[Insert Snarky Comment Here]
Last week, Alawar Entertainment released the third entry in the Snark Busters hidden-object adventure series, subtitled High Society. Like its two predecessors, High Society is essentially a stand-alone experience, though it features a handful of slight nods to the other games in the franchise. The gameplay has been changed up a bit as well, due presumably to a change in Stargaze Studios, its in-house developer’s, lineup.
Snark Busters 3 has a lot of similarities in design to some other recent Alawar titles, most notably Dark Strokes: Sins of the Fathers with its steampunk-sytle-meets-Victorian-aesthetics visual appeal, and House of 1,000 Doors: The Palm of Zoroaster in the puzzle design and gameplay departments.
Players must take on the role of world-famous photographer Elizabeth Hughes, as she attempts to clear her fiancé’s name of a crime he didn’t commit and uncover a dastardly plot behind a vile villainess’ schemes. Along the way, she’ll make acquaintances with various friendly ghosts who will aid her on her journey, and open up an alternate mirror world to delve into, the “Backward World”, where everything is the reverse of what it is in the real world. Elizabeth’s spectral friends will also set her on a hunt for the snark, an elusive mythical creature who likes to cause mayhem and leave mischievous destruction in its wake. Members of an exclusive club of snark hunters in life, the specters task Elizabeth with the tantalizing challenge of catching the snark once and for all along the way of proving her love’s innocence.
The game uses the idea of Elizabeth’s photography expertise as a means of linking together the game’s five chapters. The ultimate goal during each chapter is to uncover a film negative, a further clue in the mystery, which Elizabeth will take back to her photo lab – the game’s hub-world, of sorts. There, you’ll need to use Elizabeth’s equipment to develop the film, revealing the location of the game’s next chapter. The whole idea will be instantly familiar to series veterans, as it is identical to one of Snark Busters 2‘s later puzzles of developing a photograph.
While five chapters does appear to make this game the shortest entry in the series so far (the first and second installments featured seven and six chapters, respectively), this is made up for through a slight increase in some of the puzzle’s difficulty, and a new approach to the hidden-object finding. Gone are the made free-for-all clickfests from the previous games, where one simply had to look around the screen for out-of-place items that assembled objects you were looking for. Instead, you’ll be given a pictographic list of materials to find that need to be combined in some way to interact with areas of the screen, and players may be searching to complete up to four or five separate puzzles simultaneously.
For example, to assemble a magician’s wand needed to complete a particular level, you’ll need to locate instructions for how to assemble various ingredients to create a wand, which you’ll then have to individually locate as well, and combine according to the directions to ultimately create the wand you need to conjure another item required to exit the level. While this is certainly not a revolutionary new method of handling seek-n-find games, it is a slightly more cerebral approach than the mad click fest we had in Snark Busters 1 & 2.
Puzzles in High Society are presented with a slight twist; of course, I realize there are only so many different ways hidden-object games can present their scavenger hunts. Rather than bringing you to a separate screen stuffed full of various mismatched items for you to sift through, High Society hides all of its puzzle items within the actual locations themselves. The snark is a mischievous creature, and likes to dismantle and disassemble machinery. For Elizabeth to progress, she’ll frequently have to find pieces across various locations to put the contraptions back together; clicking on a broken item in the environment will bring up a radial display of the different pieces needed to repair it, with items color-coded to indicate whether they can be found in the current screen or must be sniffed out in another location entirely. This streamlines the gameplay a bit more, as the adventure and puzzle sections are no longer segregated into separate parts of the game; any place you go is a potential hidden-object hunt, as items are hidden literally everywhere!
Each location consists of several screens of beautifully hand-painted idyllic environments, in which antiquated steampunk machinery mingles with nature, waiting to be repaired and utilized once again. In the opening chapters alone, such assorted contraptions as winged Cupid robots, mechanical penguins, and floating garden islands share space with mutated killer plants and ill-tempered canines. Since each chapter flows independently from all the others, the game takes full advantage to place you in as wide a variety of settings as possible, from pirate ships to television studios, and several in-between.
The Final Verdict
Apart from its capable searching puzzles, Alawar has spruced High Society up to be an even more attractive purchase with pretty and inviting visuals and, for the first time in the series, a full voice-over cast, though I found some of the performances to be quite strained and silly. Heroine Elizabeth’s over-bearing insistence on constantly referring back to and comparing everything to her impending wedding plans also shows an unfortunate one-sidedness in the writing department, though this is balanced out by a few witty comments here and there later in the game. But in a game that doesn’t take itself overly serious, these are perhaps forgivable points (especially with writing not being the prime focus of a hidden-object game). Overall, High Society certainly warrants a look for fans of the genre, and Alawar’s “Try before you pay” business model robs any hidden-object enthusiasts of their last excuse not to take a look at High Society. It doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it is a competent addition to it.