Phantom of the
Ah, the Renaissance Faire. It's an excuse for grown men to walk around in tights, and for women to wear elaborate corsets that were designed with the apparent misconception that breathing is a luxury, not a necessity. There are the minstrels playing lutes, the exciting joust tourneys, the phantoms, the bad English accents, and all without the annoyances of things like poor bathing habits and the Black Plague. Wait a minute, phantoms?
Yes, phantoms. In the hidden object game G.H.O.S.T. Chronicles: Phantom of the Renaissance Faire, you play a ghost hunter called in to aid a renaissance faire/theme park that has seen better days. First, one of its esteemed owners, Margaret, dies. Not long after that her husband and co-owner, Robert, also passes on. But before Robert's untimely death he remarried, dooming the fate of the Spears' family park to a legal battle between Robert's widow and his son. If all that daytime TV drama weren't enough, the poor faire appears to have become the residence of a particularly nasty spirit that has disrupted the day to day lives of the park and her employees.
Now you must track down the ghost, if indeed the phantom is a real ghost, and help put a stop to the strange goings on that have plagued the renaissance faire. To do this, you'll need to hunt down plenty of hidden objects and solve a number of item based puzzles. Keep on the look out for fairies while you roam the grounds of the faire for these little nymphs will aid you on your quest. Depending on the difficulty level you select, they will either give you hot or cold type clues, or just hover around particularly elusive objects.
Investigate the grounds thoroughly and help put its employees and more benign spirits at rest. If you keep your wits about you and exercise your keen object finding skills you should be able to hunt down the trouble-making spirit and perhaps even settle once and for all the fate of the renaissance faire.
Analysis: While Phantom may have a strong adventure game element going for it, perhaps its strongest point is the core hidden object game itself. Note to other would-be makers of hidden object games: this is how you hide objects! I tend to be picky when it comes to this genre of games, and Phantom gets it right from the start.
Instead of shrinking items down impossibly small, or using objects so obscure you wouldn't be able to tell what you're looking at even if it smacked you in the face and called you a rude name, there just doesn't seem to be any end to the cleverness with which the items are hidden here. I can't count how many times I've used hints only to chuckle at how well I had been tricked. Everything from color manipulation to a solid understanding of lines and contours is used to camouflage items in plain view making these items a particular treat to look for.
This alone would make a game that is satisfying to me, but Phantom holds so much more for the discerning object finding enthusiast. On top of the exceptionally well hidden objects, the item based puzzles that are becoming a staple of the genre are themselves quite clever and intuitive, and in at least one instance had me tempted to perform an experiment in my kitchen sink. This element of the game is just challenging enough to keep your gray matter chugging without causing it to steam up or flame out in frustration.
Also, Phantom just looks beautiful. Have you ever been to a theme park and wondered what it would be like to roam around after hours with the attractions all to yourselves? Somehow Phantom manages to capture that feel perfectly. No, the images aren't breathtakingly beautiful, but instead they portray a kind of quieter, meeker elegance that exudes the feel of getting to see something magical from behind the scenes.
Rounding out a solid package is the story telling. As you make your way through the park, you'll meet a host of characters, alive and otherwise, that stitch together the animosity riddled strife that hangs over the renaissance faire. The ghosts genuinely feel put off by the new mischief making spirit, whilst the living inhabitants gossip with an almost morbid glee about the melodramatic plot regarding the park's ownership. Strong writing and good voice acting seal the deal here.
There are a few things that hold Phantom back, though. For one, character animation is almost laughable, and you get the feeling that the developers should have either chosen static images or gone with full animation instead of trying to find a happy medium between the two (because the medium that was found was anything but happy). Also, while the story telling during the game is quite exemplary, the same could not be said at the beginning and end of the game. You are essentially dumped into the game with little explanation, and the ending was something of a let down.
But though the ending was a disappointment, that can't detract from the fact that the game itself is a blast. Excellent adventure elements and hidden objects done right make this a great game for item hunting enthusiasts.