[edit: included Death on the Nile]

Lately, everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon of making these I-SPY for grownups games. Most have been pretty good, but some has been obvious money generating attempts at the genre that doesn’t even belong. Why do we play these things, anyway?

In the beginning, there was I-SPY. Even before that, we had books that asks us to find Teddy Bears and little cars. We were given great encouragement for finding these things as our parents trained us in our powers of observation. We like the Eureka moment – Oh, there’s Waldo!

So what do we play for? That Eureka moment! When our eyes land on an object and realize, hey, that’s a baseball, or that’s a cat hidden in the shape of the railing – we’re playing for that chime that rewards us for spotting something that was supposedly hard to spot.

It isn’t the story that makes a good game. It’s not the mini-games, or sharp graphics. It’s simply a good list of well hidden items with wordplay built in; it’s well put together scenes that doesn’t look like a bunch of random objects strewn about with no thought in how easy they would be to spot (case in point: Hide & Secret). It’s a good rewarding sound when you find something. Or good rewards over a period of missions.

On the other hand, there are good mini-games. The automaton inspired lock puzzles in MCF Ravenhearst were both wonderful to look at and enjoyable. (Check my video-walkthrough category to see the videos) Another good related puzzle is the “spot the difference” game utilized in games like Magic Academy and Paparazzi. The memory games and jigsaw puzzles are generally too easy and feels like a departure from the genre – something that was thrown in to make the game longer.

Paparazzi tried to “sharpen” up the graphics by using well-illustrated graphics with a dream-like quality. The result? To put it simply, the result is stuff that’s really hard to find. Way too hard to find. They ended up creating something that the average person doesn’t want to play – and that pretty much made it fail as a casual game.

On the other end of the spectrum, you end up with Hide & Secret – it worked very hard on a well-illustrated story told in comic-book form, and failed utterly in its execution of a hidden objects game. The trouble was, nothing was really “hidden” so much as strewn about. I practically finished the game in the one hour trial period.

The MCF games succeed because they’re a great balance of well-hidden objects that are hard but not impossible to find, a story you can basically skip without wasting any time, and mini games that are easy enough that they don’t really take up any time at all so you can go right back to your object hunting. Although I did have to do a double-take once or twice while playing Ravenhearst – you call THAT an ashtray?

All games in this category are great games to play with kids – even Ravenhearst never goes beyond the “Are You Afraid of the Dark” level of scariness. Children will have great fun picking out objects and learning new words to describe them. Most of these games (with the exception of the first two on my list) support a “relaxed” mode as well, where the time is either extended or unlimited so you and your little ones can take your time scanning the scene.

Here’s a list of games worth playing:

And the not-so-stellar and only if you’re desperately in need of playing hidden object games: