By Eric Pankoke on Sat, 10/30/2010
So far I’ve been pretty lucky with hidden object games on the iPhone. Most of them have had something different to offer from all the others. Of course I realize that’s because the genre hasn’t been oversaturated like certain other ones, but I’ll take it while I can get it. Mystery Of The Crystal Portal is no exception to the rule. In fact, in some ways this is one of the most original hidden object games I’ve played, iPhone or otherwise. It’s not without its shortcomings, but its strengths keep me coming back for more.
You play the part of journalist Nicole Rankwist, and when your archeologist father goes missing you set out on a quest to find him and learn what he had discovered that caused him to go missing. You’ll travel to exotic locations around the world including Japan, Africa and Switzerland in the hopes of locating your father and figuring out what exactly the Crystal Portal is. Along the way you’ll have to find lots of different objects, collect pieces to various puzzles, and then solve the puzzles in order to unlock fragments of the crystal portal’s key. If you’re up to the challenge then a grand adventure certainly awaits.
Aside from the first room which acts as a tutorial and lets you find your father’s journal, the locations are pretty much all set up in the same manner. There will be two or more areas that you need to explore, each area containing several objectives and a number of parts for completing the final puzzle. In each area you have to figure out what the objectives are, though if you have a quick eye you can catch an intermittent green glow surrounding objects that are considered objectives. When you click on an objective a circle will pop up that’s surrounded by pictures of all the objects you need to find in order to complete that objective.
Once you find an object you tap on the circle to apply that object to the objective. You don’t have to manipulate the objects in any way once you find them, but sometimes in order to find them you have to click on other items in the area that are either blocking or that contain the items you’re searching for, or you have to complete other objectives first. On rare occasions you may even need to locate an object in one area that’s used to complete an objective in another area. That’s not the norm, however. I like the circle idea, the only problem being that the circle stays with the objective, so unless you can remember all the objects you need to find you’ll spend some time scrolling around and then scrolling back to the objective to see what else you need to look for.
There are also a number of similar objects that you have to collect. For instance, in one level it might be a set of tiles. The total number that you have to collect is shown in the lower right corner of the screen. These items will be scattered throughout each area in a level, and they will be used to help solve the final puzzle that unlocks the portion of the crystal portal key that’s hidden in that level. The mini-games aren’t overly difficult, but they’re a nice diversion from the general flow of the game.
I like the fact that hints are unlimited, as long as you’re willing to wait for the hint meter to fill up between uses. Granted you shouldn’t have to rely on hints to get through any game, but there were a few places where I just couldn’t see some of the objects – sometimes even once I had used the hint. To me that’s a bit of a poor design choice. Objects shouldn’t be a piece of cake to spot (hence the phrase “hidden object”), but when you’re staring at the spot where the hint says an item is and you still can’t see it there’s a bit of an issue. Thankfully, though, you don’t get penalized for tapping on an incorrect spot, so at least you can poke around until you find the object. A bit annoying, but it gets the job done.
I also really appreciate that the game saves your state of play even if you’re in the middle of a level. I think this is an extremely important feature in mobile games, because you never know when you’re going to have to quit and pick up again later because you’ve either arrived at your destination or received a phone call or whatever. I know that some argue such intermediate saves makes a game too easy, and there might even be some argument for that here, but I’d rather have it be a bit too easy than have to play the same level several times because I never get the chance to finish it.
I really hope I never have to write that the visuals in a hidden object game weren’t good. That’s certainly not the case with crystal portal, as the backgrounds are very nicely drawn. The characters are well rendered also. There are some scenes that could stand to have a bit more animation in them, but since it’s not necessary for this type of game it didn’t bother me too much. The one thing that I did struggle with was that it was often hard to tell from the outlines around an objective what the objects were that I was supposed to be looking for. This of course was aggravated by the issue I mentioned earlier with some objects being too well hidden.
The sound effects for things like clicking in the wrong spot or picking up items where pretty standard for this type of game. What did impress me were all the ambient sound effects. Birds chirping, motors running, whatever seemed to fit in each location you were visiting only helped enhance the feeling that there was life beyond where you were immediately standing. On the flip side, I was really disappointed at the lack of music. There was some, but it never played during the actual hidden object scenes. This is usually one of the highlights of the aesthetics department in this style of game, so for it to be completely missing was kind of sad.
I really enjoyed my quest for the Crystal Portal. I didn’t know much about the game going into it, so I was a bit surprised that when the game was over the story wasn’t, but that just makes me all the more interested in playing part 2 whenever it surfaces. The interface was an odd balance of pluses and minuses, but overall it was workable and didn’t detract too much from the fun of the game. I do hope the mini-games are a bit more challenging in part 2 (with a skip option for the time sensitive, of course), and some background music during the hidden object sequences would be great. Still, I would definitely consider Mystery Of The Crystal Portal among the better hidden object games I’ve played on the iPhone.
Overall Score: 7/10
App Store Link