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Review #382

Vampire Moon: Mystery of the Hidden Sun
Publisher: City Interactive
Developer: City Interactiver
Genre: Hidden Object
Release Date: 10/19/2010

City Interactive games haven’t fared well here at Diehard GameFAN. Their two best games have been Art of Murder; FBI Confidential (which I found to be merely mediocre) and Chronicles of Mystery: The Scorpio Ritual, which actually received a positive review from Aileen. Their other games have received…less than positive comments from us. I abhorred Hunt for the Puppeteer, AJ loathed his time with Battlestrike: Western and Eastern Front, Guy had nothing nice to say about Code of Honor 2, and Sniper: Ghost Warrior was so bad, Hevia wanted to burn the thing. So with all that in mind you’re probably wondering why I willingly agreed to review Vampire Moon for the Nintendo DS.

There are three reasons. The first is that I like hidden object games every now and then. The second is that I end up playing a lot of vampire games and as bad as City Interactive has been, there’s no way this could be worse than Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The third and final reason is that I’m always morbidly curious about hidden object games for the DS. After all, they’re 19-29 dollars on the DS, while you can generally get them for $6.99 for the PC. Is portability really worth AT LEAST triple the price. Sure I discovered the Cate West series that way, but I was also annoyed by how much more it cost for my Nintendo handheld compared to what I could get it for on my laptop. Since Vampire Moon was a DS exclusive (which is odd as CI are primarily developers for the PC), I grit my teeth and bought the thing (CI wouldn’t give review copies of the game, which is almost always a red flag). Hey, it was only $19.99 after all. So was Vampire Moon worth my time and money…or did the game flat out suck?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Emily Davis is a New York City reporter who gets a call from her boss one day. It seems Transylvania has had a full solar eclipse going on for days. This is of course impossible, but hey it’s a video game. It’s also impossible that a reporter of any worth wouldn’t somehow know this, but Emily gets the job and is soon on her way to the Carpathians. In her journeys she encounters strange villagers, an evil hunchback, a seer, a missing and imprisoned researcher and someone with the last name of Van Helsing. The plot is pretty much window dressing for each hidden object puzzle, but what’s here is enjoyable enough for what it is. There’s a nice plot twist or two that keeps the game from being a paint by numbers piece, but the ending is abrupt and pretty lame. The game does include eight optional scrolls to find which provide bits of folklore about vampires, Dracula and the like, but a good chunk of said folklore is erroneous.

There are some translation issues with the game due to the game being localized by people for whom English is not their first language, but these issues tend to be minor things like verb tenses and other grammatical snafus. Larger issues basically revolve around items being called by things other than what they actually are in English. For example, the game might ask you to find a “fishing pole” and what you’re looking for is actually a spear gun. Things like that. In all, the story is a decent affair. I’ve definitely encountered better stories attached to hidden object games, but this was cute enough even if the writers have no idea what a vampire is (Note, TROLLS turn to stone in sunlight, not vampires). I mean, it’s better than Twilight at least.

Story Rating: 5.5/10

2. Graphics

There is no animation in the core game at all. Everything consists of still static images from the cut scenes to the actual gameplay. If you were looking for any sort of movement at all in the game, I’m afraid it only comes from moving the screen around and things disappearing when you correctly hit them on your touchpad. Now there is animation in the mini-games, but even this is little to none. You might scratch on your touch screen with the stylus to reveal images, or move a ball through two labyrinths with it, but these mini games appear so rarely that you’ll barely remember they exist once you’ve beat the game.

Character models, such as they are, are decent, but it would have been nice to have multiple portraits conveying different emotions rather than just a single portrait for each character. The graphics in the hidden object game itself are generally well rendered, but there are some items that are pretty hard to recognize as the object you seek, even once you’ve used a hint token to actually find the item. You’ll sit there and go, “That’s supposed to be a bullet/nail/whatever?” These issues are rare, but they can be vexing.

Hidden object fans will be pleased with the visuals in this game, but less casual gamers will be annoyed by the lack of animation and the overall graphical quality.

Graphics Rating: 5.5/10

3. Sound

If there’s one thing that is truly lackluster about Vampire Moon it’s the audio. There is no voice acting for one thing, but that’s commonplace in hidden object games so we can let that slide. There’s only two or three musical tracks in the game and none of them are very good. At best they are forgettable background noise and at worst, they are pretty annoying. There also aren’t any real sound effects. There’s a noise the game makes if you get the right item and another one for if you find a special item like a scroll, emerald or ruby. The game doesn’t make any noise at all for getting a wrong item and only occasionally will you get a special noise like the cawing of a raven (which is badly done and annoying) or the squeak of a rat. There’s just nothing here save the bare bones minimum and it is pretty noticeable. Nothing here is bad per say, but with so little here audio-wise at the $19.99 level compared far better (and deeper) audio options in the general $6.99 category this genre runs at makes this a huge disappointment here.

Sound Rating: 4/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is a hidden object game, so the controls are pretty standard. You used the d pad or drag the stylus on the touch screen to move around the playing field. You’ll have a list of objects you have to find and a ten minute time limit to find them. When you find an item, you tap on it and if it’s the right item, you get it removed the screen and marked off your list. Continue until done or the time limit runs out. You might also find optional items on your playing field as well. Rubies give you points and if you collect all 24, you get a special reward at the end, emeralds give you an extra “hint” to use and scrolls unlock extra plot or folklore bits. Occasionally you’ll get a mini game like trying to match up holes to fit spokes through, a maze to traverse or the like. Unlike a lot of modern hidden object games, you don’t have to go through multiple playing fields and switch back and forth between them with a huge time limit. Nope, it’s one field and a constant ten minute time limit. On one hand, it’s a bit of a throwback and on the other, it’s nice to have something simple and constant.

The game performs nicely but there is one small issue worth pointing out. Sometime the touch detection is a bit off and you’ll try to tap an item and it won’t register with the game. You’ll assume you picked the wrong item, and this happens legitimately as sometimes you’ll be asked to find a statue and there will be three on the screen but only one of them in correctly. Occasionally, it’s a matter of the acceptable pixels designated for the item being off. Then when you get frustrated and choose a hint token to find the item (These slowly regenerate BTW), it will bring you back to that item and you’ll be a bit wanked off to find you missed it by a millimeter or so. Other than that, the game performs quite nicely and it shows that hidden object games are made for the DS. Well, aside from the huge price difference between PC and DS games in this genre anyway.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 7/10

5. Replayability

Most hidden object games are a “one and done” scenario. They are extremely linear and there’s no reason to replay them once you’ve beaten them. Vampire Moon tries to offer you some replay value though by giving you the ability to replay each of the 24 playing fields in the game once you’ve beaten them in story mode (some of which you have to play two or three times there, but you unlock it the first time you beat it, so no worries). The game also gives you optional items to collect and a score, so if you really like the game, you can always go back and try to outdo yourself or get the items you missed in your first playthrough. Finally, the game gives you “awards,” which are the equivalent of trophies. For fulfilling certain qualifications like not using a hint on three straight levels, or collecting all 24 rubies, you’ll earn an award. These do nothing but neither do trophies or “gamerscore.”

It’s nice to see City Interactive gave a few reasons to replay Vampire Moon and it helps with the cost comparison a bit, but even with the bells and whistles the vast majority of people who pick this up will play it once and then never touch it again.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

This is one of the easiest hidden object games I’ve played in a long time. I usually found all the objects in two to three minutes. With a ten minute time limit, you should never be worried about running out of time. For those that do have trouble though, you do have the hint option. The hint meter slowly regenerates after it has found you an object, so you technically can use it repeatedly until time runs out, but you’ll never have to.

Aside from a few minor translation issues or items that are the same colour as a background item, you should find everything clearly. The game is by no means hard, but the playing fields are well done and there is occasionally an extra item you have to find once you have finished your list or the need to use a previously found item with something else on the screen to cause an effect, much like an adventure game. Vampire Moon is a well made game in respect to both its puzzles and its mini games and it’s one of the best ones on the DS so far.

Balance Rating: 7/10

7. Originality

Originality is one area where Vampire Moon falls short. Sure, it’s City Interactive’s first hidden object game, but it’s very generic. The story is cute, but it’s just there to pad the time between hidden object levels. The game even uses the same playing fields more than once to extend the game, but since every object is in the same exact space, it makes the returns to levels super easy. There really is nothing Vampire Moon does differently from any other hidden object game in terms of gameplay. Hell, there are even dozens of hidden object games that revolve around vampires, so even that’s not fresh. Same with the “free play” mode, the awards, or the like. All of these things have been done before, and done to death for decades now. Make no mistake though, this is generally a problem with the entire genre, where originality boils down to character depth and the storyline that ties the hidden object puzzles together.

Originality Rating: 2/10

8. Addictiveness

I actually beat Vampire Moon in two lengthy sittings. Sure, the game is only a few hours long, but I had enough fun with the cheesy English filled story and the hidden object puzzles that I found the game hard to put down. Hidden object games have that nice combination of simplicity and fun that nearly any gamer can have fun with them, even if it’s not their preferred genre of choice.

Is Vampire Moon a game I’ll ever pick up again? No. Is it going to win any awards? No. Was it fun and am I glad I picked it up? Yes. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual games I review for the site and I enjoyed my time with it.

Addictiveness Rating: 6.5/10

9. Appeal Factor

may not realize it, but hidden object games are pretty popular. The release at least one a day. No, really. It’s big business. Big Fish games makes a killing only (Over 1.5 million games sold a day just on that site!) doing these types of games. Hell, I’ve purchased a few from them like the second Cate West game and I’m downloading the $2.99 “deal of the day” from them while I write this review. It’s Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove if you’re interested. Like I said, I like hidden object games and I’m a pretty diehard gamer. MOST gamers like hidden object and/or puzzle games. They’re fun.

However, the big problem with Vampire Moon is the price tag. Since this genre ranges from $2.99-6.99 with only a few exceptions outside that price tag, Vampire Moon is a bit screwed. It’s a fun game, but since you can get roughly three games of the same quality for your PC, it’s going to be a hard sell for the people who really play this genre. Then you also have to factor in that City Interactive has actively avoided the press on this game (which is odd as it’s not a bad game) and it’s such an unknown publisher that the audience is a fraction of what it could be. Still, for a DS game, the price is the same as most budget games and it is one of the better hidden object games available for the handheld. I think anyone that picks this up will have fun with it. It’s not going to be the Pokemon or Final Fantasy big by any means, but it’s a nice one and done game to take on a trip and then trade in toward something else.

Appeal Factor Rating: 5.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

Okay, it’s nice that City Interactive gave us a pretty long hidden object game. Sure it’s under four hours, but there are some nice extras to the game and the story is fun enough that the game is one of the better $19.99 MSRP titles for the DS out there. At the same time, it’s really hard for me (or any hidden object fans) to get past the price point of this title. You’re not really playing for portability as these types of games can be played on laptops and even netbooks. Basically you’re paying extra to play on the DS. It’s a nice change of pace from playing these games on the PC, and this is a nice exclusive hidden object game for the DS to have, but is it worth three games of the same genre for the PC? I’m afraid not.

Now if you don’t like to use your PC for gaming, and/or you are a pretty big DS gamer, this is a nice “one and done” title for your system. It’s much better than a lot of budget DS games I’ve had to review over the years and it’s actually the best overall game I’ve played by City Interactive. At the end of the day, let’s call it a thumb’s in the middle. It’s pricey for a hidden object game, but it’s also one of the best for the DS and there are enough extras to help justify the cost.

Miscellaneous Rating: 5/10

The Scores
Story: 5.5/10
Graphics: 5.5/10
Sound: 4/10
Control and Gameplay: 7/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 6.5/10
Appeal Factor: 5.5/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total Score: 52
FINAL SCORE: 5.0 (MEDIOCRE GAME!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Vampire Moon: Mystery of the Hidden Sun is one of the better hidden object games available for the DS. Unfortunately in a day and age where games of this genre retail for $6.99, the $19.99 price tag this game carries makes it a bit exorbitant. It’s a fun budget game for those that don’t game on a PC however, and even though it’s a “one and done” casual title, it’s fun enough for what it is. Don’t go in expecting anything fancy. It’s just hidden object puzzles, static visuals and a cheesy little story, but fans of the genre will have fun with this and that’s what matters.

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