At this point with a few reviews already under my belt, I've somewhat run out of things to say about hidden object games (or HOGs). With how many there are and the near identical formula used as their base, unless it's appalling or extraordinary I find myself scratching my head for something more elaborate and articulated to say than "it's good for fans of the genre". Artifex Mundi's games however are something of an exception to that rule, as more than most casual developers they've shown a desire to strive to better their games with each release, reusing the same basic template but refining it along the way.
9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek so far as I've explored their catalog is the best example of Artifex taking criticism to heart and using it to turn out a more enjoyable, polished experience. The narrative is a fairly predicable Scooby Doo-esq mystery, in a mysterious town full of odd people that seem just a little too obsessed with snakes. It didn't surprise me, nor is it especially well written, but there's a very typical Artifex charm in the way the story plays out as if they know it's derivative but it's the best they can do so they're still going to give it their all to make it entertaining. The voice acting is a significant step up from what they've managed in the past, perhaps thanks to the fact that the characters presented are so strange that any stilted exchange or bizarre inflection becomes a part of the character instead of sounding like an intern was pulled in at the last moment to record a few lines.
The hidden object scenes themselves, though as usual something of a treat on the side to the main casual adventure game meal, feel more logical in how they're placed and presented. Gone are the random cascades of junk shoved into random corners of the environment, replaced with a handful of scenes that make sense in the narrative (though it's still a little hard to believe anywhere in the world is quite so cluttered with pieces of machinery scattered all throughout the town). And perhaps most worthy of note is the addition of fast travel at long last, which eliminates the tedious back tracking which is already thankfully minimized do to the shorter, but much tighter experience.
So yes, it would be easy to simply say 9 Clues is a great HOG and you should certainly give it a chance whether you're already a fan of the genre of not, but I think it's worth pointing out the areas Artifex Mundi has put in the effort to improve their game in a genre so lacking in inspiration or often considered to be of a high quality. It's going to be hard to go back to their older games I've yet to play, but it also has me excited moving forward seeing how dedicated they are to making their games as excellent as they can be. HOG developers of the world, take note!