The AppStore has a number of games that try to mix the old-style adventure genre with touch based interface, most prominently hidden object games. It is not a surprise that G5 Entertainment, a studio that already have relative success with the hidden object adventure Mushroom Age and Paranormal Agency, does it again with The Mystery of the Crystal Portal [iTunes Link]. In fact, this title earned them the up-and-coming developer award at Great Game Awards by RealGames.
In Crystal Portal you play Nicole Rankwist, a young journalist daughter of a renowned archeologist who has gone lost. Hopefully, you can find him using his secret diary that explains his quest to find an amazing secret hidden in pieces around the world. Perhaps not the most creative setting, but it does to send you to different continents to find clues to find your father and eventually discover what the mystery of the Crystal Portal is.
The game is laid out nicely with minimal control buttons and a list of items that must be collected. Every stage has different levels packed with objects that you have to examine carefully and combine to get to the relevant clues. The little action happens on 2D scenarios where you can zoom in but not pan around. Everything you need to find is most of the times on plain sight, and only in a few occasions hidden by other objects or inside secret areas. Video and more screenshots after the break.
In most of the classic adventure games you have to combine elements to achieve something. I remember the old Day of the Tentacle was great in that sense. In Crystal Portal you have to mash up a number of elements that have little to do with each other with the only aim to… clean up the room? You are not going to get a lighter, a book, a bucket and make a bonfire. Here is more about: Get a balance, a Nefertiti statue, a vase, a diary and a basket and combine it with a lamp. I understand this gives a level of complexity for the actual gameplay and doesn't sacrifice the theme coherence of the scenario.
The touch controls are not the most predictable either, but get the job done fast. First, you need to find the mysterious items marked with an interrogation mark on your menubar. Once you tap on them, you will get illustrations in black and white of five different items you must find. Once you see them, tap, drag and drop them. The trick here is that the objects are well hidden and the picture provided doesn't necessarily match the perspective from your point of view. Once you complete this task, other elements will be available for collection until you clear the scenario.
I didn't find Crystal Portal very fun the first time I played, but it can get you hooked quite easily because there is a lot of depth in the levels. You can use the bit "hint" button so you don't get stuck, which made my progress much faster and I didn't feel guilty using. As the game progresses, you get used to spot really obvious objects that you know you'll need to use (common feature in the genre), but some a pretty well hidden and blend really well with the background.
At the end of every stage there is a little puzzle that you need to solve to get your reward. I found these really smart and entertaining and just wished there were more of those along the game.
The art is beautiful and has a very characteristic style. However, I noticed that the detail level varied tremendously between levels, specially the Japanese temple not making any sense at all. While I found a level at the docks and train station really good, the temple just looked artificially crammed with objects that didn't belong there. Another issue the developer might want to look into is the tapping, since I can select items before I need to use them.
It doesn't impress when you first play, but it becomes addictive an a serious time waster… in the good sense. Overall I was nicely impressed with The Mystery of Crystal Portal. It delivers definitely more than four hours of gameplay and is one of those you can come back after some weeks without playing because the plot doesn't play such an important part. And why not, this is the kind of game you want to show off your Retina Display on your brand new iPhone or iPod Touch.