Blackwood & Bell Mysteries is a new hidden object game for Facebook from Gardens of Time developer Disney Playdom. Following the success of the company’s previous hidden object smash hit, Playdom aims to give the genre an “edgier” feel with Blackwood & Bell Mysteries, toeing the line between realism and popular mythology such as vampires. Lead producerJoey Kline told Inside Social Games that he hoped the new game would “broaden the market” but also “overlap considerably with the Gardens of Time audience.”
In terms of basic mechanics, Blackwood & Bell Mysteries is almost identical to other popular hidden object games on Facebook. Players alternate between building up a patch of land — here referred to as an “Evidence Yard” — and visiting various locations to find hidden objects. In the building section, players acquire “reputation” for placing structures and decorations, with various reputation milestones needed to be met before unlocking further hidden object scenes. In the hidden object scenes, meanwhile, players score points for finding objects more quickly and in rapid succession, and over the course of several repeats of the same scene, earn “stars” to prove their mastery.
In the hidden object scenes, the objects in question remain in the same place every time a player visits, though the specific list of items which must be found varies. This means that achieving a high score is more a case of simply learning where the various objects are rather than being especially observant. The game does its best to distract the player with occasional, subtle animations, but the backdrops are otherwise static. The visuals are attractive, though some objects blend into the background a little too well, and in a problem endemic to the whole genre, it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly what a particular object name refers to due to ambiguity or lack of clarity.
The game offers a slight twist on the usual formula by occasionally requiring players to locate “clue” items in the scene. These are presented in the same way as normal hidden objects, but are specially marked in the object list and have direct significance to the ongoing story. Sometimes quests specifically require players to locate this clue item, though occasionally it takes several playthroughs of the same scene for the item in question to show up in the object list — and without an appearance in the list, the quest cannot be completed.
An emphasis has been placed on story and characterization in the game. For once players are not searching for a missing uncle; instead, they are assisting the titular Blackwood & Bell, a pair of consulting detectives hailing from Britain and America respectively. Much of the game’s characterization comes from the “clash of cultures” between Blackwood & Bell, though the jokes about British versus American English can come across as somewhat anachronistic at times given the game’s otherwise traditional Victorian feel, obviously heavily inspired by Sherlock Holmes’ London.
In terms of social features, the game offers a number of things for players to do with their friends. Upon visiting a friend’s “Evidence Yard,” players are immediately provided with rewards without having to click on buildings to “help.” They are then able to leave a short text message for their friend which will appear the next time they log in. They are also able to issue a “Sleuth Challenge,” an asynchronous multiplayer showdown in which both participants must find as many hidden objects as possible in a specially-designed scene against a one-minute time limit.
The game monetizes through the sale of hard currency, which can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from refilling energy to rushing building projects and instantly constructing vanity items for the “Evidence Yard.” Said items tend to carry a significantly higher Reputation reward for purchasing, meaning that paying players can unlock subsequent hidden object scenes much more rapidly. At times this means that quests can be preemptively completed, but the game requires players to click on, view and accept the quest before it acknowledges its completion.
Blackwood & Bell Mysteries doesn’t do anything especially innovative in the hidden object genre. The Sleuth Challenges and clue items are a good addition, but don’t make a huge difference to the core gameplay, which is otherwise almost identical to other hidden object games on Facebook. That said, it is a competent title with good production values, and the effort that has been made to infuse the eponymous detective duo with a degree of personality and characterization helps encourage players to engage with the game world and its narrative. A likeable cast can be a strong contributing factor in encouraging players to return to a game after they have given it an initial “trial run,” and Disney Playdom is obviously counting on this fact to distinguish the game from its numerous rivals. Gardens of Time fans will likely flock to a new hidden object game as the genre remains popular on Facebook, though whether or not Kline’s hope that the game will “broaden the market” pays off remains to be seen.
Blackwood & Bell Mysteries was the fifth fastest-growing Facebook game by MAU this week. The game currently has 2,000,000 monthly active users and 490,000 daily active users. To follow its progress, check out AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.
A solid hidden object game with a likeable cast, but one which doesn’t take too many risks in deviating from the well-established formulae of the genre.