Liong: The Lost Amulets
Now here's a new genre-crossing idea: a hidden object game and mahjong-style tile matching. Bet even your strangest of late night dreams wouldn't have paired those two, would they? Liong: The Lost Amulet dares to try something different with the Chinese-themed item finding/tile matching game. The visual presentation and soundtrack are nothing short of exotic, and the gameplay mashes some interesting ideas into an unfamiliar frame that works better than you might imagine.
The five amulets that hold the elemental world in balance are missing. Working through alternating scenes of hidden object gameplay and tile matching, you'll hunt down these amulets to restore order. Between levels you'll also engage in randomly-chosen mini-games such as memory matching, tangram-style puzzles, and more. And if all this genre-mixing hubub turns you off, there's always a straight-up mahjong game available from the title screen, bells and whistles included.
The hidden object scenes are actually quite different from the genre's standard fare. For starters, they're viewed from a top-down perspective, so items are generally hidden in much more natural ways. The wording can be a bit confusing from time to time, but nothing was too ambiguous to make things frustrating. Many of the items tend to be quite small, forcing you to squint more than usual. A hint system is always available to get you out of a tight spot, however.
During the tile matching sequences you'll face a pile of tiles with five slots at the bottom of the screen. These slots show which tiles you can pull from the stack, simply find a matching pattern on an open tile and click to remove it. The goal is to work the pile down to nothing, grabbing a few bonuses on the way to the floor.
Analysis: Liong: The Lost Amulets was another one of those "Oh, hi! Where'd you come from?!" games I get to experience once in a while. It really is a fun and innovative game that does a good job with its promise of combining disparate genres into a single adventure. And when hidden object scenes weren't going my way, I retreated back to the title screen and played a round or two of mahjong.
One excellent game-wide feature is the option to tweak the game's settings to make it easier or more challenging as you please. Turn off free-tile highlighting, play the hidden object games in relaxed mode, and switch mahjong tile styles to make things easier on your eyes.
While the concept is unique and offers a new take on some old ideas, I can't help but feel it could have been taken a bit further to really provide some sparkle and shine. The whole purpose of bending genres is to introduce a new experience for the gamer. Liong: The Lost Amulets pulls this off, but the separate elements aren't quite stitched together to form a new whole. The result feels almost like a collection of separate games with a gossamer-thin line tying them together.
It came very close to being a heavy-hitting genre-smashing game with its unique combination of games and gorgeous presentation. Liong: The Lost Amulets falls just short of being a revolution, but it still manages to serve up a great gaming experience.