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Review #361

Mystery of the Crystal Portal
Developer: Artogon Games
Publisher: G5 Entertainment
Genre: Hidden Object
Release Date: 07/06/2010

You know, it’s been a good year for gaming. Out of the thirty-four games I’ve reviewed this year, only six have received a “mediocre” or less rating from me. Meanwhile there have been a dozen games I have deemed “good” or better, which is pretty unheard of for me. In fact, 2010 has had the highest average score I have given to games that I’ve reviewed since 2004, and I only reviewed 40 games that year.

Well if the latter half of 2010 continues to supply me with god awful games like Mystery of the Crystal Portal, expect my feelings to change drastically. I went in to this pretty optimistic. I like adventure games. I like hidden object games. I like puzzle games. The preview on PSN looked neat and so when DJ (Our head of Public Relations) let me know we had a review copy of this, I happily said I’d do it. After all, I may primarily play adventure games on the PC, but 2010 has been a great year for console point and click titles as Disgaea Infinite, Secret Files: Tunguska, and Heavy Rain have shown us. So what made Crystal Portal one of the worst games I’ve sat through all year?

Let’s Review

1. Story

To be honest, MotCP doesn’t have much in the way of plot. The main character is Nicole Rankwist, a reporter in the 1920s. Her father disappeared after making a huge archeological discovery, one of which he hasn’t actually told anyone the specific about. Nicole goes to her father’s home, find his diary and then travels the world trying to track him down. You’ll go through six levels, each based on a different region of the world and ethnic stereotyping. In each area, you’ll complete multiple hidden object puzzles and then a level ending puzzle. After you collect all five pieces, you’ll go back home and well, solve the mystery of the crystal portal.

Here’s where things get stupid. After you travel the world, gathering the pieces of the portal, you go home and discover your father has already gathered the pieces and then you have to find the pieces in his secret basement. Then what the hell did you spend the past three hours collecting, you might ask? I HAVE NO IDEA. The ending cinematic is not only insipid and anti-climatic, but the game ends abruptly with a, “To Be Continued” bit of nonsense that just proves there was no real story to the game and that the extremely crappy narrative bits were thrown in just to explain why you are doing the hidden object puzzles in the first place. There is no characterization or depth to Nicole. She just blindly runs around the world collecting objects and solving puzzles because she read in her dad’s diary he went there that one time. The few other characters you encounter have but a few line of dialogue and most of it is throwaway lines like, “Hey, I lost my horseshoe. Can you find it for me?” Then when you find the horseshoe amongst the hidden objects, you get a “Thank you.”

Really this is just horrible in about every way it can be. There are some great hidden object games out there that are coupled with a really fun story. Games like Vampireville, Three Cards To Midnight or Becky Brogan. Mystery of the Crystal Portal is not one of them and it’s easy the winner of the “Worst Story of 2010″ award simply because there is next to none, and what little there is looks like it was written by gibbon with a typewriter. Ook Ook.

Story Rating: 1/10

2. Graphics

First up I do want to point out that Nicole is drawn VERY Asian, yet her father’s picture is VERY Caucasian? Adopted? Is the Mother Asian? We never know because there is no real plot!

Anyway, nearly everything in the game is a static image. There are exceptions to this, such as when you complete a collection of hidden objects. Then you get animation on the screen for a few seconds. What a sad, sad award. Baby Turtle gave you more than that. Still, the backgrounds themselves are nicely rendered. There isn’t a lot of detail, but it’s one of the better looking PSP Minis titles in terms of backgrounds.

The real problem comes with item collecting and finding. MOST hidden item games give you a list of items to try and find. MotCP gives you silhouettes with little to no detail. This doesn’t sound bad at first until you encounter a need to find a necklace and there are ten on the screen. It also happens that sometimes the item doesn’t actually match the silhouette due to being at a different angle. The items in question will only take the shape of the silhouette if you pick them up. This is pretty bad as you can image as it means you will sometimes be forced to guess and check.

Overall what’s here is acceptable. Backgrounds are nice but items themselves lack detail and are rather sloppy looking. Character portraits are jaggy and at times the graphics actually hurt the gameplay due to the silhouette issue.

Graphics Rating: 5/10

3. Sound

There isn’t a lot to talk about here. There is no voice acting and sound effects are limited to a twinkling noise if you get an object write and a negative scratching noise if you pick up something you can’t actually pick up. Music gets a thumbs in the middle as none of the tracks are offensive, but they aren’t very catchy either. They are merely non-annoying background tracks you ignore while searching for items.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Okay, I’m just going to say it now: MotCP is the WORST hidden object game I have ever had to sit through. Let’s start with the actual controls. You use the analog stick (or the left one) to control the pointer as if it was a mouth. The problem is that it is like trying to steer a tank. The controls are sluggish and fairly unresponsive. Even worse, there seems to be lag over what are known as both manipulative3 and key items, so that you can slide right over them without the cursor changing. This of course means you won’t know those are items you can interact with until things finally click together.

I also mentioned the issue with the hidden object list being in picture form rather than words and the confusion that goes with that, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the REAL issues. You see, you can find items and pick them up from the get go, but none of them count until you find a “key item.” When you find a key item, you click on it and a set of silhouettes comes up. Then you take an item you find and drag it on to the correct silhouette. When you find all the items, the key item is “done” and you get a little animation. The problem is, you don’t know WHAT the key items are until the cursor changes when you go over it, and as I mentioned before, sometimes that simply doesn’t happen. Worse, some key items don’t trigger until you complete other key items, which means you could have clicked on an item a dozen times to see if it was a key item, only to find it wasn’t….only THEN to find it now is. ARRGH.

You can actually pick up items for non activated key items, but not always. It’s a strange and frustrating mess as you’ll have items that you’ve picked up but that you can’t put anywhere as the key item hasn’t triggered. Even more insane is that some hidden items that you need for a currently active key item can’t be found until you’ve finished a different key item, even though that first key item is currently active. Again I say ARRRGH.

Perhaps stupidest of all it that some times when you click on a key item to pull up the collection of collectable item silhouettes, part of the silhouette is covered up. Perhaps it goes off the edge of a screen or it’s behind an icon like the hint box or your diary. Whatever the case, you simply can’t see the full item. At first I thought it just wasn’t aligned for the PSP, so I put it on my PS3 and tried my HDTV’s different screen shapes. Same problem occurred on any setting I chose. Then I also discovered some items you need to collect have this same problem. They literally cannot be seen because they are covered up by something else on the screen that is fixed and immovable. This means in order to find them you have to use the “hint” function and wait for something to get sparkly on your screen like a vampire from Twilight. When you just can’t find an item and are forced to use this, before how angry you will get when you notice the item is in a corner of the screen obscured by things that you could have never found because it would be impossible. Then you have to click blindly hoping that the item will be caught by your cursor, which is in itself a crap shoot due to the click detection issues and because where the end of the pointer is doesn’t actually match up with where the game thinks you are clicking. So it is blindly groping around for those covered up items. Honestly, it feels like the backgrounds and item placements were done and then the things like the key item boxes, your diary and other onscreen implements were just laid on top and no one bothered to check to see if items you needed to collected were now covered up and impossible to see!

There are also items that can only be found by opening a box or moving something, yet once again sometimes the game doesn’t register that you can do this by changing the cursor into the magnifying glass it is supposed to. Other times it just simply won’t let you. In the Russian level I needed to find a bunny, and I could see its ears under a snow bank. Clicking on the ears didn’t work. Trying to move the snow didn’t work. Eventually after I collected other items, without any rhyme or reason, I could finally move the snow aside.

Simply put Mystery of the Crystal Portal is one of the crappiest games I have played this year and I seriously can’t believe this was allowed to be released to the public. A kind part of me held out hope that it was just a bad port to Sony’s systems, but a quick check showed me that even the original PC game got less than positive reviews. The bottom line is this is a huge waste of your money. Hell, I want MY money back and this was a free review copy.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 1/10

5. Replayability

There’s not a lot of replay value to hidden object games unless the story is really good. Often times though, these type of games randomly generate the list of items you need find which also helps. In MotCP, it is always the same list of items. This means the game will always be exactly the same every time you play it. Considering how awful it is, you probably won’t play it a second time, much less finish the first time even if it is only two to three hours long.

The game does give you “achievements” and I suppose you can try and go back and gets the ones you missed, but you earn nearly all of them just playing the game out right and the others are time limit based. This inclusion might seem like it increases the replay value on paper, but in practice it only applies to people with severe OCD. Bottom line, this game is a “one and done” title without any redeeming qualities to make it worth a second look. If that.

Replayability Rating: 1/10

6. Balance

Well, this is another area where MotCP falls flat on its ass. You can pick up items (but only some and only sometimes) that aren’t attached to your current key item(s). You can’t get some items attached to your current key item(s) until you complete other key items. You can’t see some of the items on the screen even if you zoom in or out and are forced to use help. The game uses silhouettes of items you need to find but then they don’t actually match the on-screen items they are meant to represent! This is a failure in just about every way the damn thing CAN fail.

Balance Rating: 1/10

7. Originality

Well as horribly designed as the game is, and as horribly craptastic the system is implemented, it IS an original way to do hidden object games. Most give you a full list and let you go at here. Here you have to find the list, and then it is in tiny parts. There are also objects you sometimes have to move or open, but that bit has been done before, and in a far better fashion like you can see in Vampireville. So while MotCP is a game I wouldn’t wish on someone I hated, it does do some pretty innovative things for its genre – it’s just those innovations are all awful ideas or are implemented horribly.

Originality Rating: 5.5/10

8. Addictiveness

The two and a half hours it took me to beat this game were excruciating torture. I would have stopped at the halfway point due to all the bugs and gameplay issues if it had been my own purchase, but as this was a review copy, I was stuck playing this thing until the end. This is the first game this year I can truly say I hated. Other low scoring games like Iyar and Sands of Destruction had some good qualities I could name. Mystery of the Crystal Portal on The other hand is a title I have tried really hard not to swear about in this review. I hated every moment of playing this. Words cannot express how much.

Addictiveness Rating: 1/10

9. Appeal Factor

I always say that every game is someone’s favourite and even the best games have people that hate them. That being said, I can’t imagine anyone who would enjoy this thing. I mean, I like hidden object games, but this was one of the worst things I have played in years. Honestly, for the same price a MotCP ($4.99), you can get some awesome games from Big Fish games for your PC. Want to stick to the PSP or PS3? You can get Hysteria Project, Spot the Difference, Interpol and more. I understand that some hidden object fans will over look the awful controls, the horrible engine issues and the near lack of a story, but again, some people will like anything. It IS playable, after a fashion, and it only crashed once for me (on the weight puzzle), so a rare or twisted person might find enjoyment in this. Everyone else should steer clear.

Appeal Factor: 2/10

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, Mystery of the Crystal Portal is a buggy, poorly designed mess and is THE worst hidden object game I have ever played. You can find a hell of a lot better ways to spend the $4.99 this game costs. It’s pretty hard to do worse. The only redeeming thing about this game is that your genitals don’t burst into flames from playing it.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores
Story: 1/10
Graphics: 5/10
Sound: 5/10
Control and Gameplay: 1/10
Replayability: 1/10
Balance: 1/10
Originality: 5.5/10
Addictiveness: 1/10
Appeal Factor: 2/10
Miscellaneous: 1/10
Total Score: 23.5
FINAL SCORE: 2.5 (VERY BAD GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Mystery of the Crystal Portal is without a doubt, the worst hidden object game ever made. Please do not buy it. The plot is non-existent and the game is one of the most horribly designed things I’ve ever played. The engine is buggy, there are detection issues, the game’s “Key Item: system is horribly flawed to the point where you wonder if there was any quality control involved, and some items don’t actually fit on the screen or obscured by menu buttons making them impossibly to find. The bottom line is – don’t buy this.

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