For sale: Crowbar, used only once.


hhotelWhile my wife and I are both pretty avid gamers, we don’t have a lot of similar tastes.  We can both get thoroughly hooked on MMOs for months at a time, but rarely the same ones – I go back and forth between Everquest and TERA, with occasional side jaunts into questionable free-to-play Korean PvP-focused grindfests, while she has a long-standing LoTRO habit and the occasional fling with Ragnarok Online 2.

We agreed on EQ2 and Rift, to be fair, and we both quite liked DAoC.  So, come to think of it, we’ve probably agreed on MMOs more than we’ve disagreed.

But setting that aside, she doesn’t play a lot of the manshooty games, or many rhythm games, or mahjong or 3rd-person adventure types, and I don’t play many match-3s or adventure games.

But, we have recently found common ground – and a new tradition for Saturday afternoons together on the couch – in the HOPA (“Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure”) genre, which are basically digital popcorn.  They combine your traditional adventure gamey traits, like picking up random objects off the ground and touching them to everything else you find in hopes that they will interact, with logic puzzles and hidden object scenes, where you stare at piles of random junk and try to find the SPECIFIC random junk that the game is asking you to find.

Oh, and to explain the title, you tend to use each inventory object exactly once and then throw it away, which is particularly funny if you pick up, say, three separate crowbars or crowbar-equivalent tools over the course of a single game with each only being useful in one very specific location for one very specific purpose.

While Steam (praise the GabeN!) has recently started dabbling in offering more of these for sale, the Big Name in the HOPA business is Big Fish Games, a company that makes hundreds of millions of dollars every year pumping out games that fly under the radar – or beneath the notice, if I’m being more judgmental – of the “gaming industry” as represented by Ye Auld AAA publishers and the press which republishes their press releases as news articles.

There may have been a little editorial content in that last sentence.  I am allowed to be snarky.

Anyway, when I say “digital popcorn”, I mean that these things are generally inexpensive, can be consumed in a single sitting (7 hours is a very long HOPA), and make you want another one not long after finishing.  They also tend to keep their content at a G or PG level, though that doesn’t mean that they don’t have some seriously creepy stories from time to time.

It’s also fun to play these things because, let’s be honest, they make you feel smarter.  Solving puzzles is fun, and staring at a shelf covered with macabre knickknacks trying to figure out whether the “bow” the game is asking you to find is a hair bow, an archery bow, or a violin bow, or whether it’s a completely different type of bow you’ve never heard of makes for a great feeling of accomplishment when you realize that it’s the violin bow and it’s peeking out from behind the glass jar of eyeballs.

It should also be noted that these things get a little weird from time to time.  Just putting that right out there.

They also tend to be really pretty, even when they trend towards the dark. Some of these have a lot of lovingly-hand-drawn rotting corpses.

Anyway, these are great games to play as a couple because there are certain kinds of puzzles that I’m pretty good at, and certain kinds of puzzles that my wife is crazy good at, and we both enjoy trying to figure out where stuff is in the hidden object bits, and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon…

…especially when, as in the case of “Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart”, they’re on Steam and I can use them to pump up my cheevo count.

There’s two more in that series, but we elected to play through the Lovecraft-themed “Haunted Hotel: Charles Dexter Ward” after the first one and we have something about a haunted carnival on the plate for this Saturday.

The only exception to the general enjoyability of the genre so far has been the Wii version of Mystery Case Files: Musgrave Manor, which was honestly kind of a pain due to the Wii’s low resolution.  Hidden object scenes in 480P are not great, to put it gently, and we had to resort to in-game hints far more often than either of us liked.

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