Hidden-object games are a genre that doesn’t get a whole lot of attention in gaming media, because they’re almost entirely aimed at adult women and most people who write about games are a) men and b) young, or at least never grew up. The Venn diagram of these two demographics is basically a pair of circles several feet apart from each other on a very large piece of paper.
I’m not denying that I fit the “never grew up” category.
Moreover, with how politicized gaming has become in the last few years, they’re awkward exceptions to a lot of arguments, so there’s real motivation to pretend they don’t exist. They almost always have women protagonists, who are generally in interesting jobs, there’s very little violence in them, and most of them are developed in Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia, so they come out of some of the poorest countries in the world. When your narrative is that the games industry is overrun by Californian tech bros making male power fantasies, HoGs are… inconvenient.
Mostly, I like them because they make me feel like I’m actually using that grey mush I keep between my ears for something other than deciding which particular bad guy I’m going to shoot next. They almost all have a nice mix of needing to sort through screens full of junk looking for the Right Doohickey To Advance The Plot and needing to solve puzzles to open doors so you can get to the next screen full of junk.
I am somewhat simplifying things here, mind you. In a similar way, you could describe traditional adventure games as filling your inventory with random junk and then rubbing every piece of random junk up against everything else in the world in the desperate hope that doing so will advance the plot. I think I stole that description from Yahtzee, it’s too clever for me to have come up with it on my own.
Anyway, I spent a few hours this week playing through the first three games in Artifex Mundi’s “Grim Legends” series, and had a good time with all of them. There are no connections between any of the games – the first has you traveling to your sister’s wedding and discovering that there is Something Very Wrong With The Groom, and also your sister is abducted by a bear, the second has you playing a doctor who winds up in the middle of The Brothers Grimm’s The Six Swans (actually, there are SEVEN Swans, and an evil peacock), and the third has you playing an amnesiac member of a Mysterious Order of monster hunters who all look rather like characters from the Assassin’s Creed series and, well, hunt monsters. Mysteriously.
As descriptions go, I didn’t exactly stick the landing there. I recognize this. What I’m trying to get at is that you rarely know exactly what you’re getting when you start one and that the stories can be quite unusual at times.
Grim Legends 3 is a bit of an odd duck, because it’s the first HoG I’ve played that has “twitch” elements. There’s a spell/counterspell combat system that involves matching runes against opponents, and many of the achievements are time-based. These games are usually VERY relaxed affairs with no demands on your reaction time, so it stands out. It made playing through the story more interesting, for sure, though I don’t think every HoG needs to add similar systems.
All of them have little side stories you can play after the main game, either little sequels or just extra information on the characters you meet in the game. They tend to be things you can knock out in an hour or so, so they’re really just there if you liked what you played through and want to see some more of it.
Alternately, you can ignore the plot, skip all the cutscenes, and just bounce from puzzle to puzzle until you are temporarily inconvenienced by end credits rolling and need to go and start another one. This is made easy because older HoGs frequently wind up bundled for pennies on the dollar at Indiegala, Groupees, or Humble Bundle.
So… if you’re HoG-curious, those are good places to check out. Some Artifex Mundi games have even been showing up on the PS4 and Xbone, though I’m not sure how well they could possibly work with a controller. I personally use a Surface 3 for my HoG sessions and I think they work really well with a touch interface.