9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek
Year Published: 2013
Publisher: Artifex Mundi
Developer: Tap it Games
9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is a good example of a hidden object game that doesn't quite work despite the amount of effort put into making it. It takes place in the early 1950's, in the fictional southern town of Serpent Creek, a sleepy place that celebrates snakes a little too much. It boasts a museum dedicated entirely to the legless reptiles, a local drink called the "Black Mamba", and a snake-themed festival. As an unnamed female paranormal investigator, you have arrived in town on the last night of the festival in search of your missing friend, news reporter Helen Hunter.
Serpent Creek either has a lizard people or xenomorph problem.
Upon arriving in Serpent Creek, a shadowy reptilian creature leaps onto the hood of your car, then steals off into the night. It isn't long before you find a dead body, people behaving like mindless zombies, and venomous snakes that seem to have been trained to attack people. To say that Helen stumbled into something unusual is an understatement.
The game's title, 9 Clues, refers to a hidden object scene gimmick in which you click on nine suspicious things around a crime scene, and your character intuits what happened. It's nice that the developers tried something different to set their game apart from the hundreds of other HOG's out there, but most of the times it amounts to, "A very clumsy villain was in this room", or "A snake definitely attacked the guy in the hall who just told me he was attacked by a snake."
Lots of creepy stuff in this snake museum.
The problem with 9 Clues is that the villain is far too obvious from the moment you first meet him. When you're attacked by a snake-like monster in a snake-themed town and meet a guy who has reptilian skin and eyes and hisses his "S's" when he talks, then you've already figured out who's behind 100% of what's going on here. I guess finding your friend and figuring out what exactly is going on here is the real mystery, but it turns out to be far more convoluted than this (really) short and easy game has time for. Apparently, it involves a snake god who can be resurrected via three ancient magical seeds. Strangely, the snake monster is not actually the god, but I guess one of his servants? It's never really explained and he only has one of the seeds. The game's story ends unresolved, it has no bonus chapter, and the sequel, 9 Clues 2: The Ward, has a completely different storyline.
All of this and I haven't even mentioned the shady hotel manager, the cranky one-armed sheriff, the crazy cat lady, or the mysterious British detective in the Hawaiian shirt. Or the fact that a creek is usually smaller than a river, and yet Serpent Creek's is large enough to justify having a rather ominous lighthouse, which, if you know anything about hidden object games, you know the story will climax there.
Lighthouses are strange places in hidden object games.
I can see what 9 Clues was going for here - a sort of 50's detective mystery with a "backwater towns are strange" motif and a supernatural twist. But it cares more about rescuing Helen than exploring its mythology and having a definitive resolution. Oh, and one final thing: Near the end there is a music track that inexplicably contains a "crunching" sound effect, like that of someone biting into an apple. Why??? Don't ever do that, ever!