do more and more of them, but I honestly didn't mind. It was worth the pixel hunting to get clues for the puzzle I was solving. Also, Natalie is a bit too chatty from time to time, and some of the dialogue borders on the trite. Expect a few grammar mistakes here and there as well, which is an unfortunate blemish on the otherwise excellent presentation.
Natalie Brooks: Secrets of Treasure House is pleasing from stem to stern, with just the right balance of genres to keep the pace at a steady clip.