Ever wonder what your humble garden gnome is up to when you're not looking? Apart from hours of practice standing completely still and grinning incessantly, gnomes are sneaky and underhanded. Apparently. Looks like some conjuration of magic is in order, and what better way to help than by exploring the world of gnomes and creating potions in Hodgepodge Hollow, a mesmerizing and charming hidden object game.
As it turns out, dragons have stolen the gnome's valuable book of secret gnome stuff, and to defeat the dragons, some powerful magic needs to be summoned. Everybody knows that gnomes can't mix potions themselves, so they post an ad on the community board advertising potion classes. And who happens to respond to the ad? Why, you of course.
You quickly learn that creating potions requires hunting for items in beautifully-drawn hidden object scenes. You also learn that to find items and ingredients requires the use of potions you've already created along the way. Search each scene thoroughly and use your mouse to click on items as you find them. Then, head to the kitchen to cook up potions according to special recipes!
Analysis: Jolly Bear Games has produced an exquisitely presented game, with gorgeously detailed drawings and smooth gameplay. The artwork reminds me a little of the illustrations in Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book, before the fairies are actually squished. The sounds and gentle folksy guitar music contribute to a peaceful ambiance, and the game itself is uncomplicated with only one level of difficulty. This sweet and unassuming experience embodies the meaning of casual gaming.
You'll hardly find challenge in Hodgepodge Hollow. In fact, it may even be considered too easy. There's a feeling of being led a little too much while playing. What needs to be clicked lights up as you hover your mouse over it. The potions are simple to create, involving only a few steps, and you barely have to hunt around the kitchen, as only the ingredients you'll be using for each recipe will be highlighted. There are plenty of different ingredients that to be found and used, and the results for each potion ease the threat of repetitiveness. It would have been nice if the game allowed for more experimentation with ingredients, methods and results, and even more usage of the potions throughout the game.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of Hodgepodge Hollow are the hidden object games. While they are a delight to play as you take in all the detailed artwork, some hidden objects are hidden to the point of obscurity. There is a hint meter in the form of a snoozing gnome that recharges quite quickly, and you may have to click on it more than once during the game just to locate those few items.
This game is not for fans of the extreme. Although it has dragons, witches and sneaky, under-handed gnomes, Hodgepodge Hollow is more like a wander through a fairytale, sprinkled with some gnome-ish humor, and where the characters are all harmless with only the occasional mildly grumpy wizard. Easily, this is a game for those who like to, or even need to, relax. Think of it as a generous ice-cream cone with sugary sprinkles on a summery day, or a frothy mug of hot chocolate crammed with melting marshmallows on a frosty night: you may not have to think about it too much, but it's truly delicious and utterly delightful.