The Bronze Horseman
The superstition about a malicious, supernatural horseman riding the streets after torrential rainfall and floods in the small town you've been summoned to seems like a silly one... right up until you see the statue come to life in the middle of town. In Haunted Legends: The Bronze Horseman, a hidden-object adventure from ERS Game Studio, the local legends might be the least of your worries. The mayor's son has gone missing, a familiar tiny demonic (though impeccably dressed) figure is causing mayhem in the streets, and as more and more townsfolk vanish you start noticing a series of bizarre crystals all competing for "World's Derpiest Expression" showing up. Look, as your friend, I have to tell you; if this is "all in a day's work" for you, you might think about asking for a raise.
Being an old-timey fantasy detective is, it turns out, very similar to playing a point-and-click computer game. In fact, it IS a point-and-click computer game! How convenient! You'll explore the town and the surrounding area, solving hidden-object scenes and looking for clues to achieve your objective; namely, to solve the mystery of the disappearing townsfolk and the statuesque horseman that appears to be tormenting them. The game has two levels of difficulty, with the only real differences being how fast your hint and skip buttons recharge and whether the interactive areas coyly vie for your attention with "come hither" sparklies. (Flirts.)
Analysis: By now, ERS are old hats (which is a compliment, believe it or not) at game design, and if you've played any of their previous titles (including the predecessor to Bronze Horseman, The Queen of Spades) you've likely already come to expect a certain degree of quality from them. Which, happily, The Bronze Horseman delivers in nearly every regard. The overall design might be the best in an ERS Game Studio title to date, mixing bizarre architecture with the aesthetics of a warped fairytale to create an environment that's worth admiring as you explore. The story features a surprising amount of animation and a fair amount of voice acting, which can be very hit-and-miss, but still isn't quite as annoying as the protagonists' fussy derision over doing even the simplest, slightly messy tasks with their bare hands. Seriously, I am going to take all your Man Cards away from you if this keeps up. Yes, even if you're a lady.
Click detection is, unfortunately, a little finicky, with picking out thin or tiny items in hidden-object scenes being the worst. It's not uncommon for games in this genre to repeat hidden-object scenes, but the Bronze Horseman is happy to make you do the same scene over within the span of five or ten minutes. However, the game also might be the most intriguing one the developers have done in regards to the story and mystery, which only gets stranger the more you play. It's a welcome change from games that tell you everything within the first fifteen minutes, and exhibits a lot of creativity that makes you want to see what it's going to come up with next.
While Haunted Legends: The Bronze Horseman has a robust variety of puzzles (including one that pays homage to gods of the doodle variety), it still isn't particularly difficult regardless of whether you choose casual or advanced at the beginning. Objects have a tendency to show up right when you need them, usually within a screen or two of where they need to be, so unless this is your very first hidden-object adventure game ever, chances are you're going to be proceeding at a respectable clip throughout the whole title. This isn't a bad thing; unless you demand a lot of challenge, The Bronze Horseman is still easily recommended for its excellent quality. Speedsters can finish the game in around three hours, but for most people it'll likely run closer to five without the bonus chapter. While it might not be an instant classic, Haunted Legends: The Bronze Horseman is still a beautifully made and imaginative title. If you like hidden-object adventures and snail/horse hybrid statuettes, then trying the demo should be an instant no-brainer. Just a pro-tip for future city planners, however; if you don't want to have your citizens beset by unholy creatures and demonic horsemen, you might want to avoid designing your entire city around the concept of misshapen horse monstrosities and horse-related mechanisms. Just a thought.
A Collector's Edition is also available. It contains a bonus chapter to play, wallpapers, strategy guide, and more. Remember that Big Fish Game Club Members pay only $13.99 for Collector's Editions (or 2 club credits), and collector's editions count 3 card punches of 6 total needed for a free game.