India’s first “hidden object” game is a study in head-scratching confusion.
On the one hand, Ghost Town Mysteries: Bodie is a fully India developed game, made by Gaming Hungama, the game development arm of entertainment company Hungama Digital Media, a studio known for small, Web-based game tie-ins with Bollywood.
Hide and seek: Hidden object games rely on complex, layered artwork.
On the other, the content is as far removed from the country as it can be, being the story of the mysterious death of a six-year-old in a California ghost town.
The “hidden object” genre is a particularly popular niche in the video game world that has thrived on online distribution. It involves lovely, static artwork in which various objects, usually listed on the side of the screen, are hidden cleverly. Find these objects (a task accomplished by staring blankly at a computer screen till patterns emerge), and you progress. Most hidden object games have a thin semblance of a plot to wrap around this gameplay device, and these range from simple murder mysteries (like this one) to 19th century literary works (The Count of Monte Cristo, unknown to Alexander Dumas, is quite a popular hidden object game).
Bodie sticks to this template, but adds some bizarre variations to the theme.
You play sidekick to newspaper reporter Amy, who’s investigating the strange death of a six-year-old girl, and gets stuck in the ghost town of Bodie, California, after a “ghost” steals her car keys. Finding the key means navigating through a series of locations in the town, where you try and find a list of hidden objects.
Once you find objects from each location, the game awards you a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and takes you back to a “graveyard”. Here, the pieces must be arranged to solve particular puzzles that unlock keys to further locations. These are fun initially, but the creators should understand that the player may not want to solve 17 identical puzzles, each more cryptic than the other. Since the game is locked into this particular path, completing these sometimes infuriating puzzles is essential for progress. Why Bodie makes it complicated for the player to get to the interesting part—the hidden object bits—is a design decision that boggles the mind.
The hallmark of any good hidden object game is the artwork, which must be pretty as well as clever in disguising odd objects in familiar locations. Bodie falters on both counts. The art is unremarkable, and the animations are repetitive. A grating soundtrack doesn’t help either. The pacing and difficulty don’t scale effectively and the game doesn’t manage to stay tricky and interesting at the same time. It’s a lesson Hungama is strongly advised to take from the example of the Mystery Case Files games, possibly the most popular (and most polished) hidden object game series.
Hungama has announced that Bodie is the first game in a series of eight similar titles. There’s a good game hidden somewhere deep within Bodie’s desolate locations, but it’s perhaps best to wait for future instalments.
Ghost Town Mysteries: Bodie is available for Rs347.59. For the unconvinced, a free demo can be downloaded from ghosttownmysteries