Crime O’Clock is a stylish-looking, screen-searching detective game that was featured in Nintendo’s Indie World Showcase back in April. The latest game from Milan-based development team Bad Seed, it promises to blend time travel with crime solving across large, densely populated hand-drawn maps.

A hidden object game with a temporal twist, Crime O’Clock ties its find-the-item tasks together with a convoluted story of AIs, timelines, and criminal acts. A typical stage starts by presenting a lovingly drawn monochrome cartoon scene and asking the player to find the site of a crime by zooming and panning. The evidence sought is imaginative, sometimes amusingly absurd, ranging from broken crockery to hapless anthropomorphic individuals squashed to death under fallen rubble. Having located the critical place, the hunt is on for clues as to what went down.

It’s when tracing the events leading up to a crime that the time travel kicks in. Each scenario has 10 'ticks', across which the scene is updated with the movements of all the characters present. There’s an incredible amount of detail to be digested, and uncovering a character’s route through town while catching glimpses of the casts of different cases can be fun.

Despite the clever progression of the scenes over time, the gameplay does just boil down to finding the hidden object indicated by a text prompt. The game could probably be played without paying any attention to the story and just referring to the main prompt and the time-locked hints while you scour the drawings for the target.

The story in fact really doesn’t help matters. Apart from the fact that the plot is so complicated and contrived that younger players – surely a core target for the genre – may struggle to keep up, it also requires you to search for items like 'nox crystals' – something we wouldn’t have recognised if they filled half the screen. The entertainment value in those moments is less like Where’s Wally? and more like losing your keys.

There are efforts to break up the routine of staring at the pictures: a hot-or-cold device for narrowing down the location of an item saves searching the whole canvas, and occasional minigame puzzles provide a brief distraction. However, we found more than once that we’d solved these puzzles before we had even worked out in what sense they actually were puzzles. Examples include rotating dials until they click into place, or simply pressing the button indicated on the screen, with no penalty for a mistake.

Crime O’Clock adds a smart twist to the hidden object concept. By showing the characters in its lively scenes going about their business as time passes, Bad Seed has found a way to build masses of detail into the little worlds you explore. However, the minigames are very weak and we never escaped the extremely repetitive gameplay typical of this type of game. As a result, it’s one for genre fans only.