Published on March 11th, 2017 | by Graham0
Spirits of Mystery: The Fifth Kingdom Review
Summary: A well-presented adventure/hidden-object title, it's well worth a play despite being on the easy side and with a snoresome story
For the first ever post on Big Fish Review, I’m reviewing one of the most popular hidden object games – Spirits of Mystery: The Fifth Kingdom. Partly because it’s currently #15 on the Top PC games list, and partly because it looks gorgeous.
The creators, ERS, use a beautiful hand-drawn style for backgrounds and characters. It’s a little soft and blurry in fullscreen mode, but it doesn’t impact gameplay as everything in the hidden object screens remains easily identifiable.
There’s plenty of neat animation touches in the background too: hover over a birdcage in the first room and a shower of petals will flutter down. The characters themselves are somewhat animated, and fully-voiced – though the voice acting is generally hilariously bad, with one character spacing his… pauses… out oddly like Captain… Kirk.
But I don’t want this to be a negative review – in fact, I loved this game – so let’s get the other bad stuff out of the way now.
(I should note that I’m pretty new to these styles of games – for this site, I want to break out of my games comfort zone and try some genres I don’t normally go for – so some of these criticisms may be pretty common to hidden object games and accepted as part of the package. I’m just reviewing the game as I see it.)
The story is… there. It’s meant to tie together plot elements from the other Spirits of Mystery games, so for long-time devotees of the series maybe it’s more meaningful. For me, it was some rather generic fluff involving princes and princesses and a Big Bad Who Must Be Stopped, and the most tacked-on romantic subplot I’ve ever seen.
I did like that there are ways of optionally delving into the backstory further via semi-hidden portraits you can find and then investigate later for some character development, which was a nice way of letting those who are really into the story find out more without slowing the pacing down for everyone else. And Spirit of Mystery’s plot doesn’t take up much of the running time, and can be skipped entirely if desired. I’m not playing casual games for the story, anyway.
The bigger issue is the simplicity of the game, with most of the puzzles being on the easier side, some to the point of being facile. There’s a few too many times where I was just clicking matching pairs, or clicking 10 very obvious things, and it felt more like busywork than anything particular brain-engaging. There’s only two genuinely challenging puzzles in the game, both of which are those annoying ones where if you interact with one thing, it moves the things around it.
There’s also one puzzle that’s a match-three game, except it’s match-two, and it’s literally impossible to lose. I’m not sure why they included this – it’s tedious and unsatisfying and you could solve it by closing your eyes and clicking the mouse a lot. It doesn’t help that it’s recycled three times throughout the game.
That said, the difficult does ramp up somewhat in the second half of the game, and especially in the bonus chapters in the Collector’s Edition (which I’ll get to in a bit). I found myself stuck at times, not so much on the puzzles, but on missing a crucial bit of scenery, or knowing what I needed to do but not clicking in quite the right place, or the game not allowing me to do the obvious solution because there was an unclear step needed first (protip: oil everything). There were also several times where I needed to go back to a screen I’d previously cleared, to find it now contained a new hidden object puzzle.
I was never stumped for long though, partly because the game is smartly designed and you generally never have access to more than a handful of screens or inventory items at any one time. You can always brute force your way through by clicking everything on everything. There’s also a hint/skip system, which I used once on a puzzle where you had to position some birds according to an image, but the image isn’t drawn well enough to exactly match those positions. And once when I could have sworn on my life there wasn’t a bolt of lightning on the screen (ahem, there was, and I must be blind). The Collector’s Edition also includes a full walkthrough with images.
The low level of difficulty is something of a double-edged sword. While I would have liked something a little meatier, the ease of play meant that I got into a puzzle-solving groove that meant I blasted through the entire game in one sitting. It’s satisfying, it’s beautiful, and everything is just engaging enough to not leave you bored, but also never let you get stuck for long. There’s a good variety of puzzles, with the hidden object screens mixed up with plenty of others, all of which I suspect will be very familiar to genre fans. I found it incredibly addictive, and on finishing the main story, taking a second to laugh at the bizarre ending, I plunged right on into the bonus chapters included with the collector’s edition.
There’s two of these, the first of which is a five minute distraction, but the second of which added nearly two hours onto the main story’s five-ish. It was a surprisingly meaty bonus, with a few screens recycled from the main game, but mostly brand new ones. The Collector’s Edition throws in a ton of bonuses, including the full walkthrough, and lots of videos, soundtracks, images and other bits that weren’t of much interest to me, but maybe series devotees will get a kick out of.
Overall, the Spirits of Mystery: The Fifth Kingdoms impressed me. I haven’t spent a solid seven hours hooked on a game in a long time, and it has single-handedly turned me on to the hidden object genre.
What other hidden object games should I be trying? Let me know in the comments below!