For some reason, the hidden object sub-genre of puzzles is very popular during this console generation. There isn't one breakout title that's taken the world by storm, per se, but there seems to be a rise in the number of games that fit this description. Beyond the PC, the Nintendo DS has been the system of choice for developers of this sub-genre, mostly due to the intuitive nature of the stylus and touch-screen, but technical limitations and subsequent poor design force people to skip most of these titles. It's a shame, then, that City Interactive's Vampire Moon: The Mystery of the Hidden Sun might go unnoticed thanks to the work of its predecessors because it demonstrates the correct way to do hidden object games on the handheld system.
Despite the title's indication that the plot deals with vampires, Vampire Moon leans more toward the traditional, Bram Stoker vampires than the modern versions. You play the role of Emily Davis, a New York reporter who's been assigned to Transylvania at the last minute to cover the story of a lunar eclipse that has lasted longer than normal. You're supposed to meet up with a professor once you land, but there's no sign of him. With a castle occupied by someone who doesn't want you there and a town fearing the worst from the eclipse, you take it upon yourself to find the professor and get to the bottom of the mysterious force behind the eclipse.
For most of the game, you're given a list of hidden objects in a scene, and you're charged with finding them. Some objects stand out like sore thumbs while others are very well hidden. Unlike other titles, where you have to zoom in to the picture to get a better view, the camera zooms in for you, saving you the trouble of fiddling with gameplay mechanics instead of concentrating on locating the objects.
In addition to finding the objects in the list, you'll also find red gems that give you a big point boost, green gems that provide extra hints when you're having a hard time finding an object, and scrolls that give you more background on vampire lore. In a few situations, you must use an object or two to solve a bigger puzzle, such as opening a door or unlocking a chest to get another item and progress the story. You rely on the object itself as a clue in figuring out how to solve the puzzle. A few other situations give you entirely different puzzles to solve, such as assembling a map from torn postcard pieces or getting out of a labyrinth within a set amount of time. While these occurrences don't happen too often, they break the monotony of solving hidden object puzzles over and over again.
If there is one flaw that plagues the game, it would be its overall length. At two hours, the game experience is very short, especially if you play it through as one long game session as opposed to smaller gaming bursts. There are other factors that don't sit well when combined with the game length. Without spoiling anything, the plot felt somewhat original, but the ending felt abrupt, almost as if it were placed there because there wasn't a proper conclusion for the story. Another factor has to do with the lack of random item placement in each level. Throughout the game, you revisit some scenes, and although a few items on the list have changed, a few do show up again. Making matters worse, a majority of the items appear in the same places as before. It really weakens the game's difficulty and if you have a good memory, it makes the two-hour story even shorter.
One of the big faults of hidden object titles on the DS is the graphics. A majority of them display the scene in such low resolution that finding any object becomes a more difficult task than intended. With the game almost always zoomed in on the scene, that isn't the case here. Pictures are displayed in a resolution that's good enough to prevent blurring or pixelization when viewed at the default range. While there are icons on the lower screen, they are just the right size to prevent them from being obstructive or difficult to discern. For the genre, that's all that's really needed.
The controls are as good as you would expect for a title like this. Both the d-pad and the face buttons can be used for scrolling through the scene, and the touch-screen is used to select items and scroll through the scene. Both methods work well enough, and the touch-screen is rather responsive. The only issue during the review period was that some puzzles required multiple taps or taps on specific places to activate properly. It didn't occur often, though, so it wasn't much of an issue.
From a technical standpoint, the sound starts off nicely but gets tedious as you progress. The score is quite nice, as the instrumental melodies invoke a mood akin to classical horror films. It's more mysterious than frightening, but it works well with the atmosphere. Sadly, it seems like there are only a couple of musical pieces for the whole game; it becomes apparent when you realize that the music doesn't stop playing when you enter a new scene or puzzle. In time, you learn to tune it out, but that doesn't excuse the fact that the music isn't very distinctive.
Vampire Moon: The Mystery of the Hidden Sun is a good hidden object game despite its faults. The pictures are clear enough, and the little touches — using items in a scene, using minigames to unlock doors, etc. — work well. The brevity prevents it from wearing out its welcome, but the small range of differences per scene doesn't help with replayability once you beat the game. At its budget price, it's easy to recommend to fans of the genre. Just don't be surprised when the experience ends rather quickly.
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