Antique Mysteries: Secrets of Howard's mansion
It seemed like a simple enough job when Seymour contacted you. Go through the mansion of Sheldon Howards, the oil tycoon billionaire, to find a gallery full of antiques for auction. It seems Mr Howards was going a little crazy - building secret rooms, hiding his treasures all over the mansion, setting up bizarre puzzles. But... you got curious. What was going on inside his head? Why was he building all these crazy rooms? At least the stories of his madness being contagious can't be true... can they?
Antique Mysteries is one of the many hidden object games produced by Big Fish, who rather seem to like them. As mentioned above, your primary aim is to find the lost antiques, scattered about the mansion (and often hidden in secret rooms). Seymour is holding an auction and he's rather keen to get the collections together as soon as possible. Most of the mansion is locked to start with, and every set of antiques you find will furnish you with another key to unlock the next section. But as well as antiques, there's a mystery to solve - the cause of Howards' insanity... if he was insane at all.
Like most hidden object games, Antique Mysteries features a series of locations, containing various puzzles and objects. On occasion you'll find a glowing scroll that gives you a "shopping list" of objects on the screen, and your task is to click on them as you find them. Finish the list, and you'll find some useful objects to aid you in your adventure. Often the objects you find will be relevant to puzzles in another location. There's a hint option available if you get stuck, but you have to wait a while between uses. Not that it matters - there seems to be no penalty for random clicking.
One of the neat touches of Antique Mysteries is the bonus game. The treasures you reclaim are displayed in a gallery room you can access at any point - but your gallery is a little bare. Find some "bonus" antiques around the mansion, antiques not part of the collections, and you can auction these off. Successfully managing the bidding (by clicking on the correct bids as they appear) will allow you to upgrade various parts of the gallery, from flooring to light fittings to drapes, etc. But every auction gets tougher to beat!
The graphics are, as is essential for this genre, very good. The various settings in the mansion are well laid out and animation, though not frequent, is usually quite good. Admittedly there are the usual issues of some objects looking a little out of place, as they've been copied in from other sources (the background figures in the picture in the saloon are a good example, with a very different style to the rest of the setting). On the other hand, some of the objects blend in very well indeed - it can be quite tricky to spot them. Which is the point, really! There's a limited range of gentle background music, and sound effects are a little underused but normally work well. Seymour's speech is recited by a reasonably good voice actor, but while the opening sequence is a rather nice animation, the ending is a little more disappointing.
If you've ever played a hidden object game before, you'll instantly be at home here. Just click on things with the mouse! Outside of the "shopping list" sections, the key items are usually highlighted with sparkles, and your hints will identify these as well as objects you are looking for - though not always very helpfully. Yes, I know I need to open the secret room under the stairs - where's the key? Your journal, as well as collecting data on the mystery itself, also has a checklist of objectives for each section of the mansion and some hints of variable helpfulness to guide you through them. There's also a host of minigame puzzles of different kinds (match-3 compost, anyone?) but these can be skipped if you struggle with them.
Where Antique Mysteries falls down somewhat is in longevity. I've seen hidden object games that took considerably longer than this one to complete - I was done in just a few hours of play, which may not necessarily be a problem. Part of the short length is down to the layout of the game - each section of the mansion is in effect a separate game, with no involvement in the later sections. I'm in two minds about this. Other hidden object games connect up new locations to old ones - those long treks mean revisiting old spots to find new clues, which makes the game last longer... but can be a rather artificial way of doing it. I would like Antique Mysteries to last longer, but not by stretching it too thinly.
I did, however, spot a few hiccups in the design of the gallery subgame. Selling off artefacts in order to improve your gallery is a great idea, and works very well - but once you've completed the game, you can't go back. All the effort spent on it is lost, because you can only access the gallery from within the game you're playing and, once you've completed it, clicking "play" simply starts again from the beginning, resetting your collections! Another drawback is common to every hidden object game - the replay value is limited. While the shopping lists of items can vary to some extent, the main puzzles are still the same - and don't even vary in themselves. The combination to the dining room's secret room is the same every game. The puzzle layouts are the same every game. Still, I can hardly mark down a hidden object game for a weakness of the entire genre.
Overall, this has been fun and entertaining. The replay value is limited but what you get for your money is not at all bad. I've certainly played worse hidden object games than this one. Aside from the limited play time and the gallery issues mentioned above, this does pretty much everything right. Well done, TuttiFrutti, and I hope to see further games from you in the future!
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