It's been quite a while since I've been genuinely excited about a hidden object game. They usually look fantastic with immense effort put into the artwork, but the hidden object aspect of things suffers from a lack of diversity along with a handful of poor mini-games thrown in because, well, that's the done thing these days, isn't it? So I'm very happy to say that Flux Family Secrets: The Ripple Effect is a quality addition to the hidden object genre. And I like it!
Flux Family Secrets builds on the hidden object genre with a well-integrated adventure/mystery story, challenging tasks and fun trivia. You are Jesse Bennett, a woman seeking the answers to her mysterious past. Out of the blue, you receive a letter from Veronica Flux who claims she can help you. You accept the proffered plane ticket and go to meet Veronica, who suspects you may be a member of the Flux clan. Veronica then reveals the existence of "ripples" which affect great historical achievements, displacing treasures and spreading them around the world and through history.
The Fluxes are time travellers, moving through space and time to correct the effects of these ripples...
...or are they?
Ripples work by theme, apparently. Your first task is to sort out the mess caused in the world of Art, with objects spread around the dwellings of Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci and Hatshepsut. Where Flux Family Secrets gets interesting is that the objects are parts of an identified whole — you'll be finding pieces of the Mona Lisa in Shakespeare's room to put together and place in Leonardo's studio, thus allowing you to find that last bit of the golden cat statue for Hatshepsut's tomb, generating a mini-game, which you need to win to find the key to a chest in Shakespeare's room... Some objects are helper items that allow you to find the main items (keys, knives, scissors etc), others trigger interesting snippets of trivia about the person whose room you're rifling through.
Analysis: I really enjoyed the linkage between the different themes — the fact that Mozart appears in the Music section and the Wright Brothers in literature exposed me to new information (I didn't know the Wright Brothers ran newspapers before getting into the transport business) and is creative and thoughtful. Conversely, though, you meet the same six or so characters throughout the game, which made me think wonder why the developer put so much effort into different scenes but didn't bother to introduce new characters. You could have had Leif Ericsson in Travel, Jane Austen in Literature, maybe Nikola Tesla in Invention, all ready for their close-ups in the time it would have taken Hatshepsut's sarcophagus to render. Maybe the development team is more into artwork than history.
I clearly am a bit of a sucker for great artwork, but part of the charm of Flux Family Secrets is the care that has clearly been put in to the scenery. For instance, when you return to Amelia Earhart's office, you can see the hangar outside from your previous search. Similarly, the Abbey Road studios can be seen from different views. The objects to be found are all relevant to the theme and setting — you're looking for a fire hydrant in a 17th century studio because it's essential for restoring Amelia Earhart's hangar, not just because you're looking for a random bunch of stuff.
The mini-games really shine. Although there are one too many incidents of Mastermind for my liking, I really like the Einstein game (you have to cause atomic reactions to clear the board of coloured dots), and some of the other games, while familiar (there's a Simon tone game, a Tic-Tac-Toe, a couple of sliding puzzles and jigsaws), are well executed and fit appropriately into the scenery (the Simon game takes place in the Abbey Road studios, for instance). I've played hidden object games where I've skipped through every mini-game — this is not one of those!
There's no penalty for hints, but you have to wait for them to refill. Wrong clicks add to your time penalty, and the game has a bit of a sarcastic touch — if you use an object somewhere it's not supposed to be, you'll trigger snarky little comments like "Just trying anything in the inventory, huh?" (YES I AM YOU HORRIBLE LITTLE MAN). The only reservations I had were a couple of weird little glitches where I managed to "win" a mini-game without actually doing anything, and where I passed through the final search part of one of the themes without having found the final object. Other than that, I can highly recommend Flux Family Secrets.