Whenever Artifex Mundi release a hidden object puzzle adventure, you more or less know what you’re getting due to the formulaic nature of their games. The quality of the puzzles on offer and the storytelling prowess of a particular title however, depends on which developer is at the helm. Given that World-Loom – previously known for their great alchemy-fuelled Lost Grimoires series – are the developers in question, expectations are fairly high for one of their most recent games on Xbox One, Scarlett Mysteries: Cursed Child. Will it be cursed by the former success, or can it continue on the path of greatness lay down before it?
Well, in many ways it’s a bit of both. While World-Loom clearly know how to create an enjoyable hidden object puzzle adventure, they don’t seem to improve on the few areas that have let them down in the past.
Scarlett Mysteries: Cursed Child tries to tug on the heartstrings from the very beginning as it introduces us to a young Scarlett Everitt being dropped off at an orphanage. Her father has run out of ideas to keep the paranormal entities surrounding her at bay, figuring the nuns running this place are a last resort in achieving this. It skips ahead a number of years until the point Scarlett embarks on a journey to find her missing father, using the special gift she has of sensing where he’s been. This leads her to the Steameyer family, but if any answers are to be garnered here, she’ll have to connect with ghostly entities and the folks they torment.
The best thing to be said about the narrative is that it’s full of twists and turns as the rather spooky tale unravels. Unfortunately the clarity in regards of what’s actually going on suffers as a result and you’ll soon stop caring about that aspect. This isn’t helped by the emotionless acting, with most of the characters coming across in such a way. For example, Scarlett is relatively unnerved at the sight of a threatening ghostly apparition before her eyes, or a place being set ablaze. There is one bright spark though, Iris, a child who’s not only voiced well, but also has an interesting personality and appearance too.
The good news for Scarlett Mysteries is that the gameplay makes up for the storytelling, with Scarlett’s special ability being a key factor. In certain parts of the game, you’ll need to use her signet ring to see visions from the past and solve puzzles to access flashbacks of moments experienced by other people – like her father. These often play out with you rotating or manoeuvring tiles to create different scenes for each of the visions. It’s a cool concept and the flashbacks lead to further problems to overcome before being allowed to return to the current time period.
As always in this genre, it’s littered throughout with clever obstacles to bypass by using whatever you’ve acquired in your inventory. If a wheel is required for a mechanism to work, then you’ll simply have to dismantle a cart for its parts through the use of a wrench. Later on, a flask of acid could come in handy to disintegrate the lock on a box. These are just a couple of solutions for the well-designed puzzles that make use of every last item you pick up.
In terms of mini-games, there’s a real variety on show here ranging from balancing and wall-climbing activities to sliding block puzzles and the matching of pairs. Other mini-games include developing a photo via mixing chemicals, guiding a ball through a labyrinth and then finding symbols to unlock a vault, and even partaking in a Minesweeper style offering to open a diary. A personal favourite though is a piano-based puzzle, which sees you having to play notes correctly and in the right order, as it’s one I’ve seldom seen before.
While that’s impressive in itself, the hidden object scenes somehow manage to keep up the high standard as well by ensuring most of them provide a different experience to the next. An ingenious scene requires you to locate items that are similar to those seen in a children’s drawing you possess. Other scenes may request a set amount of one specific object, such as flowers or anything made from silver. There are the bog standard item lists to check off too, but overall there’s a real freshness to the hidden object scene types present and they’re great. The only minor issue is in the cursor detection, meaning a correct find may not be registered in that manner.
Sadly, it won’t take more than about three hours to work through everything the main campaign of Scarlett Mysteries has to offer, which leaves any additional play-time in the hands of the bonus story. The extra chapter follows the Steameyer family and has a lacklustre narrative, however it’s still worth playing due to the consistently quality puzzles within.
In the art department, the hand-drawn environments and character designs are very much on-point with the Victorian setting of the tale. It also manages to capture the spooky vibe really well in the way it depicts the manor house and abandoned factory area. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the scenery is generally murky and old-fashioned, which isn’t so visually appealing to the eyes. Still, there’s not much else to fault in how the game looks.
Overall, Scarlett Mysteries: Cursed Child on Xbox One delivers wholly on the puzzling front thanks to an excellent hidden object scene variety, some really enjoyable mini-games, and the cool vision sequences. Where it falters most is in the storytelling, meaning you’ll no doubt lose interest in that aspect swiftly. There’s also slight concern surrounding the cursor accuracy, but if you’ve played other Artifex games then this won’t be too much of an issue.
Granted, Scarlett isn’t the most exciting protagonist in the genre, but Scarlett Mysteries: Cursed Child is easily one of the better hidden object puzzle adventures on the market. Therefore I’d certainly recommend picking it up.