iPad Game Review: Mystery of the Crystal Portal

I had bought Mystery of the Crystal Portal for my iPad when I was heading out on vacation. While I was quite occupied with Puzzle Quest 2 on the DS, I love the occasional ‘hidden object’ game, and have been VERY happy with stuff from G5 games (like Mahjongg Artifacts) … so I figured I’d give it a try. When I came back I got a message from G5 noting that the game was being released as a PSP Mini and offering me a review copy, which I quickly accepted! I figured that I would be able to quickly decide whether they could get the same review or need to be separate based on critical differences … look for my PSP Mini review of the game coming soon.

The Hype:
Embark on a brain-bending adventure that’s full of unique hidden object fun. Journalist Nicole Rankwist has always been close to her archaeologist father. So when her father goes missing, Nicole knows she has to find him. After all, he had apparently just made a discovery that could “change the course of humanity”. Join Nicole as she searches the globe on an eye-popping quest to find her father and discover the truth behind the Crystal Portal. Featuring innovative hidden object gameplay, an intriguing storyline, stunning full-screen graphics, and more, The Mystery of the Crystal Portal is a thrilling escape for the whole family.
– Unique Hidden Object Gameplay
– Original Storyline
– Stunning Scenes to Search
– Loads of Brain-Bending Fun

You can get a new hint every few minutes – so you always have a free hint when you are stuck. You can buy more hints to speed up your adventure, but it is optional and not required to complete the game.

The Reality:
The ‘hidden object’ game is one of the newer genres in PC gaming, with the origins going back to only ~2005 – but earlier similar games for kids such as the I Spy series available since around 2000 or so.

The basics are simple – you need to find objects to solve puzzles. In the I Spy games you were replicating the books – there would be a rhyme with numbers of items, and you would work to find them scattered around the picture. In the more formalized hidden object games, there is a story that puts you into a specific situation, and you need to locate objects to solve a specific need or decipher a puzzle.

The story here is pretty simple – or so it seems! Nicole Rankwist is a journalist for a small paper in New York in the late 1920’s. Her father is an archeologist who recently made a discovery he says will ‘change the course of history’ … and has now gone missing! Nicole starts at his apartment searching for him, and then realizes that whatever he discovered is critical to his disappearance, and that he has left her a series of hidden clues to help trace his footsteps.

To solve the mystery you will need to find the various ‘container’ objects on each screen and then find the many objects needed to complete that section of the puzzle. Some items are fairly obvious, whereas others are hidden and won’t be revealed until you complete certain others tasks. For example, a key item might be in a box that isn’t active until you finish three of the five hidden areas.

Each puzzle also has a certain number of ‘special objects’. These are specific to the area, and you need to find all of them to proceed. They might be a block or a gear or another object. Sometimes they are also hidden until you complete certain tasks. These objects are also spread across however many areas you need to solve as part of the main puzzle for the location.

Once you have uncovered all of the hidden objects and located all of the special objects, you will be able to access the ‘secret area’, which has a different type of puzzle to solve to unlock a part of the crystal portal object.

As an example of the actual game, the image below is from Nicole’s Father’s study. I have opened one container object, the floor planter. Along the bottom you can see there are three container objects in this puzzle. Each container has five slots, which are identified the attached circles. Take a look at the image and see how many of the objects you can locate.

The game features a tutorial section consisting of Nicole’s father’s front door and study – which is eventually quite helpful but put me off a bit since I needed to use a hint in order to figure out part of the very fist puzzle! When my older son also needed a hint at the same point I didn’t feel so bad – and fortunately the remainder of the game was better balanced.

The only criticism I have for the main game is that in every location you are handed one or two ‘busy work’ tasks to find some special object someone has misplaced. Generally this same person has extolled your critical importance and the grand nature of your father’s work – it is cute once or twice, but gets rather old after a while and feels like a missed opportunity to add more story details or other characters.

Naturally the two biggest factors in a game of this sort are graphic detail and control scheme: in other words, how well you can see the items, and whether or not you can select them! The iPad has detailed HD graphics that make identifying objects very easy once you find them. And the touch controls are highly optimized to be precise yet also forgiving, meaning that you are unlikely to miss your mark even if you are off by a slight bit.

Overall, Mystery of the Crystal Portal on the iPad is loads of fun. There is little replay value, but for the hours of puzzle-solving you get for the money it is a very worthwhile purchase.

Where to Buy: iTunes App Store

Price: $4.99

What I Like:
+ Challenging puzzles
+ Interesting Story
+ Detailed visuals
+ Optimized controls

What Needs Improvement:
– Too much busywork

Categories: Gaming, Reviews


9 replies

  1. “The ‘hidden object’ game is one of the newer genres in PC gaming.” Myst doesn’t count? I kind of think of Myst as sort of the Platonic Ideal of the hidden object puzzle game, but that’s probably just me.

    Do you think it’s worth buying for the iPhone 4, Michael? Much smaller screen, but still HD.

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  4. iPad Game Review: Mystery of the Crystal Portal | Gear Diary: I had bought Mystery of the Crystal Portal for my iP… http://bit.ly/cuNCQu

  5. Doug – Myst is the prototypical static-image adventure game, with many many other that have followed (good recent examples include Scratches and Keepsake). The purpose in those games is more about going across many many screens that fill out a complete space and figuring things out. Hidden object games are self-contained in a single screen, with a ‘stretch’ game like this working across more than one screen, but not really …

    As for the iPhone, you might want to wait to read my PSP review of this game … 😉

  6. Hmm. Well, I keep hoping they’ll port Riven, personally; I love those kinds of games.

  7. THAT is why I tried to be as explicit about the gameplay as possible. I fell in love with it playing I Spy games (and reading the books) with my kids – but only play them infrequently as they are seldom done as well as this. But if the thought of straining your eyes hunting for hidden objects isn’t interesting, by all means skip it!

    Last time I played Riven was a couple of years ago on the Dell Axim Pocket PC … great series … I think I own the original on about a half-dozen platforms starting with the old Hypercard based Mac version …

  8. iPad Game Review: Mystery of the Crystal Portal http://goo.gl/fb/xRaLb