Princess Case: The Royal Scoop places fans and aficionados of casual hidden-object games into the shoes of Lois Wheeler, up-and-coming entertainment reporter for a trendy gossip mag who is sent out to cover the arrival of the Royal Couple in town and uncovers the scoop of her career. Snaking her way behind the protecting lines of bodyguards and security, she makes a startling discovery that could land her the story of a lifetime: the princess has been kidnapped for ransom! As Lois becomes entangled with the FBI and their efforts to recover the blue-blooded aristocrat, she is forced to take the initiative and try her hand at gumshoeing for a change.
It’s hard to decide what to make of the plot of Anuman Interactive’s new hidden object bonanza. On the one hand, it’s not the tired haunted house or pirate island setting that we see too much of in this genre. The game instead takes place in New York City – from the glossiest hotel lobbies to the dankest basement storerooms. On the other hand, the plot is by necessity nothing more than a hastily constructed vehicle of limited interest that, at its best, struggles to support the gameplay.
Puzzle Me This
The most puzzling things about Princess Case are its detrimentally simple seek-and-find riddles. Much like Anuman’s previous effort, XIII: Lost Identity, Princess Case suffers from freshman mistakes that might have been forgivable in the early days of the hidden object casual genre. Puzzles are embarrassingly simple; the joy and relaxation of these games comes from poring over screens cluttered with objects, shapes, textures, and hidden symbols, trying to pick out the clever hiding places of deviously concealed items. Princess Case more often than not takes a different approach: only show the items you’ll need to find on-screen, require items to be found in a particular order (“See that conspicuous candelabra/floral arrangement/hat? Remember it; you’ll need to click on it in a minute!”), and place everything exactly where you’d expect it to be. No more feeling foolish for scouring the pattern of the wallpaper for a hidden picture of a fish – that fish is swimming in his aquarium, right where you’d expect him to be!
As a result, there really seems to be no challenge to any of the puzzles in the game. Though there were one or two occasions that had me spending minutes hunting for that one last pearl or pair of chopsticks, Princess Case only manages to be a fraction more challenging than XIII did. The unfortunate inclusion of puzzle screens that literally just have you hunting for one item over and over again, like finding all the glass shards of a broken window (which are plainly visible next to each other, no searching required), further detracts from the draw of this game, and makes it more of an exercise in endurance, getting from screen to screen simply to get through it. The odd match-3 or sliding block puzzle do nothing to liven up the scavenger hunt excitement so sorely missing here.
Examining the Evidence
Princess Case is a bit of a mixed bag on the presentation front. The graphics are generally clean and character models look good. Though this is a step up from the previous game, it is important to keep in mind the fact that the environments are static images, and therefore offer nothing of value other than a clean background image. Same for the character models: while the characters themselves look almost photo-realistic, it’s just a frozen image which occasionally changes its expression from smiling to worried to surprised. This doesn’t necessarily take points away from the game, but doesn’t offer anything noteworthy, either.
Now that we’ve covered what IS in the game, let’s discuss what’s missing! The low production values of Princess Case really show when I’m looking for presentation elements that should simply be taken for granted by 2012, such as animation and voice acting. Needless to say, this game sadly features neither. Not that long CG cutscenes are particularly necessary, but even an occasional animated background object would have gone a long way to inject some much-needed shine to this title. Listening to the same musical track on loop throughout the whole game also got a bit wearying, even if it was an extremely short game.
Now for the most painful part of this review: I got the distinct impression that the game wasn’t yet finished by the time it shipped. About halfway through, a mysterious stranger, represented only in silhouette, contacts Lois via phone. At first, it made sense to show a character in outline only if you haven’t met them face-to-face. But as the game continued, every new character Lois encountered, even in person, was shown via silhouette instead of an actual character image. Then it hit me: the game seemed to not have been quite finished yet, with the graphics department apparently opting to omit several character portraits from the final game! Before you get ready to angrily defend the game by lobbing counter-arguments at me, consider the seemingly incomplete ending: Lois finds a final clue that appears to point to the princess’s location. She passes along the info, and…the game is over. Literally. Was the princess found in the end? Who were the kidnappers? And were they apprehended? We don’t know, because these silly pieces of closure to the plot’s finale were deemed unnecessary by the developer, and simply omitted from the game.
The Final Verdict
Another game, another sub-par attempt by Anuman Interactive. While the hidden object genre will never see blockbuster AAA titles springing from it, these games do certainly employ production values that make them fun and enjoyable. Alas, Princess Case: The Royal Scoop stands apart from the pack in this regard.While appearing to bump up the visuals, it is woefully short, appears unfinished in several aspects, and its puzzles pack the punch of a mild-mannered toddler with foam gloves. Clocking in at just under two hours, this game can safely be avoided.