Amazon: Hidden Expedition. Easy to lose your way

Spoiler alert!If you can get past the problems, and there are many of them, and you like hidden object games, Amazon: The Hidden Expedition is a lot of fun. But you have to get past a lot of problems.

No, seriously. More than you could possibly imagine.

It’s game day Friday. Enough said.

Originally I had written an introduction for this review about the need to get out and vote on Tuesday, even if it means writing in “none of the above.” Fortunately Carol pointed out that by the time you read this blog you will either have voted or you won’t because the voting intro belonged in last Friday’s blog.

So after a lot of cutting and pasting I fixed all that, which left me without an introduction to Amazon Hidden Expedition that had nothing to do with the game. Sadly, so many things can go wrong (and have) before the Friday this blog appears that I feel foolish writing.

The University of Texas football team has already gone down in flames, losing three in a row at home to marginal teams. The Texas Rangers could go down in flames in the World Series after losing three of their first four, and the Democrats could go down in flames to candidates who claim to defend a Constitution they don’t know how to read.1

By the way, I don’t love Democrats. I don’t bleed blue. They are a miserable, soulless lot with only a handful of candidates that I come close to agreeing with. And they tend to vote with the polls and not their conscience. Which, by the way, is why I want none of the above. But what little conscience a few of them have, I prefer to the alternative.

I can say this now because the election is over and you know the outcome. I don’t. I already had to go back and write this intro to make sure I had Friday’s post ready to go.

It’s one of the down sides of writing two weeks in advance so that you can die in an emergency and still have two weeks worth of blogs before anybody knows.

It was like watching Ellen the Monday after Halloween. You know damn well she taped the show the week before, but she’s still making references to what the audience did on Halloween and they still applaud as though they actually did something on Halloween, and actually ate Halloween snickers for breakfast (also plugging an advertiser) even though Halloween is still ahead of them.

It seems kind of pointless because by the time the show aired on Monday, nobody cared about Halloween anymore. They just wanted to see if Ellen came on to Taylor the way Letterman came on to her the week before. “You smell like some kind of wood. It’s nice.”

No, Dave, it’s creepy. You’re my age. You can fantasize about Taylor Swift but you know the oldest guy she’s going to fawn over is John Maher. And that was the other Halloween disappointment. Not only did I have to go back and rewrite this introduction, Taylor absolutely would not admit to any of the rumors about her and John Maher.

And she shouldn’t. That guy is creepier than Dave and the “smells like wood” comment. But here’s a news flash, Taylor. If you don’t want people to know you spent your evenings with a skeevy guy like John Maher, don’t write a song about him.

In fact, don’t write songs about any of those guys. After a while people start doing the math and you come off like those girls in the sorority with a “reputation,” only you don’t drink or do drugs so you don’t have Lindsay’s excuses.

So I think I’ve written enough that has nothing to do with Amazon: Hidden Expedition. Let’s look at the game.

Drowning in the Amazon

I’m going to try something different today. I’m going to tell you all of the reasons you will hate Amazon: Hidden Expedition first. Then—knowing in advance why you should hate it—if the good things I say still convince you to play it you will probably enjoy the game.

There are plenty of reasons to hate it. The biggest reason is that it still crashes, freezes, quits unexpectedly or doesn’t work even after several upgrades claiming to fix the bugs. Sometimes you have to delete the game, reinstall and start from the beginning. In some cases you may have to do this three or four times.

This is not just my experience but Carol’s as well. And lots of people who posted reviews at the App Store.

The first time I successfully played it all the way through I didn’t know I had successfully played it all the way through because it didn’t tell me. (This, I might point out, was the third time I reinstalled the game after permanently crashing between level 20 and 30). I simply saw a screen that said, “Somewhere in Mexico,” and then it stopped doing anything. I wrote the support people and asked if I had finished or there were more levels and they didn’t know.

It turns out, “Somewhere in Mexico,” was the notice that I had won the game and had moved on to the bonus game (where I crashed again). I reinstalled two more times, and then decided to ignore the game until I chose to write a review. Finally, this week I successfully played through all thirty-some levels and saw the tree of life come to life and tell me I had successfully finished.

On the one hand, I was relieved. On the other hand, I was puzzled because I had since seen players talk about level 50 on the Hidden Expedition forum. They must have been referring to the Mac or PC version. Or delusional.

Whichever it was, this isn’t the end of my list.

The hint system is nothing short of wonky. And it changes from task to task. When you’re in the search levels, you have to collect five beetles to get extra hints. If the beetles will allow themselves to be collected. Sometimes only three will respond, sometimes none. Sometimes I collected all five beetles and got a total of no hints.

When you cash in a hint, it simply shows you the object you want to find. I know a lot of other games do this too, but it irritates me. The one thing I liked about Little Things (or Tiny Things or whatever the game was called that I absolutely hated) was that at least the hint didn’t just give the object up. It took you to a section of the screen and then slowly zoomed in, giving you a chance to find the object before it became completely obvious where it was.

The hints for the puzzle section are nothing short of aggravating. They provide an almost useless first hint occasionally; most often they simply solve the puzzle for you. In one puzzle, where I had to connect steam pipes, I clicked on the hint and the game simply blew steam through the construction I had tried to build, even though the pipes were clearly disconnected. I restarted the level, did nothing to the pipes the second time around, clicked on the hint button and the steam went through the pipes even though I did nothing at all to them this time.

Well, the steam didn’t actually go through the pipes. It simply spouted at the top of the screen and I got a dialogue box that said I had successfully completed the level (twice).

Several of the puzzles are intriguing and ingenious. But several more simply require you to rearrange objects almost at random until you find the correct sequence. A couple of times I went ahead and hinted myself through the puzzle to see if I could detect a pattern and I still found myself have no idea what I should have done to get the puzzle right.

There are a variety of puzzles, not all of them good.

You also have to brighten the screen to see many of the objects. The same is true of Bride of Frankenstein, but at least they admit it. And every once in a while, I would click on a hint and I still couldn’t see the object. But when I touched the area, it would suddenly appear. So let me say, Amazon isn’t just a hidden object game, it’s a frustratingly well hidden to the point of almost invisible object game.

Some elements of the game are completely misleading. When areas of the screen sparkle on touch, this is supposed to indicate you need to find an object that will interact with the item that sparkles. Often the explorer’s journals will provide you with the clues you need to match objects in your inventory with their mates in the scenes.

However in one level there seem to be a series of sparkling areas marked by animal icons that apparently do nothing. Even the journals provide hints about what to do with them and the sequence to touch them in. As far as I can tell, they do absolutely nothing. I’ve checked the App Store reviews and the online game forums and nobody that I’ve found knows what to do with them.

This journal entry seems to be a total red herring.

I can only guess that the developers had plans they had to abandon when the bean counters told them to move the game to market. But Amazon was released in April and none of the upgrades seem to have addressed the animal icons.

I’m sure at this point, many readers have already decided it simply isn’t worth the aggravation to play. If so, I understand. I have to add, however, that in spite of the aggravations I actually enjoyed the game.

This may seem odd unless you’re happily married. Those of you who are will understand what I mean. There are times when you want to shoot your spouse, package him or her up to mail to Africa or simply get in the car and drive as far away as possible. But five minutes later you start another conversation and realize you wouldn’t want to be married to anyone else in the world. Even someone who didn’t love cats so much that at least a dozen sleep on the bed and two or three more sleep on top of you.

That’s kind of what it felt like playing Amazon. Except that being married to Carol is far more rewarding. Light years more rewarding. Hundreds of light years more rewarding. In fact, it’s ludicrous to even compare playing Amazon to the joys of being married to Carol.2

Amazon at cruising speed

When the game works it’s a lot of fun. If you like hidden object games. There are a games that have been released since that do a little better job hiding objects or posing puzzles, but few are as demanding on your thinking skills.

There are quite a few levels and none show up again (unlike other games).

Like the best hidden object games, many objects can’t be unlocked until you find other objects. Sometimes you have to backtrack three or four scenes to use an object you just found. Every once in a while you have to use multiple objects in combination to unlock hidden caches or new scenes.

You have to find several objects on several levels to cook the fish.

Nor do you see the same scene pop up over and over again with a different set of objects (as happens with many of these games). Each level has it’s own beautifully drawn screen. Should you choose to play again, however (or when you’re forced to because you reinstalled), the game selects different objects for you to collect.

The puzzles that work well work very well. And like The Puzzle Agent, they really do require different sets of problem solving skills. None are easy. And every once in a while, if you’re stumped, the developers do plant a good hint to nudge you in the right direction. Unfortunately, it’s only every once in a while.

What stands out more in Amazon than in any other game I’ve played, is the sophisticated and witty narrative. Rather than listening to tedious dialogues, you collect journal entries, many of which are quite completely off the wall. Most of the funniest bits are about food because the journalist’s tastes grow far more eclectic the more lost and hungry he gets.

At one point he describes grinding his bread bowl to dust and eating it, claiming it tasted good although it would have been better with salt. Then he draws a sketch of the bowl and adds a caption: “I wish it tasted like chicken.”

The writer has a dry and off-the-wall sense of humor.

The game play is fun. Most of the puzzles are challenging. The writing is the best of any hidden object game I’ve played.

If only I could play it through once without having to reinstall, I might even rate it a best buy. But when I’ve lost everything half a dozen times and had to replay the game all the way through just to discover I had already won it, I can’t even give it a good recommendation. When all is said and done, it’s just okay.

However, unless you particularly love good writing, complex hidden object games, and have the patience to reinstall constantly, you probably won’t even like it as much as I did.

Cats. Lots and lots of cats

Carol swears there is a cat who pops up on every level. Not the same cat, but a cat on every level. This means, at least to her, that the developers are cat lovers. It also means she will be recommending the game to all of her Siamese Rescue buddies.

Jenny Manytoes rates Amazon: Hidden Expedtion

Jenny Manytoes would take a nap next to Amazon: Hidden Expedition. It doesn’t matter if it has lots of cats. She puts up with too many cats already.

Nor do I care to explain any further.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

1Carol kept insisting that we already knew the outcome before I posted the blog. I tried to explain that the point of the introduction was that, yes, I would know before it was posted but not when I actually wrote it. This allowed me to play with a fake “time delay” ignorance. She thinks people will think I’m being stupid, so, for the record, the Rangers and the Democrats were thrashed.
They didn’t lose the Senate and the Governor’s races were a split, which was the opposite of what the media pundits wanted us to believe. They predicted that Obama would be isolated between a Republican Senate, House and state governments. But the media commentators have forgotten this in their eagerness to claim they could predict the outcome of the election.
The Cowboys lost too, but we’re Redskins fans so we don’t care about that. Oh, wait, the Redskins lost to Detroit, the worst team in the NFL. So it was a lousy week after all.back
2In case you hadn’t figured it out, Carol proofreads every blog.back


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 3 Stars - nap, Games, Hidden Object, Puzzle Games and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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