Do you have too much money and space on your SD card? Are you the type of person who enjoys finding objects hidden in low-resolution images? Do you adore games with lengthy and misleading titles? Then we've got just the thing for you! Welcome to the depressing experience that is Secret Empires of the Ancient World!
This is the fourth game in Selectsoft's series of hidden object puzzlers, and it's just as hollow as those that came before it. If the developer had decided to package all of these into one title then it would at least be providing a fair amount of content for the price of admission, but instead it decided to chop it up into absurdly small pieces and shill it to 3DS owners one week at a time. Hidden object games are a dime a dozen on the 3DS eShop, but this series sets a new low for what is deemed acceptable.
Jumping right in, the first thing that any player should notice is the uninspired interface. It's a hidden object game, so not too much can or should be expected, but Secret Empires of the Ancient World chooses to bypass any formality and basically announce "here it is, this is all you get." The 3DS’s top screen shows a zoomed out view of the single screen in which objects are hidden along with a list of objects to seek. The bottom screen simultaneously displays a zoomed-in view of what is featured above and acts as the game board. There's something to be said about a simplistic aesthetic when done well, but this feels lazy more than anything.
Our biggest complaint about Gothic Masquerade, another of Selectsoft's recently released hidden object titles, is that the objects weren't actually hidden. All of the "hidden" objects were displayed on-screen, but most were so transparent and faded into the background that they were nearly impossible to see and even more difficult to identify. Secret Empires of the Ancient World makes an attempt at remedying this by instead going in the wildly opposite direction. All of the objects are displayed proudly in full colour, practically jumping out of their environments and covering up the majority of the background in which they’re supposed to be lost. As you can imagine, the objects are hardly hidden, mostly just placed at odd angles in the hopes that the seeker isn’t looking at it dead-on.
Despite the bright colours and attempt at making everything extremely visible, all of the images are grainy and don’t take advantage of the console’s 3D effect, resulting in an aesthetic that is entirely disenchanting. As the title suggests, each stage is set in a location from different ancient civilizations, but the still background images are so cluttered with objects to sift through that they are barely noticeable. The soundtrack is just as underwhelming as the visuals, relying on a very small handful of tracks that are just the same 15 to 30 second clip looped ad infinitum. Needless to say, this game is ugly all-around.
Secret Empires of the Ancient World controls just as well as one might expect, implementing a combination of touch based and button inputs. Each single-panel stage utilizes the Circle Pad to navigate while the console’s touchscreen takes charge of the actual item selecting. The touch controls are sensitive and accurate when selecting your objects, requiring a surprising amount of precision. It’s necessary to pay attention that you’re selecting your found object directly, as tapping just off of an object results in subtracted points from your running total – a score that means little to nothing considering the absence of a leaderboard. The controls do, in fact, work quite well.
There are 20 stages to complete with varying objectives. Most stages simply request that you find all of the listed objects while others instead give you the silhouettes of objects to find. There are also a few tile puzzles scattered in between that manage to provide some semblance of variety. By the time we played through everything, our 3DS’s Activity Log indicated that we had played for 29 minutes. Not even a half hour had passed by the time we were done; we could find no reason to return. The stages don't change — save for the objects that you're asked to seek — but they're all in the same positions they were in the first time around. The tile puzzles are also the same, reusing the same images with each return rather than cycling through a stock of unique designs.
The fact that we could complete this game is less time than it takes to prepare supper is evidence that Secret Empires of the Ancient World is far too easy. Not only did we never lose while playing, but we never even came close to losing. We finished each stage with so much time to spare that losing seems nearly impossible. This may sound like an odd complaint, especially for what by all accounts should be considered a casual game, but the fact is that losing is what makes so many things worth doing. There is a shocking lack of challenge here and nothing more to see beyond the 20 stages; there isn't much of any reason to play again. It's unfair to say that Secret Empires of the Ancient World has no replay value, but it does come exceptionally close.
Secret Empires of the Ancient World is very difficult to recommend, even to the biggest fans of the genre. It fulfils its promise of being a hidden object game, but it manages to go about the enterprise so poorly that it’s a wonder this was released at all. As mentioned above, this game feels like a very small piece of a much larger package – a piece that isn’t really worth owning on its own. With other, much better hidden object games already available on the 3DS eShop, it’s safe to say that this one should be left buried.