Polish the magnifying glasses and clean the notebooks, it’s hidden object time!
The always prolific Artifex Mundi are here with their latest mix of adventures and item finding. This time, it’s the start of a “new” series, a rare thing for the Mundi. But that’s “new” in quotes, because it was a game originally released on PC in 2013, when Thor had only released one movie and Lance Armstrong had yet to admitted to doping.
Either way, we welcome the series to Xbox with open arms. We’re hosting because – unlike most Artifex Mundi games – it tries something new. It’s not going to suddenly pivot to become a go-kart game, but it tries to convey the feelings of being a detective, examining crime scenes rather than chests full of trash. For a hopelessly conservative publisher and set of games, afraid to make the slightest change, that’s pretty big.
You wouldn’t know 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek tries something new from its earliest moments, though. It starts off like pretty much every Artifex game, with a captured damsel sending you a note moments before she disappears, and you pack up to save her. Paranormal shenanigans are unfolding and an evil necromancer seems to be behind it all. It’s weird that Artifex rarely deviates from this formula, yet here we go again.
But upon arrival in the sleepy town of Serpent Creek, there is is a slight change in tone. Most Artifex games opt for a campy, mustachioed tone to keep the horror light. But 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is on the darker side, playing its (mostly) horror straight up and creating reasonably palpable tension. Snake-eyed horrors creep in and out of rooms, and that pushes at least a 12, while most hidden object games stay firmly in PG territory. It’s a welcome change of tone, mainly because it’s foreign territory for this kind of game.
9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek shows its age in its artwork, though. Hidden object tables in Artifex Mundi games tend to be uniformly detailed and pictorial, but here they don’t quite meet the quality bar. Readability is often poor, with hidden object scene elements hard to make out. Most notable are the characters and their animations, which are far from the editor’s best work. They all look sketchy and chunky, and we weren’t completely wowed by them.
Much of what makes up 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is conventional, if you’ve ever played a similar hidden object game. There’s the usual graphical adventure, as you collect items in your inventory and start using them at places in the environment. If there’s a quirk, it’s that there are no inventory interactions, which is otherwise extremely common in the larger series. You don’t build or repair items in your backpack, and that’s about the only noticeable difference.
It is the hidden objection that is markedly different, however. Every once in a while, the title’s ‘9 clues’ kick in, and you’re given a hidden object scene, but without a map of items to discover. Instead, you have to scan the image for clues, which – in almost all cases – means signs of disturbance: a knocked over chair, claw marks on the walls, that sort of thing. Find one of them and they will be circled in red and their name will be added to the list of items instead of removed from it.
It’s nice to see Artifex and developers G5 Entertainment deviate from the formula here, but it – sadly – doesn’t work satisfactorily. It’s trivial, for starters: the developers can’t help but hold your hand, changing the cursor each time you hover over a hint. It’s too easy to fall into the rut of scanning the image with your cursor to watch for a change, rather than reading it properly. And it’s all the more tempting when the scenes are murky and lacking in detail. When you’re looking for the tiniest bit of mud in a dark corner of the room, it’s so much easier to do with a bit of trial and error.
At the end of these sequences, you can’t make any deductions either: the main character puts together the evidence (often in a hilarious, “it couldn’t have worked out like that” way), rather than you from the detective . This is a missed opportunity: with a few simple questions to prompt you to come up with answers, these sections could have made you feel like a PI, and deviate from the formula to boot. As it stands, it’s a glorified cutscene.
Everything else is paint by numbers. The other hidden object scenes are extremely simple, with far less interaction than modern versions. Everything is in the open, ready to be spotted. And the exploration is always on a tight leash: you’re never given more than a few scenes at a time, and the result is that you can often feel a little on the way to an answer. In our humble opinion, the most effective hidden object games are those that stretch out a bit, encouraging you to remember a big list of locations and potential puzzle solutions.
There are multiple entries in the positive and negative columns for 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek. After playing all the hidden object games on Xbox, we were pleased to find some experimentation: the slightly more hardcore horror tone was a breath of dull air, and we at least enjoyed the attempt at bring in some detective work, even if they haven’t. it works fine.
But the list of negatives is longer than the list of positives. This is an older, more moldy game from the Artifex Mundi archives, and it shows in the string art and the lack of some of the things we’ve taken for granted: namely a sense of more sprawling exploration and more elaborate puzzles. It feels like it’s from an earlier era, when Artifex was less sure an audience could overcome real challenges.
9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is for Hidden Object finalists, then, or dabblers who want something a little darker and grittier from their storylines.
You can purchase 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek on the Xbox Store
Polish the magnifying glasses and clean the notebooks, it’s hidden object time! The ever-prolific Artifex Mundi are here with their latest mash-up of adventure and item-finding. This time, it’s the start of a “new” series, a rare thing for the Mundi. But that’s “new” in quotes, because it was a game originally released on PC in 2013, when Thor had only released one movie and Lance Armstrong had yet to admitted to doping. Either way, we welcome the series to Xbox with open arms. We host because – unlike most Artifex Mundi games – it’s hard…
9 Clues: The Secret Of The Serpent Creek Review
9 Clues: The Secret Of The Serpent Creek Review
- A Darker, Darker Take on Hidden Object Stories
- Attempts something new with its crime scene investigation
- Has all the usual joys of a hidden object game
- Crime scenes do not satisfy
- Although darker, the story is still conventional
- Feels easier and with more grip than most
- Many thanks for the free copy of the game, go to – Bought by TXH
- Formats – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
- Reviewed version – Xbox Series X
- Release date – April 15, 2022
- Introductory price from – £12.49