Nature. The Great Outdoors. Land of beauty and majesty, where the earth itself holds reign over a freedom and intrinsic order spanning the eons. And, if you’re a hidden object game, a primo place to dump all manner of human-made junk imaginable for people to find. The nature of hidden object games can’t be denied, however, and Vacation Adventures: Park Ranger takes advantage of its idyllic premise to create a number of pleasing, colourful backdrops.
Players are placed into the boots of rangers at Pinecreek Hills Park, touring its many locales and facilities to ensure everything is in top shape for visitors. It can’t be helped that Pinecreek Hills is apparently located across the lake from Captain Planet Villain Summer Camp, as every location from hiking trails to cabins to caves seems filled to the rafters with objects that just don’t appear in nature. Who leaves their perfectly good Buddha statue lying around? Honestly.
The main scenes of Park Ranger offer a few different searching activities, the primary being a checklist of items that must be cleared in order to move on. The list shows six items at a time from an overall roster that rises up to around 20 over the course of the game. Finding one item clears it from the list and brings up another. The list may also contain a required chore such as lighting a fire or painting a beam, which always involves finding one object and dragging it to another.
In addition to the standard checklist, levels also contain two optional searches. The Lost and Found will show several objects in silhouette only, while Recycling tasks the player with picking up all the plastic bags, crushed cans, and broken bottles they can find because humans are horrible, disgusting creatures and why does nature even let us come over all the time?
Mini-games will also show up from time to time between hidden object stages. Some are the tired puzzle-piecing affairs found in the genre, but others try a bit harder with maths-solving and even international landmark and flag identification.
For the most part, Park Ranger makes object hunting a relaxing affair. Items never seem too dastardly hidden, although sometimes they can appear in different forms between stages (a dragonfly, for example, could be the real thing or a drawing of one). Sometimes an object is hidden beneath or within another object, requiring another tap to uncover, but these items will be highlighted in red on the list and their locations actually make sense. The music also remains calm and never too intrusive, performing its job well.
Getting stuck, thankfully, is also never an issue in Park Ranger unless you want it to be. Hitting the A button during a hidden object scene will provide a hint, circling a needed object. Hints recharge with time and only come at the cost of a point bonus at the end of the stage. Similarly, the mini-games can be skipped entirely after a short amount of time, which is unfortunately something one may be grateful to do for one or two of them. If you want to stick things out, though, nothing ever has a time limit.
The scenes offered in the game really are appealing and always well detailed, but it sometimes feels like the developer tried packing too much detail in. Full images often appear fuzzy, requiring zooming in with the L button to see sharper details and find some of the more discretely placed objects. This isn’t usually a big deal, but can be troublesome when you’re simultaneously working the stylus and circle pad to drag one object to another. There's also the odd scenario in a couple of the mini-games where you’re tasked with finding objects in a certain order with the scene and checklist on the same screen; when you zoom the checklist is no longer visible. Unless you love constantly panning back and forth, those items can just stay lost.
When it comes to traditional hidden object play, Vacation Adventures: Park Ranger does a good job of keeping things manageable and uncomplicated, offering wonderful scenes that might even make you feel a bit bad to see them so cluttered. Although zooming and panning can be problematic in some situations, and some of the mini-games just aren’t that fun, the game at least offers ways to keep things moving along. Fans of hidden objects should find much to like, especially if they enjoy taking their time and replaying scenes (overall playtime for this review was a little over 3 hours with no repeats and some use of hints). Others looking to hunt for stuff in the woods, however, might want to look at Geocaching instead.