October 05, 2009 by Chad Sapieha
I love it when I feel game makers working hard to engage my interest. That's exactly the way I felt while playing Gardenscapes, a new hidden object game from Playrix Entertainment that sports top notch presentation, great art, and game design that kept me perpetually wanting to play just one more puzzle.
The game begins with the player inheriting a mansion behind which sits a once resplendent garden. With the help of the butler, Austin, your job is to restore the garden to its former glory by purchasing a wide variety of ready-made elements, ranging from shrubs and gazebos to birdcages and mini-golf holes.
Problem is, you're broke. To earn the cash necessary to renovate the backyard you decide to rummage through the mansion's 15 rooms and sell off items in jumble sales. Each sale takes place in a single room and has the player meeting the demands of individual customers. Men and women will wander in and request things like coats, chess pieces, and kitchenware, and it's up to you to find these items as quickly as possible to keep customers from losing patience.
The genius here is that everything we do not only makes sense within the context of the narrative, but also moves us toward a grander goal. The faster we find objects for our customers, the happier they are and the more money they'll pay. The more money we earn, the quicker we can afford new pieces for our garden, which in turn takes us closer to our ultimate goal of winning the city gardening club's contest for most beautiful garden. It all fits together and moves things ahead like finely machined gears.
And there are loads of little extra challenges along the way. An actor might send you a letter asking for whatever photos you can find in the house, which will send you to a room loaded with pictures. Or someone might express an interest in buttons, giving you the added goal of looking for brown plastic fasteners in each of the next several rooms in which you hold sales.
With all of the sales plus the added challenges, you'll end up visiting each of the game's 15 rooms maybe ten times over the course of the four or five hour story. That does make things start to feel a bit repetitive. Still, it's difficult to imagine many players growing bored with what they see.
That's because the artwork is beautiful. Each room is drawn in bold colors, and each of the objects for which we hunt-from the familiar, such as football helmets and lawnmowers, to the exotic, including hookahs and rapa whelk shells-are at once recognizable and interesting. What's more, the environments and many of the items we seek are highly dynamic: car lights switch on, candles burn, and binoculars and towels dangle. It makes for exciting hunting.
The garden, too, is a small delight. Austin roams around caring for it, and we can send him on little tasks to water the plants, play with the dog, or sit on a bench. He's also an everlasting fountain of text-based information, some of which is useful (he always lets us know what we need to do to keep the story moving forward), and some of which is just funny (as when he chides us for clicking on him and suggests we simply sit back and enjoy the garden).
And as a little bonus, your custom gardenscape can also function as a screensaver, with birds, butterflies, your butler, and your self-named puppy wandering about in the rain and sun.
Aside from the relatively small number of rooms to search, the only other criticism to be leveled at Gardenscapes is a lack of originality in terms of searching aids. As in some other HOGs, players can earn hints by finding question marks, click on concealed cameras to briefly reveal the locations of items currently sought, and find thermometers that offer hot/cold cues as you mouse around the screen. But at least they've been expertly implemented, helping players who are stuck without simply giving away the location of the objects they need to find.
I've been working through many hidden object games lately so I have plenty of recent titles with which to compare this one, and Gardenscapes is easily one of my current favorites. I just wish it lasted a little longer.
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