Ever hear of the hidden object genre? It’s a strange little point and click subgenre that really came into being through smart phones, a more simple version of the graphic adventure with less moon logic madness and more puzzle minigames and finding the object. The idea is that they’re an easily played casual genre you can enjoy with your brain on low, relaxing games requiring little effort to play, but catch your interest just enough that you can block out the world around you for a bit. It’s also one of the most creative genres out there, I find, especially in terms of presentation and content. You only need to look at Backstreets of the Mind for a good example of this. Mechanically, though, they all tend to fall into the same territory.
This is where Hope Lake and Black Rainbow come into play. The second one doesn’t have the usual hidden object elements included, but it falls roughly in the same category through its simplistic puzzles and focus on presentation above most else. But Hope Lake? Oh, that is some pure hidden object right there. It’s also the game that inspired this article, because I thought it was a perfect summation of the worst aspects of the hidden object genre …until I played Black Rainbow. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Hope Lake is definitely the most hidden object game I’ve ever played, though without the same creativity the genre has at its most interesting. It’s a game about a woman being kidnapped and a heroine cop going to a lake to save her. It goes on for about four hours and almost nothing interesting happens as you waste your time with an almost endless series of increasingly pointless puzzles before finally getting to the end, rescuing the girl, winging the bad guy in the shoulder …and then walk away while not arresting the violent serial killer. I think the staff forgot to add that part.
Hope Lake is the best example of this genre at its most boring. There’s very little narrative to speak of, and the constant shifting through random junk to find specific random junk to get one necessary item to advance doesn’t really work in a game that has a story reliant on a sense of finite time for the sake of building tension. There’s no payoff either, just leaving the game to stand on the merits of presentation. Unfortunately, endless, constant backtracking ruins even the ability to just soak in the sights as you toy around with puzzles and item finding. It’s like there’s a good game here, but all the little design missteps add up and topple everything the game tried to do.
Black Rainbow, on the other hand, is so phoned in that I have trouble believing it’s a real game that actually exists. The entire story is essentially madlibs. You’re told to do things that literally anyone could do because you’re the chosen one or whatever, and then you reach the final room, rub two jewels together, and congrats, evil is defeated or something. The game is just a bunch of random things smashed together, including some sort of amazon queen, stereotypical African tribes, a fish man and his pet turtle, an old lady who wants you to make her soup, some shaman lady living in a cave, and all sorts of other meaningless nonsense. Black Rainbow is like a collection of pretty images glued together with no rhyme or reason, and the end result is one of the most baffling games I have ever played.
The weirdest thing is that Black Rainbow is somehow better structurally, with a sense of constant story progression and even some sort of raising of the stakes. The problem is that there is no story whatsoever, just things strung together to resemble a story. The puzzles are slightly more rewarding here, as the hidden object stuff has mostly been gutted to prevent too much padding, but those have also been replaced by lazy item combination “puzzles” that feel like time wasting. Also, tons of backtracking. It’s two hours shorter than Hope Lake, and has the opposite effect. Black Rainbow feels like it never happened by the time you finished, though mainly because you’re trying to comprehend what you’ve just seen.
Both of these games are good examples of how not to make graphic adventure or hidden object games. The first has a narrative, but it has no sense of progression and most everything you do in it feels meaningless. The second does have progression and purpose, but is so unbelievably vapid and clearly without thought behind it that it just feels insulting to finish. Games, even casual games, need a balance of elements, and there are far better hidden object games out there. You need to have respect for your audience and find some balance in your game. One great aspect can save a game, but there needs to be some sort of substance, something neither of these games have.