Wow, does this game look good. That's its main selling point, and it really is a strong foot to put forward. Every character, location, and HOS in the game is drawn in a distinctively soft pastel-influenced style that makes it stand out from the strict realism that so many other titles are shooting for. I'd say that the art was the only thing the game had going for it, but that wouldn't be exactly fair, as the story, short though it may be, actually does have its nice moments.
On to the hidden object criteria!
Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?
To a moderate degree. There aren't many HOSs in the game, and the vary wildly in quality. While a kitchen and tool stand may be perfect examples of realistic yet complex and challenging HOS design, a few of the other screens - like a greenhouse or the garden in front of a gypsy's house - are mediocre messes. Good or bad, though, the game's problem with its HOSs is that players are asked to return to each of the small number of screens an unacceptable number of times. I've been fairly open about my love of returning to HOSs for second and third trips in the past - on two conditions: 1 - All of the quest items must appear when the player arrives at the scene the first time, so they get a teaser for what they'll be looking for later; 2 - Any item the player picks up must not be returned for the second visit, allowing the player the rare pleasure of actually 'cleaning up' the screen over two, or at a maximum three, visits. That second item is vitally important, since players never want to be put in the position of having to find the same item in the same place more than once - the act that breaks all suspension of disbelief and pulls players out of the game.
Care to guess my objection to Bathory's HOSs?
That's right - not only does is the player asked to return to most of the screens 5-10 times only to find all the items reset, but adding insult to injury, each time they're asked to find 12 items, but each screen has a pool of around 16 items to draw from, meaning that players will spend the game picking up the exact same items over and over again. It's inexcusable and frustrating and by the end of the game I'd nearly reached the point where I could grab all of the first screen's items blindfolded.
Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?
A small percentage of the time, yes, the game offers the thinnest justification possible - the 12:1 screen. Most of the time, though, players are asked to complete a hidden object scene over and over again in the hopes of being rewarded with money. Money which is used to buy quest items from the town store. Where most games will hide those items inside HOSs, giving the player the chance to find them for themselves, the developers of Bathory didn't bother. Instead, players are forced to perform the same rote screens over and over again until they earn enough money to but everything at the store with a price tag on it. Why is the main character receiving coins for collecting the same items over and over again? Who can say! The developers couldn't even provide the barest figleaf of justification by hiding coins in the various HOSs. It's just a disaster.
Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?
While the HOSs are a nearly complete wash, the game at least has puzzles that fit well in the world. This is a haunted village in Slovakia, with the main character investigating an evil castle, a museum, and her sister's cottage. All of them are filled with elaborate puzzles to be solved, either in the form of mini-games or item use. The puzzles aren't anything special - just a standard assortment of card-matching, ring alignment, sliding block puzzles and the like. The only standout is the fetch-quest to find all of the ingredients to a potion which is then brewed via a game of pipe dreams. No, the puzzles aren't particularly innovative, but at least they're almost entirely competent in a way the HOSs just aren't. The only problem they have is that a few of the puzzles don't have the clearest rules, and the game doesn't explain how puzzles are meant to be played when the character first finds them. No, if players want instructions, they'll have to click on the HINT button. Which is just strange. Especially since the game's oft-times spotty translation means that occasionally the instructions raise more questions than they answer.
It's too bad that the HOSs are such a mess and the puzzles are just okay, since Bathory's presentation really is top-notch. It has some of the most beautifully-drawn art I've ever seen in a HOG, but it's in service of a sub-par experience. The story of a woman searching for her sister and uncovering the terrifying true story of Elizabeth Bathory is an entertaining one - but the developers didn't find a good way of telling it, and I spend more of the game frustrated than I did intrigued.
Want to see the playthrough that led to this review? Check out the first part below!