Love and Death: Bitten
If the horror genre is a schoolyard, vampires have long since been turned into the kid who gets pantsed at recess by the cooler kids. Love and Death: Bitten, the first in a new hidden-object/point-and-click series, is going to change all that. It's a sweeping, sprawling epic that will touch your heart and change the way you look at—AHAHAHA, I'm just yankin' your chain, it's totally goofy dude. Fortunately, it's packaged inside a game that is not only gorgeous to look at, but features top-notch voice acting, surprisingly clever puzzles, and cheesy charm.
At the start of the story, we are introduced to Damon, a vampire being kept as a prisoner-slash-pet by a powerful witch who also happens to be a vampiress. (I think I've read fanfiction like this, only she was also a Jedi princess and half elf.) On the night when he's sent out to acquire a human for dinner, Damon spies Victoria, a mortal woman who immediately intrigues him. So he does what any gentleman would do; he follows her home, trashes her living room, and leaps out the window when she confronts him. (Actually, that's how I met my husband.) Victoria sets off after him, determined to find out who he is and put an end to the menace threatening her village. Right after she solves this mirror puzzle. And destroys that boat. And makes this soup.
Part hidden object game, part traditional point-and-click, Love and Death: Bitten combines both genres quite nicely. You'll know when a hidden-object scene is available because a raven will fly into the scene carrying a list of items for you to find. (Look, if you can believe wizards get mail via owls, you can believe this; I've had enough of your lip!) There's a hint button for a little guidance, and the puzzles also come with the option to skip them if you find yourself stuck on them for too long. During the day you'll play as Victoria, and during the night you play Damon. While there is a slight difference between what they can do, I was a little disappointed that they didn't play up Damon's vampiric powers more than, say, occasionally forcing him to grub under the floorboards for spilled blood.
Analysis: While I at first dismissed Bitten because I prefer my vampires menacing Santa Carla, after trying the demo I was genuinely surprised at how enjoyable the game was. The plot, while as outlandish and predictable as you might expect, is at least fun and full of magic. Though the pacing of the plot is rather erratic, with Victoria and Damon rather abruptly deciding they love one another after spending the majority of the game making snide comments and minimal interaction, the dialogue is well written and the characters are mostly pretty likable. Not to mention, of course, how beautiful the whole thing is, with gorgeous scenery, hand-drawn artwork, and a lovely soundtrack.
Bitten provides a nice variety to its hidden object scenes, too; the difficulty steps up as you go and some scenes even require you to create things within them, such as... sandwiches and a puppet show. While the point-and-click "use x item here" sequences are never challenging, the puzzles are actually pretty varied. Make a soup from unicorn horns and bat wings to cure an old seer? I am so there, hand me that cheese grater so I can render this priceless evidence of mythological beasts into tasty shavings! The downside is that as the game goes on, it starts to suffer from "Do It Again, Only More Complicated" syndrome, and you'll find yourself having to hunt down masses of tiny items just to solve a single puzzle. As such, the latter half of the game winds up feeling padded compared to the tight design of the first.
Despite this and the cliffhanger ending you'll probably see coming, Bitten is a well put together example of its genre. Most players will probably finish it in about three to four hours, more or less depending on your eagle eyes, but that's becoming an unfortunate trend in these games lately. Whether you love vampires, hate them, or love to hate them, Love and Death: Bitten offers a surprisingly enjoyable romp through a fun, fairytale story. Hopefully, the sequel will greater explore the vampiric abilities we all know and love; press A to quote bad poetry! Press B to brood on top of a gothic cathedral in the rain! Minigames where you have to assemble the laciest manshirt! This is a goldmine, people!