Nearwood (Collector's Edition)
Year Published: 2013
Publisher: Viva Media
If you like hidden object games with really pretty fantasy artwork, Nearwood is a fantastic one that will keep you occupied for about 5-6 hours, possibly more. It's so high on eye candy, almost every scene is worth a screen capture.
Right from the start, Nearwood is designed to impress. The title backdrop is a POV animation that zooms across rendered forests, deserts, rivers, and ancient ruins. It's the type of visual I would've only expected from Triple-A titles in 2013. The actual game uses hand-drawn 2D art, but there is such attention to detail that swans can be seen swimming in a lake behind a gazebo, swarms of butterflies fill the sky when you enter a "secret garden", and a crystal ball displays live action footage of a crowd of pedestrians. Developer MagicIndie clearly had some technical tricks up their sleeves.
I am in love with everything on this screen.
The story involves Jane Lockwood, who has been raised by her aunt for most of her life. After her aunt's passing, Jane learns the truth behind her parents' disappearance into the realm of Nearwood, a world of magical creatures (gnomes, mermaids, griffins) and mysterious beings known as the Time Keepers. The Time Keepers control a clock tower that keeps things running smoothly in Nearwood and protects it from evil. But Jane's father messed with the clock and now the Time Keepers have seemingly disappeared while an evil being that looks like the Smoke Monster from Lost is free to run amok. General havoc has ensued. Jane, with her gnome helper Fey, must solve the mystery to find her parents and restore peace.
A unqiue spin on hidden object hunting.
Nearwood is a fragmented object game (FROG), as it does not have any true hidden object scenes in which you look for items on a list. The closest it gets are a few similar scenes in which you find all the parts to one single item via silhouettes. This is a positive design choice for those who don't like hunting and pecking for stuff that's never actually used, but it could be a negative if you specifically play HOG's for those scenes. I didn't mind it, but sometimes find it less entertaining to look for abstract pieces of things when you never quite know what you're building with them. Still, the beauty and ingenuity of these scenes are likely to win you over. I especially liked one where you had to find and drag missing pieces into a wall mural.
Blue creatures feeling blue.
The land of Nearwood is populated with cute, colorful fantasy beings who sport limited animation and speak every line of their dialogue in acceptable voice acting (though Fey can sometimes be annoying - I wish my helper character was one of the cuter, fuzzier things and not this weird little old man dressed in oversized leaves). This, plus the whimsical art style, makes the game very child-friendly. In fact, I would recommend it many times over The Tiny Bang Story, which has received critical praise as a "great children's game", but I personally found it lackluster.
The only problem is that Nearwood has some dastardly puzzles that may be far too complicated for a child to solve on their own. (I outlined some of them in my old guide.) There is, however, an in-game guide that has the solutions for all of them, or you can skip them. Since there are no achievements, there's no consequence for that.
A match-3 boss fight against an evil sorcerer.
Of particular interest is that Nearwood also has boss fights, which are exceptionally rare in hidden object games. While the main game's final boss is fought in a "Simon Says" minigame that can't really be lost, the bonus chapter boss is fought in a Match-3 game that will start all over again if you make too many bad moves. This is a direction I really would've liked to have seen more HOGs take, though it only seems common with the ones that are HOG/Match-3 hybrids.
If the main game and bonus chapter aren't enough, there's also a secondary quest of finding hidden Totoro-like creatures called "Snoop-Sees" on each scene. Finding them continually unlocks pages of a storybook about them, and when I replayed the game ahead of writing this review, it was the first time I ever got all of them, though I admit I used the in-game guide to find a few I had missed. If you want all of them, I suggest not using the staff on the boss of the main game before you double-check your totals against the guide, and same before taking the elevator to the final boss of the bonus chapter.
Little surprise details like the real footage in the crystal ball at every turn.
Nearwood is a place that oozes life. You will not regret your time spent there. The graphics and artwork are amongst the very best I've seen in the world of HOGs. The Steam version even comes with a free soundtrack, which is a definite plus because the orchestral score is really nice. I highly recommend it to anyone who plays this genre at all.