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GAME REVIEW: Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire

Sometime last year I heard about Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire, created by Gunnar Games, for BigFishGames.com. As a veteran traditional adventure gamer and long-time romance reader but new to Hidden Object Gaming (HOG), I couldn’t resist giving Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire a try, so I bought a downloadable copy.

The official blurb:

      Allie’s on a quest to find some breaking news in the Kingdom of Adamas, but must now choose between her friend`s well-being and true love! The bachelor Prince of Aristo is the most enchanting man she has ever met, but she must fend off his charming advances long enough to figure out what is going on. Help Allie find valuable clues in

Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire

    , an exciting Hidden Object game. Please note: the included free Harlequin novel contains romantic themes.

The last line – “Please note: the included free Harlequin novel contains romantic themes.” – amused me so much that I couldn’t stop smiling while I waited for the game download via BigFishGames.com to complete. It took between fifteen and twenty-five minutes on ordinary broadband, so I imagine it’d take roughly an hour and half for those on dial-up.

Because of a book cover on the start-up page, I thought the game was an adaptation of Sandra Marton’s Harlequin Presents romance, Billionaire Prince, Pregnant Mistress, but I was wrong. The cover is to show which book is offered as a freebie in form of a digital book (PDF), which comes with the game.


Hidden Object of Desire sets in Harlequin Presents’s Royal House of Karedes universe, which has so far spawned eight Royal House of Karedes romances – written by Sharon Kenderick, Melanie Milburne; Natalie Anderson, Carol Marinelli, Marion Lennox; Kate Hewitt, Chantelle Shaw, and Sandra Marton – during 2009. Oh, I see. On with the game, then.

As the game starts, an open book appears. American reporter Allie (no surname) and her photographer Shaun, are in Adamas, a wealthy-looking town on a Mediterranean island, to cover the Aristan crown prince Adrian Karedes’ thirtieth birthday celebration. Okay dokey. I clicked to continue.

After Allie and Shaun arrived outside the hotel, a pop-up dialog appears:

    The story-based conversations that appear at the beginning and end of each scene can be toggled on and off in the options menu. Would you like to skip all story dialog now?

I had no choice but chortle at that. It seemed such a weird option. However, had I known how the story would go at the time, I would have clicked “Yes’. Double-clicked, even.

In the game layout, there is a bar on the left side, which has three areas: the list bar, the Hint bar, and the Menu bar (which contains Play, Options, Load, Quit). In Options under Menu, there are two options: Easy or Hard. I tried both ways and the differences lies with the Hard level, which doesn’t offer colour-coded clues; mini games are a little more challenging (read: more interesting); a hint bar takes a bit longer to recharge, and the HQN logo isn’t always easy to locate.

In the main screen area, this is where you pay attention to either a puzzle or an episode of the story, which usually occurs between puzzles to mark the progress of the story.

You, as Allie or Shaun, must solve puzzles and mini games to advance the plot. What kind of puzzles and mini games are these? Well, the majority of puzzles are the hidden object games. Basically, a list of objects appears on the sidebar and you have to hunt for those listed objects in a location, such as a hotel room, a swimming pool, a bar, a prison and so on.

The location is filled with various objects. Some are outright weird, such as a bunny in a hotel room. When you find it, you click on it and it’ll disappear while the object on the list is crossed off. In each playable scene, there is always one object that advances the plot, such as Allie’s party outfit, Shaun’s camera, or pieces of paper (which might then become a jigsaw puzzle).

When you’re stuck or tired of finding a certain object, you simply click on the Hint bar to show a circle of lights over the elusive hidden object.

There are three ways of charging up the “bar’ of the Hint option:

  • locate and click a hidden Harlquin logo in a scene (it appears in every playable scene) to give the Hint bar an instant full charge.
  • the Hint bar self-charges within thirty seconds
  • click on two hidden objects in a quick succession will feed a shot of charge to the Hint bar.

If you randomly click around the playable scene too often in a go, the cursor will freeze for a couple of seconds to remind you this is draining the Hint bar. The rest of the puzzles are jigsaw puzzles, memory games ( and logic puzzles (all involves numbers, which I initially found alarming as I’m dyscalculic, but I managed to solve them without help; it’s that easy). If you get stuck or bored with a certain mini game, you can always click on “Skip’ (which appears after a minute or so) to bypass this mini game.

The overall design makes it simple enough for anyone to learn how to play the game with ease.

Still, how was the gameplay? And the story? Ha! What story? Actually, what romance? Let’s be fair-’ there is a plot of sort, which involves a conspiracy against the Prince and it’s down to Allie and Shaun to put a stop to it. It’s quite sad that this plot is a lot more interesting than Allie’s romance with the Prince.

Their romance is narrated through brief conversations and super-short “dates’ in chat bubbles and still graphics (and one in a while, a comic strip). And there is always something happens that cuts their date short. One dance, oops! I have to go. Hi! I’m so sorry I was busy. Want to go for a horse ride? After a cheesy comic strip, oops! I have to go. And on it goes. I mean, seriously, the romantic development of Allie and her Prince barely exists.

In a way, it’s quite ironic that for a game to revolve around the Harlequin branding so heavily, we as players don’t get to see the actual development of Allie and Prince Adrian’s relationship. Prince Adrian dashed here and there so when he or Allie made love declarations, it prompted me to say, “Based on what? You didn’t even see him that much. You saw his advisor a lot more, for heaven’s sake.” I felt it would be better if it was Prince Adrian who solved the puzzles, not Allie’s colleague Shaun who seemed to have more fun by getting tangled with a conspiracy to steal the Prince’s place in the throne.

Either way, Allie and Prince Adrian of Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire wins an award for having the shortest courtship in history of romance genre. I was going to say one day, but I can’t be sure. There isn’t really a good sense of time transition. At least, not for me.

As for the gameplay? I felt there were too many Hidden Object sequences that didn’t seem to be that interesting. I would have liked it more if it was balanced with mini games and puzzles. I enjoyed the Map puzzle (on the Hard level) the most. It was challenging and interesting.

Although I was new to casual gaming, I wasn’t impressed. I was gutted, to be honest, especially after I played a couple of other HOGs. Because it could have been so much better. Good HOGs do exist. Such as Empress of the Deep: The Darkest Secret, which is probably the best and most enjoyable HOG I played so far.

Could a romance work within a HOG? A couple of months ago, I was roped in as a beta tester on Tiger Eye, Part 1: Curse of the Riddle Box, a HOG adaptation of Marjorie M. Liu’s debut romance novel, and having played it, I certainly think it’s possible.

But this doesn’t mean Hidden Object of Desire is the worst game (A Vampire Romance: Paris Stories wins that award; hands down) because it isn’t. It’s just that- well, it’s average. Forgettable, even.

If Harlequin issues another HOG, I’d probably go for it because I can’t help but hope it’s an improvement on Hidden Object of Desire. Until then, I’d advise you to give the free one-hour trial a try to see if you would enjoy it.

Chances are- you probably would if you don’t have the time to devote to a game longer than twenty minutes per day. I played this game four times (for the sake of this review!) and each time, a list of objects was different, which could justify the cost in terms of replayability. C+

Mac version (10.4) and Windows version (XP/Vista) A one-hour trial is available for both operating systems. Full game: US$6.99 All major payment methods (including paypal) accepted and gift certificates available.

I’ll play and review Vision in White (based on Nora Roberts’s novel of same title) and Tiger Eye, Part 1: Curse of the Riddle (based on Marjorie M. Liu’s novel) next.

20 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention New post: GAME REVIEW: Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire -- Topsy.com
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 13:18:12

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by dearauthor. dearauthor said: New post: GAME REVIEW: Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire http://bit.ly/cl6F7r [...]

  2. Mireya
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 13:40:09

    I am interested to read your review on Visions in White. I played it on Sunday (the whole thing), and I was unimpressed with the actual love story. I bought this one, but have yet to play it. I am more of a hardcore MMO type of gamer, but I am trying these for a change of pace.

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  3. RebeccaJ
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 13:40:33

    Hmmm, ok this is making my old Mystery Date game look pretty doggone simplistic…
    Sigh. I always used to get the bum.

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  4. Maili
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 15:14:37

    @Mireya
    There is ‘casual MMO’, weird enough. It’s basically a hybrid of a social networking community and puzzle games. Example: Puzzle Pirates.
    I really look forward to your opinion when the ViW review goes up. Thanks!

    @RebeccaJ
    Is this the Mystery Date game you meant? I’d love to try that because it looks rather fun.

    Casual games are easy to install and play. It’s just like ‘plug and go’. I hope you’ll give one a try some day. If you feel wary or would like some guidance, please give me a shout any time.

    P.S. You get to see a naked bum if you play Tiger Eye. :D

    (P.P.S. I do know what you meant by ‘bum’.)

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  5. Estara
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 15:33:04

    And *I’m* interested in your review of the Marjorie Liu adaptation, so that’s neat that you already mentioned you’d review it ^^. They don’t seem to have a demo download for that game, so I much prefer hearing some impressions from players first.

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  6. Maili
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 15:41:17

    @Estara
    Ha! I asked PassionFruit Games yesterday about lack of demo (as some friends aren’t keen on buying without giving it a trial run) and they said they are putting out a demo some time this week.
    Thanks for expressing interest. It’s motivating my lazy self to finish the review ASAP. (Same with ViW!) Cheers.

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  7. Mireya
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 16:13:38

    To anyone thinking these games are too complex, they really are not. However, bear in mind that if you have poor eyesight, they may impose added eye strain on you. Also, anyone with poor resolution graphics, should avoid them for the very same reason. That being said, these games are called “casual” because you can pretty much stop whenever you want and come back later. The game “saves” where you are automatically, upon exiting. Additionally, they are “user-friendly”. Don’t feel intimidated by them.

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  8. JenD
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 17:46:25

    Dang. I was really hoping the HQN game would be great- along the lines of Ravenhurst and Return To Ravenhurst.

    Thanks for the heads up. As an avid HOG, IHOG and FROG player I can tell this game would bore me from game play and total lack of story- both of which are squarely in the ‘must have’ category for me.

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  9. RebeccaJ
    Apr 30, 2010 @ 19:56:25

    @#3 Maili, yes, that was my favorite game! “Open the door for YOUR mystery date!” Unfortunately, it’s going to seem INCREDIBLY simplistic compared to any computer game today. But it was a hoot!

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  10. Rosario
    May 01, 2010 @ 02:10:49

    @JenD: Re: Ravenhearst, I was thinking the same thing! Those were the best I’ve played. Do you have others to recommend?

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  11. Maili
    May 01, 2010 @ 04:19:12

    @Mireya
    Perfectly said. Thank you.

    @JenD
    I had to google IHOG and FROG to find out what those acronyms meant.
    “A HOG is a Hidden Object game and an IHOG is an Interactive Hidden Object game. You use the objects you find in an IHOG to interact with things on the screen.” (I couldn’t find info on FROG. Help.) It seems that the games I enjoyed the most are actually IHOG (interactive hidden object game).

    No, HP:HOOD isn’t anything like Return To Ravenhearst. HP:HOOD is largely HOG with a variety of mini games/puzzles (if it wasn’t for a couple of interesting ones, it’d get grade D (‘C’ is ‘average’ and ‘D’ is ‘only if you have the time to read/play’ in my books)). I think the nearest thing to HP:HOOD is Mystery: The Case of the Copycat Curator or Shutter Island, but HP:HOOD has fewer locations, fewer characters and paper-thin plot.

    So yes it’s rather disappointing that HP:HOOD is so average. Looking on the bright side, it’s not as irritating and repetitive as some mini games in James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet (some of those stereotypes…? Ugh, what were you thinking, Jane Jensen? Go back to Gabriel Knight 4 or just finish Grey Matter, please).

    I look forward to your response to Rosario’s question.

    @RebeccaJ
    But I do enjoy simple fun games. I have asked a friend – a.k.a. awesome treasure hunter (she’d managed to find a hard-to-find board game: Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Whoo!) – to find a copy for me. :D Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    @Rosario
    Whoa, you enjoy playing this kind of games? That’s fantastic. Please share your recs when you have the time. Thanks.

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  12. Estara
    May 01, 2010 @ 05:25:01

    @Maili: Good to hear! A gamer/sf/romance LJFriend of mine bought the first part of the Tiger Eye game and isn’t too disappointed as of now. Here are her first impressions.

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  13. Rosario
    May 01, 2010 @ 09:08:35

    @Maili: I do! I have to hold myself back a bit, though, because when I get started I get addicted and can’t stop playing. I’ve never found something as great as the Ravenhearst games, but one I enjoyed that was based on a book was Death on the Nile, based on the Agatha Christie novel. Eden’s Quest, which I recently played, was also all right.

    And though not hidden objects, I really love one called Flower Shop Big City Break (don’t know what that sort of game is called, it’s like Dinner Dash), and a Cradle of Rome, which is the match 3 to end all match 3s!

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  14. Jody
    May 01, 2010 @ 09:15:29

    I was unimpressed with Hidden Object of Desire. OTOH, Empress of the Deep is wonderful, as are the Dream Chronicles. Beautiful graphics, a variety of puzzles that are challenging without being maddening.

    Vision in White is faithful to the book’s details. It’s a lot more fun if you’ve read it–you’re part of the story. Otherwise it’s kind of tedious. Some of the objects are REALLY small and the snow scene made me crazy. All that white on white.

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  15. Maili
    May 01, 2010 @ 15:03:11

    @Estara: I don’t quite agree with one of her comments (“probably what I imagine dating sims with plot to be”). It’s true that some puzzles are pretty easy, but that’s what – as you noted – a casual game is, isn’t it? I look forward to seeing her review, though, so cheers for the link.

    @Rosario: Hm, you might like Syberia. It was released years ago, but it seems it’s been reissued through BigFishGames. Knowing your taste in mystery novels, I think it’s worth getting. Actually, I might buy it to see if they’ve made changes to it. When you can, try Darkfall and The Last Express as well (that’s if they are still around).
    If you want something cheesy-eerie, try Camp Legends: The Hookman. It’s quite short, but so fun and reasonably tough. (I admit, during the game, it once made me jump.)

    @Jody:
    Oh, man – Empress of the Deep surprised me! I loved the opening and some puzzles were fun and reasonably challenging. I have to admit that when I saw how it was laid out, I cringed because I deeply disliked Myst and its clones, but it was better than I expected. The secret was easy to guess, but the journey was fun. Since you liked EOTD, I’ll certainly get the Dream Chronicles. Thank you!

    Yes, you’ve named two of my problems with ViW (and one with Tiger Eye, incidentally). Good point about the book.

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  16. BevBB
    May 01, 2010 @ 17:32:52

    Dang. I was really hoping the HQN game would be great- along the lines of Ravenhurst and Return To Ravenhurst.

    I love HOGs and Big Fish Games. ;-)

    I’m not sure any HOGs they have are as good as any of their Mystery Case File line, which are what Ravenhurst and Return to Ravenhurst are part of. Of course, the really big difference isn’t simply content but time consumption. The Harlequin game can be play/replayed in about an hour.

    Return To Ravenhurst takes 3-4 hours minimum just to replay. And that’s if one is clipping along at a fairly fast rate and get all the puzzles solved as efficiently as possible, some of which are pretty involved. It usually takes a lot longer than that.

    Ravenhurst doesn’t take quite as long but it’s still a lot more involved than something simpler like the Harlequin game. It’s kind of like comparing checkers to chess. They might look like they’re the same type of game, but there’s a whole lot more to one than the other.

    More to the point, one is designed to be played a lot faster, I think. Possibly because they think that’s what the audience wants?

    And, yeah, most HOGs are easier to play at night when the onscreen visual contrasts are better, which I think may be a design flaw since they don’t allow for changing the contrast that I’ve found. I thought that was a problem with my own eyes until I noticed my son was having the same problem.

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  17. RebeccaJ
    May 01, 2010 @ 19:11:30

    @ Maili, Great! I just wanted you to be prepared…lol. I loved it when I was a kid.

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  18. Maili
    May 02, 2010 @ 04:48:01

    @BevBB: I played Return to Ravenhearst about a month ago and in honesty, I can’t remember anything about the game now. That, to me, shows I wasn’t as impressed with it as some were. I think it’s probably because I played Love & Death: Bitten just before Return to Ravenhearst, which has similar design and graphical elements.
    I haven’t tried Fate and the original Ravenhearst, but Mystery Case File: Dire Grove? Fun, but I disliked those videos. Then again, I never liked The Blair Witch Project.

    Ravenhurst doesn't take quite as long but it's still a lot more involved than something simpler like the Harlequin game. It's kind of like comparing checkers to chess. They might look like they're the same type of game, but there's a whole lot more to one than the other.

    True. I’d list it this way:

    Point-and-click adventure games = chess
    Adventure-style HOG = reversi
    IHOG = draught (checkers)
    HOG = noughts and crosses
    :D

    More to the point, one is designed to be played a lot faster, I think. Possibly because they think that's what the audience wants?

    It’s possible. One certainly can play HP:HOOD without following the story at all. Perhaps my judgement was affected by being so used to having plot-driven puzzles and great stories in adventure games. In fairness, those are what makes adventure games not always quite replayable, so with this in mind, HP:HOOD is better off as it’s certainly re-playable.
    I still feel, though, Gunnar Games seem to have ultra-low expectations of romance readers. I couldn’t help but feel there’s a “They are busy housewives, right? Yeah, chuck in something that resembles a plot, a perky heroine, handsome guys, the usual HOG game with just ten or so locations, simple-enough mini games then brand it as a romantic HOG; they’ll be happy as lark” feel to HP:HOOD. This is likely not true in real life as I may be feeling a tat hypersensitive (as in being conscious of non-romance players’ perspective of a romance-branded game), but that’s how I felt when I played the game.

    And, yeah, most HOGs are easier to play at night when the onscreen visual contrasts are better

    Yeah, quite a few HOGs that were surprisingly (visually) dark. I wonder why.

    (Random comment: If there is an 2009 adventure game I have to recommend, it’d be Machinarium (Mac, Linux, Windows). It’s innovative, truly user-friendly, fun, challenging, and painfully adorable. I loved it. Edited: And it’s about a robot on a quest to find his missing love of his life. So it’s a romance!)

    @RebeccaJ: :)

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  19. BevBB
    May 02, 2010 @ 14:00:01

    Finally got back after the storms let up around here. At least I hope they’re moving out of our area. Now we just have to wait out the flooding. Oye.

    Anyway, the video stuff on Return to Ravenhurst is probably its biggest fault, mainly because it can’t be skipped which is allowed on other games.

    As to the possible low expectations for the audience for HP:HOOD, I’d say they were definitely there. One big thing that made my son grit his teeth – and yes he did check it out ;-) – was that it was more or less “impossible” to lose what with the way they set the hint bar up.

    Of course, technically, that’s pretty much true of all the Big Fish Games to a certain extent once one learns how to play. Evens RtR allows for the player to skip puzzles and the hint bar in it can be waited out too. It simply adds time to the counter in response so that you don’t break any records.

    But there was certainly a much greater sense of “no negative consequences” in the HP:HOOD that I haven’t run across in any other game I’ve played from Big Fish which I found a tad odd. Significantly odd.

    Of course I haven’t actually tried any of thier children’s games either. o.O

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  20. Estara
    May 05, 2010 @ 15:11:28

    @Maili: She sent me a reply comment on my comment on her review (*grins at convoluted description*) and seems to have found a bug in the Tiger Eye game! I hope you’re getting along better.

    ReplyReply

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