Review #445

The Hidden
Developer: 1st Playable Productions
Publisher: Majesco
Genre: Augmented Reality
Release Date: 11/04/2011

1St Playable Productions is an interesting company. They tend to DS versions of multi-console systems. They’ve handled Marvel Trading Card Game, Kung Zhu, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Ben 10 video games and more. The Hidden marks 1st Playable Productions’ first foray off the DS. This 3DS game is another first, as it’s the only full augmented reality game currently released with the 3DS. Sure, gamers are able to fiddle around with the concept with the little cards that come with a new 3DS, but no one’s really had the chance to see if Augmented Reality is just another gimmick like the 3D slider or if one can actually make a full game out of it. Until now. So is The Hidden an under the radar game that will have you singing the praises of the 3DS and Augmented Reality, or is it so bad that you’ll want someone to perform an exorcist on Nintendo’s latest handheld?

Let’s Review

1. Story

There really isn’t much of a story to The Hidden. You play the newest recruit of G.E.I.S.T. or Ghostly Entity Investigation and Strike Team. You’ve been hired to help discover, track, locate and destroy the growing number of shades that have entered this world. Shades aren’t necessarily ghosts. Perhaps they are interdimensional beings or something like that. Even the game argues with itself as to what exactly shades are. All that matters if you they aren’t human, so it’s okay to kill them. Besides they want to hurt you too.

The game takes places in a series of missions. You can pick and choose which missions you want to do when there are multiple ones available. Each mission contains a lot of sitting/walking around waiting for something to happen, and then occasionally some combat ripped straight from Face Raiders. There’s a big catch to this game though. Each mission requires your DC to be in contact with a unique wireless access point. That’s right – this means your home internet access only gives you access to the first mission. From then on you have to look for other wireless locations. This means if you live in the middle of nowhere: congratulations you’ve wasted $29.99. If you do live in an urban area, get ready to have to play your 3DS in a lot of public places or the halls of an apartment building. The manual suggests the houses of friends, supermarkets, coffee shops, and get this – WORK. Because nothing says long term employment that pulling out a video game system and jerking around rapidly like you have seizures. If you don’t do this however, you will NEVER proceed further into the game. No more missions, stories, ANYTHING. This is quite honestly the worst idea I have ever seen put into a game. Cthulhu knows how a poor kid must feel if they are playing this and pick up an access point at a truck stop while on a road trip and then several missions later they have TO GO BACK TO THAT EXACT ACCESS POINT to keep playing. This is absurd and downright insane.

So there isn’t what of a story, when you do get some it’s badly written and hard to read since it is in very small type on the touch screen and it’s often at odds with the actual gameplay, and you have the stupidest progression system in the history of gaming. Majesco, you usually publish such cute indie stuff. How did you let the dev team make this big of a blunder?

Story Rating: 1/10

2. Graphics

There isn’t much to speak of in terms of graphics either. About 90% of the game is just using the top screen of the DS for Augmented Reality…but nothing happens. While this is going on you have some lights and occasionally some text on your bottom DS screen. The other ten percent of the game features shades attacking you. These are some truly terrible visuals. They honestly look like something out of a bad Sega-CD FMV game. There aren’t a lot of shade designs and most are repeated several times with a palette swap to the aura like glow surrounding the image. It’s pretty terrible looking. Occasionally you might get a bit of ectoplasm floating around before or after a battle. Ectoplasm is just a colored blob on the screen.

Again, I have to compare this to Face Raiders as it’s almost the same exact game. Face Raiders is free to all 3DS owners and it has roughly the same visual quality, if not better. Meanwhile The Hidden costs thirty dollars and has slowdown, frame rate issues when a lot of shades are on screen or if you move too quickly, and enemies look like comical blobs more than anything else. Disappointing.

Graphics Rating: 3/10

3. Sound

There’s only one real music track for The Hidden and it plays consistently throughout all forms of the game. Whether you are reading “emails,” hunting ghosts or doing a “VR Mission,” you get same track. It’s not a bad one as it sound ominous and foreboding, but it’s overused and gets annoying quickly.

Sound effects are a little more diverse. You have your weapon, your proton pack rip-off, noises for when the shades are attacking and bloops or bleeps when you’re in the menus. There’s not a lot here, which is to be expected from a budget game, but what is here isn’t too bad. It’s nothing great or memorable, but it’s acceptable, which is about the nicest thing you can say in regards to this game.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

This is pretty bare bones. Most of the game is you walking around in real life trying to find another unique access point so that you can actually play the game. Once you’ve done that you might get a few lines of story scrolling across your bottom screen and then it’s go time. Remember to only go for access points you can get back to regularly and reliably, or you’ve effectively set yourself up for an impassible situation in the game.

You can earn different offensive and defensive items by collecting ectoplasm. Ectoplasm can be found randomly when you return to old locations or when you defeat ghosts. You suck it up by holding down the Y button. The game offers five forms of play, but honestly 85% of the people that pick this up will only encounter two of these due to the unique access point issue. The first is “Tracker”. This is where you walk around trying to find a new wireless access point. The other is “Shooter,” where you basically play a bad version of Face Raiders. Shades show up and you have to find them by following the arrow on your screen (which means spinning around in a circle a lot) and then shooting them with your weapons or items. Eventually they die (there is no clear indication of when you hit or miss them, or if you should aim for a particular area of a shade) and the mission ends. You can then trade in ectoplasm for an upgrade if you have enough of each kind. There are five kinds of ectoplasm, with green being the rarest. Of course upgrades tend to need a little of all five kinds, which is yet another terrible design decision in an already poorly thought out game.

The other (rarely encountered unless you have a lot of access points near you and you don’t mind doing this game in public locations) forms of play include “Tuner,” where you use the circle pad and stylus to create a similar frequency which draws a shade into our world, “Wormhole,” where you are in the dimension of shades and you have to shoot/dodge asteroids as well as fight shades, and “Recon,” which is a terrible attempt at stealth missions. Here you tilt the DS so the meter stays in the middle of the screen or you get caught/lose connection with the shade realm.

All in all, there was a lot of potential in The Hidden but 1st Playable made every terrible decision they possible could. Instead of unique wireless access points, they should have tied the game in to steps taken and the 3DS’ pedometer. This way anyone and everyone could have played it. Because of the design, most gamers won’t be able to experience more than a few missions unless they want to commit social faux pas by just going into coffee shops, libraries, their work place and so on and just start playing the game. Even then, what happens if you get stuck with a mission and it wants you to go back to a place that isn’t easy to get to or has weird hours? This just wasn’t thought out properly. Hell, I just wandered through an apartment building to get enough access points to review the game but I a) felt stupid having to do this, b) probably came across really creepy to anyone that saw me jerking around and wandering the hallways and c) didn’t have any fun. I would have felt worse going into some kind of store or coffee shop doing this as I would then feel obliged to at least buy something in exchange instead of just wandering into their store, playing a video game and leaving. What kind of a douche would just go into these places and do that? The game plays okay, but the design issues leave this game not only fundamentally flawed in every way but inaccessible to most gamers. That honestly has me give this thing a rating of Worthless as it’s arguably the worst design idea I’ve seen in some time.

Control and Gameplay Rating: 1/10

5. Replayability

Most gamers are going to take one look at the game’s need to constantly have new unique wireless access points and say, #$&% this!” There won’t be any desire to play the game for more than a few minutes, much less a few hours or even to play the game a second time once you’ve beaten it. “Erase my data and find access points all over again? Awesome!”

I honestly wanted to put this game down about thirty minutes into playing it. It’s that badly designed. The gameplay…is okay. I mean it’s a second rate Face Raiders with ghosts instead of warped pictures of people you know, but Face Raiders is meant to be played a few minutes at a time. It’s a tech demo. This is basically charged $29.99 for a crappier version of the same game and with the need to search other wireless connections other than your home’s. If you’re willing to deal with hanging outside the houses of strangers or in your local grocery store to play this game, than you might, MIGHT find the game something worth coming back to on occasion, but most people are going to put this down as quickly as they pick it up and never return to it.

Replayability Rating: 3/10

6. Balance

The only real challenge in The Hidden is…you guessed it – looking for access points. Otherwise it’s just spinning around and shooting things or engaging in poorly done mini games. There really isn’t any skill involved either. You just line up a ghost, wail on A or B, depending on what is needed and repeat until the shooting stage is done. At no point do you come close to dying or losing a mission.

So the game is exceedingly easy, and yet it will be difficult for a lot of gamers to find access points they find comfortable using. Again, you have to wonder why 1st Playable though this was a good idea. The end result is a game that is wildly unbalanced. It’s boring to play the actual game as there is no depth to it and it’s annoying (and somewhat creepy) looking for Wi-Fi access points to use. When trying to get a mission STARTED is harder than the mission itself, you know something has gone drastically wrong.

Balance Rating: 1/10

7. Originality

On one hand, The Hidden is the first Augmented Reality game for sale on the 3DS. On the other hand it’s mostly a carbon copy of Face Raiders (which is free), but with shades instead of aliens and a few more bells and whistles. I’ll admit I was a bit disappointed that it was very similar to Face Raiders and I really hope that a panoramic shooter isn’t the only thing companies are going to do with Augmented Reality. It’s just kind of piggybacking on what was already done and then having the hubris to charge money for it.

An augmented reality ghost hunting game sounded especially intriguing to me. With better graphics and more detailed gameplay, this could have been something. Instead 1st Playable followed Nintendo’s lead almost exactly. Sadly the most original thing is the game’s reliance on access points, which will make it slightly to completely unplayable depending on the gamer, location and situation. Try playing The Hidden on a long car trip. It’s simply not possible. That original in some way, but not in an especially positive form. Good ideas and an original concept polluted by some of the worst implementation I’ve ever seen and too much copying of Face Raiders. I’ll be kind and give this a thumb’s in the middle because the game does stand out – just probably not in the way 1st Playable intended.

Originality Rating: 5/10

8. Addictiveness

I’ve played some terrible games this year. Thor: God of Thunder, The Tiny Bang Story, Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion and X-Men Destiny are just a few. The Hidden is on an entirely different level. Those games were just buggy. The Hidden is on a whole other level due to the game’s design. Any game you just can’t pick up and play has a problem. Any game where you can start up a mission and have nothing at all happen for minutes or hours has a problem. Any game where you have to go above and beyond just to having something happen has a problem. It’s like the video games that require you to be connected to the internet at all times or they won’t work. I can somewhat understand those games though even though I find it disgusting. The Hidden however is something where you have to use OTHER PEOPLE’s wireless access points and it’s in a handheld system designed for playing games while travelling and then you can’t actually play the game while on a car or subway or in the air. You travel to play it and then have to sit in a specific spot. It’s the complete antithesis of what a handheld game should be.

I found The Hidden to be poorly designed, boring as hell, and I couldn’t wait to take it out of my 3DS. It was that bad of an experience. I honestly can’t imagine anyone having fun with the bells and whistles you have to jump through just to get this game to PLAY. I can’t think of a game this console generation I’ve wanted to play less.

Addictiveness Rating: 1/10

9. Appeal Factor

So who would enjoy this game? A very small smattering of gamers. It first has to be someone in an urban enough area that they can walk or drive to multiple locations with wireless access points. You don’t need to access the internet from them – the game just has to register there is an access point nearby. Then you have to be willing to play this game, which requires a lot of movement and turning in public places or in the halls of office buildings, apartment complexes or condominiums. Then you have to be able to go back to these locations repeatedly when the game wants you to rather than when it is convenient for you. Uh oh, it’s ten at night and the game wants you to go to work to play the next mission? Too bad. You also have to be a gamer that feels comfortable enough to play this game in public. I’m pretty extroverted but damned if I didn’t feel creepy walking around places looking for access points or stupid standing there dodging, weaving and rotating with my DS in public locations.

All this basically rules out most gamers under the age of 16, and those older than that will find the mechanics of this game to be outright insane and choose to play something either on a console at home or a game that is more flexible. Basically there is next to no one that will get any real satisfaction or enjoyment out of The Hidden. Generally I say that every game is someone’s favorite and even the most popular game has its detractors. The Hidden however? I think this might be the first game where I can honestly say that no one is going to actually enjoy this thing.

Appeal Factor Rating: 1/10

10. Miscellaneous

I’m stymied. I was so looking forward to The Hidden and after experiencing it, it’s a shoo-in for a “worst game of the year” nomination. Any game can only be played under specific circumstances is not a product that is designed to be fun or with the consumer in mind. It’s designed to be a quick cash grab. What happens if in ten years, the wireless standard somehow changes? Congrats, you’re left with a piece of junk. It similar to how I always say a MMORPG is a long term rental, not a purchase. If you purchase a game, you can play it whenever you want. When a MMORPG server goes down, you have to pretty much move heaven and earth to play it. It was one of my big issues with the original Phantasy Star Online game for the Sega Dreamcast back in the day. Now The Hidden takes things to the most asinine level ever. What if a person or location gets rid of their wifi, moves or goes out of business and it’s been picked up by your game. Congrats, your game is now basically unplayable. What if YOU move? You have to erase your data and start over. What if you are a ten year old and it’s the only game your parents give you on a six hour road trip? You’re screwed. Are you in a rural location where you’re not within walking distance of things? You’re screwed. I live in Washington D.C. and I still had a hard time playing this game with any sort of comfort.

So many problems and so little done right here. Just stay away. That’s the best thing I can say about The Hidden just stay away.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Story: 1
Graphics: 3
Sound: 5
Control and Gameplay: 1
Replayability: 3
Balance: 1
Originality: 5
Addictiveness: 1
Appeal Factor: 1
Miscellaneous: 1
Total Score: 22
FINAL SCORE: 2.0 (Dreadful Game!)

Short Attention Span Summary
The Hidden is one of the worst games of the year: make no mistake. The graphics are Sewer Shark worthy, the game can only be played if you are in close proximity to multiple unique wireless access points and even then, you have to be able to go to them all regularly or the game simply will not advance. Lose a single one of those locations for whatever reason and you pretty much have to erase your game and start over. This is one of the stupidest game designs I’ve ever seen. Add in the fact this $29.99 game is basically the same thing as the FREE game Face Raiders with a few more bells and whistles and you have a game that goes out of its way to drive people away. Don’t even think of purchasing this.

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