"Find the Hidden Object" games used to be the realm of books and magazine puzzles, but recently computer and video game versions have become more and more popular. This past Monday Majesco Entertainment made their DSi Shop debut with Hot and Cold: A 3D Hidden Object Adventure, where they take the basic idea and turn it into something a little more interactive than the normal still-image versions people have come to expect. As a boy with a special knack for finding lost things, you'll be spending your time looking for other people's stuff. Is this really a game though, or just a boring chore disguised as one?
In Hot and Cold you're a boy who's always had the uncanny ability to find lost items. Your more enterprising friend, Jenny, has started up the H 'n' C Club: a lost-and-found service where the two of you have clients already lined up and anxious for you to locate their cats, mummies, basketballs and other random items. After seeing some odd floating lights and hearing strange voices while taking on your first job or two however, you start to suspect that perhaps something more is going here on than just forgetful people misplacing their stuff.
Aside from cutscenes as you play through the main story mode the game is played entirely from a first-person perspective. The D-pad or the ABXY buttons move you around the room while the stylus allows you to look around. Press Select to play in "book mode," where you can hold your DS sideways if you like (fear not lefties, you can change the direction with another press of the Select button). Start brings you to the pause menu, where you can either continue playing, view a quick reminder about the controls, start the level over or quit and go back to the main menu.
Use the buttons or your stylus to scroll through the available options in the main menu. 'Tutorial' begins the game in story mode. You can use your eyes and look around like everyone else if you like, but if you're having trouble, tap the "Hot and Cold" button at the top of the screen to activate your special powers. The metre will begin to drain, and as you move around the area it will go from "cold" if you're far away from the top item on your list to "warm" and finally "hot" when you're right on top of it. When your metre is empty your "focus" is lost, leaving you searching normally again as your metre slowly refills on its own. Once you've found an item you're looking for, tap and drag it to the little bag icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. Should you grab the wrong item, you can throw it away by flicking your stylus. If you try to put it into your bag, an obnoxiously loud buzzer will sound and sometimes Jenny will pop up on the screen to tell you that "something bad" will happen if you keep dragging the wrong things into your bag. Drag something else you're not looking for into your bag at that point and the screen will suddenly darken and go blurry before your eyes for a few moments, but nothing else will happen.
The idea in each level is to find the five items on your list (located on the upper screen) in each room before your time runs out. If going up against the clock does not appeal to you, you're given the opportunity to set the difficulty to "Easy" at the outset in order to remove the time limit entirely, and you can change the difficulty to Normal or Hard in the Options menu from the main screen. At random (or if you're throwing items around willy-nilly), showers of blue or red shards will appear in the room. Collecting blue shards will refill your Hot and Cold metre or if it's already full, will increase your time limit. At the end of each level the amount of blue shards you've collected is shown which is then added to your running total and may be used later on to unlock items in your collection. Collecting red shards only increases your time limit.
Control-wise, though the "move with buttons, look with stylus" method has worked in other games, it becomes a problem in Hot and Cold as half the time you'll try to look around and wind up picking up a nearby item instead. Sometimes the game has odd ideas about which item you'll pick up, too: you'll think you have a clear shot at one item and yet you'll pick up the one beside it on accident. Another problem is the cramped view you have of your surroundings. There will be times where you'll be right on top of an item, your metre pulsing "hot," and yet you won't be able to see it. You can't kneel or jump up onto things to help you see and there's no way to zoom your view in or out, so there will be many times where you'll be frustrated as you fight to get a good look around each room. Also, throwing items is a gigantic hassle: the game has you knock unreachable items down by throwing other items at them, but between the tunnel vision and the fact that your aim and velocity are hard to judge you'll spend more time trying to knock them down than you will trying to find them in the first place. Thankfully there aren't many items you won't be able to reach on your own, but the few you'll have to knock down will either be lucky hits or just horrendously annoying. The game itself isn't hard, but these issues provide most of the difficulty you'll face.
Back in the main menu, choose "Collection" to view items you've unlocked by beating levels and also to purchase items with the blue shards you've collected so far. When you've beaten a level in the main mode it will be unlocked under the "Level Select" option in the main menu for you to play at any time. The list of items to find changes each time you restart a level, though the items themselves and their placement does not change. If you're in the mood for something more random, choose "Quickplay" to have the game generate a level for you using items from your collection and settings you've already played in during the main mode. Multiplayer allows you to play, send or receive levels locally via wireless connection -- sorry, no Wi-Fi play -- with a friend who has also purchased Hot and Cold. If you really want someone to try a level you've made though, it may be easier to hand off your DSi to a friend than to find someone with a DSi who has downloaded this game. Wi-Fi play would have been a great feature for this game, especially with the kind of potential "Level Creation" has to offer.
Once you've toughed it out through 35 levels in the main game and watched the predictable story play out, you'll finally unlock the "Level Creation" mode. Here you're walked through the process of designing your very own levels to play and share with friends. You can have four levels saved to your DSi at any given time and each level can have up to four different rooms. The items and rooms are all grouped by setting (though you can place items and rooms from different settings in the same level), and once you're used to the controls in the level editor, there's a great deal of flexibility in moving around the room and placing items however you like. If you're a person who enjoys playing hide and seek with your friends you could really get creative, but the fact that you have to make it through the entire story just to unlock this mode is absolutely ludicrous and may put off Majesco's more casual audience.
Majesco really outdid themselves by creating seven different environments to play in. Each setting, including your home, a school, a diner and a creepy abandoned house, are chock-full of visual details, obstacles, and over 500 possible items to find through the course of the game. Most are clearly recognisable from their short descriptions on your list, but even the more obscure items (the centrifuge, sitar, and metronome, for example) are surprisingly detailed and easy to pick out once you've spotted them in a room. That said, don't torture yourself trying to play this game on the lowest brightness setting -- charge your DSi fully and jack the brightness up all the way. Trying to pick out out those lost items on a dim screen -- especially if they're a specific color -- is nearly impossible in some levels.
All of the story parts are fully narrated which is nice, but the sound effects could have used some work -- or at least some method of lowering their volume other than just turning them off entirely. The aforementioned buzzer in particular is loud enough to scare you if you're concentrating on finding something and thought you had it! The music has a very generic "adventure game" sound to it, and as you play each new level a new song is unlocked for the game to cycle through. If there's a song you really don't like you can take it off the game's playlist under the 'Set Playlist' option in the Options menu, and you can turn the music or sound effects off entirely via the options menu if you like.
People lose things all the time: car keys, homework, marbles, you name it. How many actually enjoy the process of finding that stuff, though? Forcing yourself to play through the main story mode feels more like a chore if all you want to do is create your own levels and play with friends via local multiplayer, but if you really enjoy hidden-object puzzles and don't mind having to get used to quirky controls, the amount of content packed into Hot and Cold: A 3D Hidden Object Adventure will have you busy for a long time.