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Review #453

Magician’s Handbook: Cursed Valley
Developer: G5 Entertainment
Publisher: G5 Entertainment
Genre: Hidden Object/Adventure
Release Date: 02/16/2012

I know, I know. I’m supposed to be done reviewing video games and just occasionally talking about tabletop titles. Yet somehow I’m on my third video game review of the year. The first, Zen Pinball 3D was because I owned the PS3 version of the game and everyone else with a 3DS had a game assigned to them. For Epic Quest, well, I was the only person with Zen Pinball and there was no other option but for me to review it. The same holds true with Magician’s Handbook: Cursed Valley. G5 Games was kind enough to give us a review copy of the game for the Kindle Fire. Guess who is the only staff member with a Kindle Fire. I was more than happy to give this a chance though as I hadn’t played a hidden object game since Mountains of Madness. I’ve also covered two other Kindle Fire games (Where’s My Water? and Fruit Ninja: Puss in Boots )in my “Cleaning Up the Backlog” monthly column, but this will be Diehard GameFAN’s first full review of a Kindle Fire game. So does Magician’s Handbook start our Kindle Fire coverage off with a bang…or a bust?

Let’s Review

1. Story

Well, there isn’t much of a story here. Any and all plot is told purely in text before and after each chapter of the game. It’s generally a paragraph or two and it’s very easy to accidentally click through the end of chapter text and miss what little flavor there is. Basically the game’s plot is that you, the nameless silent protagonist, purchase a magic book off of QVC or HSN and then go to a valley to collect magic objects so you can cast spells. Yeah, that’s it. Now I know what you’re thinking, “But Alex – it’s a hidden object game. What were you looking for?” Well, honestly MOST hidden object games these days have pretty detailed stories attached to them, many of which are often quite enjoyable. Compared to those, Magician’s Handbook falls flat. There’s just no substance to guide you between the hidden object scenes and the end of chapter skippable mini-games. The little substance that is here is almost insulting and a definite regression to the hidden object games of a decade (or more!) ago.

Story Rating: 2/10

2. Graphics

Like most hidden object games, there really aren’t “graphics” in this game per say – at least not if you are looking for something animated. Each area is a static image that is comprised of a background with objects strewn across it. Occasionally you might get something like a spider crawling across the screen or a flying book as a “distraction,” but that’s about it. Personally, I’m fine with the lack of animation as it’s part of the genre. What I’m not fine with is how bad some of the images can be. A good portion of the objects you are suppose to find look nothing like they are supposed to. This is not good. The other problem is that when they reformatted the game for the Kindle Fire, they did it in such a way that some items are cut off from the visible field. The game wasn’t formatted properly from what would appear in the PC version of the game, and so even though you can move around the area freely, some items are cut off and thus the only way to obtain them is by using the “hint” icon and taping the edge of the screen where it blinks getting the one to ten pixels that are on the screen. Frustrating and terribly done. I fiddled with the PC version to see if this is just a Kindle Fire issue and unfortunately it is. If you’re interested in the game, go that route, as your view won’t be as obscured. You’ll still have to find chocolate bars that look like turds or pine cones though.

Graphics Rating: 3/10

3. Sound

There isn’t a lot to talk about here. You have about two to three musical tracks in the game and those are based on what location or where you are in the game. The music is inoffensive and is akin to elevator music. It’s just there in the background and you don’t pay it much attention, if any. There are a few sound effects based around clicking on the right item or a dull thud when you click on an incorrect object, but that’s it. You’ll get some background noises too, like the caw of a crow, but there’s nothing really here to write home about. There’s nothing really bad here, but nothing really good either. It’s acceptable bare minimum audio – no more and no less.

Sound Rating: 5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

A hidden object game is pretty cut and dry. You are given a list of objects and then you click their location on the screen – providing you can find them. You have a hint meter that shows the relative location of an object and it slowly recharges after being used. This is how virtually every game in the genre plays. Unfortunately, Magician’s Handbook doesn’t play as well as most. You’ve already seen me touch on the sizing/formatting issues with this particular port. However, there are still other issues. The first is that the game doesn’t necessarily respond to you touch right away. I’ve clicked on an object only to not have my touch recognized by the game. This is not a tablet issue as I’ve played other Kindle Fire games that play perfectly. It’s Magician’s Handbook problem. The second is that sometimes…it doesn’t want to admit you touched the object. I’ve clicked on a few object two or three times only to be told it is incorrect. Then when I resorted to the hint option to find it…it told me to click exactly where I was before. Grrr. Finally, there are times when the game will call for an object only to have two or three of the same thing on the screen and the one you first pick…is inevitably wrong. This is a major faux pas for the genre and it will surely annoy fans of the genre when they discover that the Dragon they click on isn’t the dragon the game is looking for.

Aside from this, the game also has hidden around the levels of each chapter. The more you find, the more you unlock. This is a nice little optional thing. Unfortunately, there’s one level where the hilt tip of a sword looks EXACTLY like a coin and you’ll end up clicking on that a few times wondering why the game won’t accept it until you get to the chapter where you need that sword.

Overall, there’s just not much here to be positive about. The game is playable, but there are a lot of problems in the design of the game and how it plays on the Kindle Fire. You can get the PC version for the same price (or less if there is a sale) over at Big Fish Games, so that’s the way to go if you still really want this for some reason.

Control and Gameplay: 3/10

5. Replayability

This is one area where the game isn’t terrible. You have different difficulty settings. Casual, for example lets you play without score or a time limit and so you can just fiddle through the game at your leisure. If you plan on replaying the game and want a motivator, play it on the higher setting to make sure you can to get a faster time and/or a higher score. Getting coins unlocks things as well, so even though I personally found the game to be a terrible one, at least it offers some replay value, which is more than most games in this genre offer. Sure the levels and lists will be exactly the same, but it’s not like you’ll have locations memorized the next time you pick this up.

Replayability Rating: 5/10

6. Balance

With each chapter of Magician’s Handbook, you have to find more hidden objects and journey to more locations. The game will also start to throw “distractions” at you like dimming the lights or floating nuisances. These can all be readily dispelled by using your magic ability so they are minor at most. On higher levels, you’ll have to deal with a time limit, but you have so much time that you shouldn’t ever be worried. You could easily just find all the objects via the hint button, letting it recharge and continue and have some time left over.

At the end of each chapter you’ll have to play one of two mini-games. The first involves finding the right words out of a massive list. The other is a quasi-match three game, where you draw a line through three or more matching objects. This is pretty simple although the matching game has a severe bug. At one point I found that there weren’t any possible matches of three or more and there was no way to refresh or change things. At that point, all you can do is skip things. Add this into the other bugs and detection issues with the game and you have a lot of minor annoyances that can build up.

Finally, the last chapter of the game has you trying to find four of the same object across all possible locations in the game with a time limit. This is not very hard and in fact it’s extremely anti-climatic as before then you’re finding between fifty and sixty objects within a set time limit. I was extremely disappointed that this was the last level and I still can’t believe they chose to end the game this way. Just terrible.

Overall, Magician’s Handbook is simplistic and all too easy to get through, even if you are on the highest difficulty setting. The biggest hindrance to your success are the bugs the game contains. That’s kind of sad.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

The most original thing about the game is that I’ve never had to deal with flying books getting in my way of hidden object detection before. Other than that, everything here has been done before multiple times and almost always better. I’ve had HOGs where the lights have gone out, where there are distractions, where there are bonus items to unlock materials and achievements to collect. Most of those HOGs have been a lot more fun than this. I don’t want to be mean here, but Magicians Handbook is pretty devoid of originality.

Originality Rating: 1/10

8. Addictiveness

This was a chore. If you’ve read me at all for any point in time, you know I don’t have the “anti-casual game” attitude a lot of reviewers seem to. In fact, I’ve always been a champion of the Hidden Object and Adventure game genres. I LIKE them. Magician’s Handbook however, was a horrible experience and I had to force myself through the game. With so many technical issues, a lack of any real story and some dull visuals, this was one of the worst HOGs I’ve ever played through. I was so hopeful going into this thing too….

Addictiveness Rating: 2/10

9. Appeal Factor

Hidden Object games are more popular than the average console gamer realizes. They have a large audience and they sell really well. Unfortunately, for Magician’s Handbook, there are several better and cheaper HOGs out there for the Kindle Fire. It’s even worse for the PC version as there are literally hundreds of better options. I can’t honestly think of a reason to get this unless the Kindle Fire is the only thing you play games on and you don’t mind paying two to five times more for this game than for the other HO titles available for it. It’s just poorly done across the board.

Appeal Factor Rating: 2/10

10. Miscellaneous

Five bucks is a pretty steep price tag for this game. Sure it’s two bucks less than what the original PC version sold for, but you can get other, better adventure games for the Kindle Fire that cost a lot less. Pirate Mysteries, The Secret of Grisly Manor, The Lost City and others are between one and two dollars and are better in every way possible. Look, I wanted to like Magician’s Handbook, but at the end of the day it’s massively overpriced and poorly designed. Just don’t get it.

Miscellaneous Rating: 1/10

The Scores:
Story: 2
Graphics: 3
Sound: 5
Control and Gameplay: 3
Replayability: 5
Balance: 4
Originality: 1
Addictiveness: 2
Appeal Factor: 2
Miscellaneous: 1
Total Score: 2.8
FINAL SCORE: 3.0 (Bad Game!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Magician’s Handbook: Cursed Valley simply isn’t a good game. It’s boring, ugly and has some very noticeable gameplay issues that are generally the touch of death for a hidden object game. Factor in the fact that there are many other hidden object games for the Kindle Fire that are cheaper and better and you have absolutely no reason to pick this up. Just stay save your five dollars and get several better games from the Amazon App Store instead.

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