The Mystery of the
The Mystery of the Crystal Portal from Artogon Games is the latest casual title to bend the genre mold and create a hidden object/adventure hybrid. This one succeeds where many other efforts fail, however, by ramping up the level of intrigue and by building relationships between items you find and objects on the screen. The result is less of a hidden object game and more of a still-screen adventure title... with a few missing items.
Journalist Nicole Rankwist receives a strange note from her father who has discovered an artifact with the power to change humanity. When he goes missing, however, Nicole must find pieces of the Crystal Portal key and retrace his steps by visiting exotic locations and searching for clues by sifting through mountains of items and solving puzzles.
At the bottom of each screen are a number of slots initially occupied by question marks. Each of these represents a "container item", an object somewhere on the screen that needs to be activated. Clicking on these container items brings up a menu similar to the action menus in old-school adventure games. By finding items shown on these menus and dropping them onto the container you open new spaces on the screen, activate parts of the scenery, or cause some other minor change. To complete each scene, simply find all of the container items and their associated "minor" items.
Sometimes you will have to fill a certain container item to reveal an item needed for another container, so solving puzzles is rarely straightforward. Most objects are fairly easy to find and aren't hidden in strange areas or color-masked to blend in with the background. This creates a much more intuitive experience and makes the game feel more like an adventure than a seek and find title.
Analysis: Hidden object games have become the new match-3 of the casual realm, but thanks to titles such as Azada, Cate West - The Vanishing Files, and The Mystery of the Crystal Portal, old-school adventure philosophy is creeping its way in, and those classic games have survived decades of gaming for a very good reason.
Visually, The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is quite impressive, featuring seven unique locations (each with several scenes) rendered in gorgeous detail, complete with animated areas, moving pieces of scenery, and crisp sound effects to boot.
One drawback to The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is the simple ability to, well, cheat. Most hidden object games penalize you for clicking where there are no items to find. The Mystery of the Crystal Portal does not, opening up the path of randomly clicking all across the screen in order to find items. The use of container objects cuts down on the usefulness of this "cheating", and you have unlimited use of the hint feature if you're willing to wait for it to refill, so it's not as big of a temptation (or spoiler) as you might think.
The rules are somewhat laid back, with no penalties for random clicks and no time limit to put you in a frenzy, and the care put into the visual layout of every scene is evident. With the variety of puzzles, interesting minigames, and strangely compelling container item system, The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is a surprisingly robust hidden object/adventure experience that should not be missed.