I've played a handful of Artifex Mundi's hidden object games, and I think this may be my favorite one yet. Based on a popular series of Polish children's books, Clockwork Tales is an imaginative, fun, curious and enjoyable title who's emphasis is more on casual adventure than hidden objects. Set in a steampunk version of the 1700's, you play Evangeline Glass, an intelligent young protégé to the brilliant Dr. Ink. With the help of Ink's clockwork companion, Matthew the bird, you must save Hochwald and the doctor from the machinations of the evil Grand Engineer Barber.
One of the things I enjoy most about hidden object games is the beautiful and imaginative artwork many have, and this game is no exception. Everything, including the characters, have a hand-painted look which gives it a storybook-like quality. Even the characters share the art style, which looks so much better than the oddly rendered/animated 3D models in other games.
The game play is your standard IHOG/HOPA, adventure game lite with hidden object scenes mixed in. I always play on Expert to give me a bit of challenge and lengthen my game play, but I found Clockwork Tales to be quite easy, even more so than most games in the genre. This isn't a horrible thing, but considering how much I enjoyed the world that was created, I wanted to spend a lot more time there than a mere 3 hours on the hardest difficulty. Even so, the adventure aspect was very fun with nothing jumping out as being crazy illogical, and the many puzzles were moderately challenging despite most being reused from previous games. One nice touch was being able to utilize Matthew to collect out of reach items and perform certain tasks. Most of these aren't too hard to figure out, but it's a nice bit of flavor added to a genre that is very "cut and paste" in most gameplay aspects.
The hidden object scenes are very well done, nicely drawn items without too much clutter, and have a nice range of difficulty, but none of the items were what I would consider unfairly hidden. Mixed in amongst your standard HOS's are a few FROGs (fragmented object scenes), adding a bit of variety to the gameplay. I noticed, however, that the regular HOS's tend to get more plentiful the further you progress through the game. This wasn't an issue for me as I really like them, but not everyone shares that sentiment. For those who do not, the number of these scenes are quite low overall compared to other games.
While the setting is one of the best parts of the game, the story in the beginning feels a little rushed and can be a bit confusing. But once things get going and you move out of the village into the castle, the storytelling smooths out quite a bit. There are no dark, disturbing themes here (unlike so many others in the genre), and the story isn't deep by any means, but that doesn't detract from it's enjoyability. This is a game that can be enjoyed by anyone but makes a particularly good family game, especially for parents who are looking for less macabre fair to share with their kids.
One of my biggest issues in previous games from this developer has been the voice acting, but Clockwork Tales is a vast improvement overall, especially with the main characters. Now I'm not saying these are award winning performances, but they're not jarring nor do they sound out of place given the material, and they don't pull me out of the experience as they would in other games. Funny enough, the one game in which I find the voice work to be pleasant enough is the one in which we get a toggle for the voiceovers. The option is still appreciated and I hope we continue seeing it in the future.
This is the Collector's Edition of the game and comes with the bonus chapter (a short prequel to the main story), replayable puzzles and hidden object scenes, wallpapers, soundtrack and collectible "steambugs" that are sprinkled throughout the game. I'm usually not big on having to find additional hidden items in these types of games, but the steambugs were a treat. Aside from their imaginative and adorable designs, they're generally not too hard to spot, although it may take you a couple of play throughs to find a few you missed.
All in all, I enjoyed Clockwork Tales immensely and am only disappointed in it's short length. But the little time that I spent in the game world was time I completely enjoyed. I will definitely come back to this one again and again.