Year Published: 2011
Publisher: Impossible Mystery Games
Developer: Dragonseye Studios

Tearstone is a very oldschool hidden object game. Even by 2011, there were already a number of available HOG's that far outclassed its simplistic visuals and storytelling. Yet, I found myself enjoying it more than I probably should have. Perhaps it's because of the spin it puts on this ancient formula, but whatever the case, it might be worth a look for fans of the genre if you can get it for cheap.

The game begins when you receive a letter from your professor about an "amazing" discovery he's made and instructions on where to find him. You travel from your home to a location in the woods that eventually, through a series of hidden object scenes and puzzles, leads to an elevator that takes you to the fantasy world of Tearstone. But the professor is still missing, so your journey continues as you search for him and learn the secrets of this hidden land.

A gnome-like being stares into your soul.

Although you are occasionally given a list of items to find on a single screen, where Tearstone differs from most other HOG's is that in each new chapter you are immediately shown a bunch of items that you must locate across several screens that are open to you. Some areas will be closed off and only particular items will grant access to them (example: a key for a locked door; a map for a forest trail). Some items are amongst the scattered clipart, but some can only be found by either using an item in the correct spot, solving a puzzle, combining two items, or by interacting with the various characters you meet. When you complete all screens in a chapter, a cutscene takes over as you move onto the next.

Although its characters feel like paper cut-outs and aren't very convincing, Tearstone has some appeal in its weirder scenarios. One has you using a parrot to phone a security guard to distract him, Maniac Mansion-style. Some of what you encounter makes little sense. Tearstone looks like a medieval fantasy village, but it seems to have its own electric company, complete with billboards and signs proudly advertising it. There is a church that is only open when an owl wears a top hat - don't ask, because your guess is as good as mine. Tearstone seems to be in distress because a drunk ghost lost its "heart", and there is much talk about how you are the "chosen one" destined to restore it, but I feel like anyone who showed up where the "heart" is lost with the item needed to retrieve it could've done the same.

Like many older HOG's, much of Tearstone's difficulty comes from trying to find items that are too small, dark, or similarly-colored to the backgrounds to be seen. I'm not sure exactly why so much of this game needed to take place at night, in dark forests and unlit buildings. I had to resort to the hint button a few times and I still couldn't see anything in the area it circled. I just had to click there and trust fate.

A unicorn in a strangely different art style from everything else

While some of its puzzles are devious enough to keep you occupied for about three hours, Tearstone could have pushed for more innovation in areas where it lacks. It was apparently a first-time effort for indie developer Dragonseye Studios, who have been teasing a sequel which looks far, far more advanced in every aspect. If purchasing the original game helps fund the release of Tearstone 2, that probably is the most legit reason to recommend it.

SCORE: 2.5/5



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