Beauty and the Beast
You experienced the thin line between love and obsession in The Phantom of the Opera, and now Pixel Storm Entertainment leads you down a darker path towards familiar but twisted territory with their latest hidden-object adventure, Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast. When Belle's love saved the Beast from the curse placed on him by an evil enchantress, they were supposed to get their happily-ever-after, but a bizarre and unsettling letter calling Belle back home may bring a premature end to their fairytale. Turns out when you scorn and best an evil enchantress, they don't exactly take it very well, and this one is out to rain on your parade in the most elaborate, mua-ha-ha-ha fashion possible, and unlike burly Frenchmen, she doesn't have the decency to take a swan-dive onto a wrought-iron fence. Will Belle break the curse and save the kingdom from eeeeeeeeeeeevil or has her luck run out?
As Belle, you'll travel a long way to save your Prince from his Beastly imprisonment... a long, long way, since the entire kingdom has been blighted with the enchantress' magic. There are three levels of difficulty to choose from at the start of the game, but all of them will have you solving puzzles, scouring hidden-object scenes, and performing tasks to aid the residents of the kingdom in their de-cursing. (It's like a de-lousing, but more magical.) The cursor changes to indicate an interactive area, and the usual hint and skip buttons make an appearance for the impatient in the crowd. If you tap the hint button in normal gameplay, it'll only tell you if you can do something in the location you're currently in, but luckily for you, your journal has a map. The map not only displays your current location, but highlights places you can go to and accomplish something in, so make sure you check it frequently if you're stuck. Just don't go looking to Beast for help, since he's supremely useless. "Heeeeeeelp me, Belle! Find the Magic MacGuffins, Belle! Chase these spiders away, Belle!" As if being turned to stone is any excuse for not being useful! At least Gaston had a catchy song, and was probably just as hairy.
Analysis: Beauty and the Beast might just be the most visually stunning and cinematic hidden-object adventure to come along in quite some time. Sporting fantastic voice acting, gorgeous artwork, and a rich, imaginative fantasy theme, it's the sort of adventure you really can get lost in. Locations are beautifully made, and exploring them feels appropriately like stepping into another world with just the right spice of danger. While twee fairytale critters with names like "Mr Beak" and mildly cheesecake-ish characters like "Saucy the Leprechaun" mean this doesn't quite capture the eerie, foreboding atmosphere of Phantom of the Opera and isn't as story-driven, the sheer quality of the whole thing means there's likely something for everyone inside it. Just because it's comparatively lighter in tone doesn't mean us creep-fiends won't find a lot to love in the style and design.
The fantasy design extends to the gameplay as well, with "adventure logic" here being replaced by "fairytale logic". While you'll find your share of objects with straight-forward uses, many places require a little bit of abstract thinking. A request for gold, for instance, might not be literal, while clockwork doggies require a special sort of fuel. Since you can always refer to your map for direction, getting stuck is unlikely. While this time around each hidden-object scene consists of items you'd probably be likely to find in that location rather than a random mish-mash of junk, the trade-off is that some of them are... kind of boring to look at, especially when they start repeating. Seen one enchanted toyshop, seen 'em all, amirite? Fortunately, the game offers up several creative puzzles, and the too-brief jaunts into other fairytales are a nice touch.
It isn't the sequel Phantom Phans (hurr hurr) have been waiting for, although you should keep your eyes peeled for a few references, but Mystery Legends: Beauty and the Beast is a big, gorgeous adventure worthy of praise in its own right. Most players will probably spend between four and five hours on the main adventure, with the unlockable Collector's Edition "bonus chapter" tacking on close to another hour. Packed with charm, magic, danger, and beauty, this is one fantastical fairytale that you should definitely check out. Highly recommended, especially if you're fond of chipper butler bots with "genocide modes".
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter, art gallery, strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.