I think all gamers go through periods of game fatigue when nothing appeals in the genres you normally play or you just get plain tired of having to fix every new game you start. This happened to me in September of last year where I turned to something different and discovered a couple of new genres for me. Sometimes I purchase a game for the sake of offering a little variery on the site and after some cursory research and determining that a group of hidden object games developed and published by Artifex Mundi were well-received, I bought a bundle from Indie Gala, which was promptly relegated to my backlog. However, sometime later, due to time constraints on my part, I was looking for something that could be played in a short amount of time and these fit the bill perfectly. I had been labouring under the impression that this genre was just a point-and-click where you go pixel hunting for hidden stuff, but I was wrong. Hidden Object Games (HOGs) are a sort of point-and-click and you do search for hidden objects, but they're not point-and-click in the traditional sense. So, I was very pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed them so much and have now added Hogs to the list of genres I like.
For those of you that might not know, HOG is short for Hidden Object Game or HOPA, which is short for Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure. These are different from traditional point-and-click games as they are primarily built around puzzle solving and you never see your character except perhaps in a cut-scene. There is no character movement except to one-click into another area and no tedious walking through endless screens of nothingness. The hidden object tag comes from the mechanic of being given a list of items to find amongst a screen of all kinds of other objects. Once you have found them all, you will receive one item for your inventory which can be used to solve a different puzzle. The best of the HOGs and HOPAs these days offer a story, great graphics and many other types of puzzles as well. These games also have quick downloads and saves at exactly the point you decide to quit, making them great for short and mostly problem-free gaming sessions.
Because the entire HOG and HOPA genre pretty much utilizes the same methods and features, I decided not to do a full review of each game, but instead break them down by developer. My criteria for rating them from good to bad is story, graphics, intuitive puzzles, bonus content, and how well the game instructs you on the actual mechanics it requires to solve the puzzles.
The features that are common to most of Artifex Mundi games are good artwork, good story, widescreen support, difficulty modes, a help section, a hint button, ingame maps, a journal/diary, a skip button, achievements, collectibles, fast travel and a female protagonist. The following are the ones I've played. A rating of ♥♥♥ falls somewhere in the middle. It's neither really good nor really bad.
Considered a leader in this genre, Artifex Mundi has been in the field a long time and although their older games using the older engines may not be quite as good as their more recent games, they do, for the most part, hold to a certain standard. The company is also very active in the Steam game hubs and readily keeps in touch with their audience, which is why fans get a little disappointed when they feel some releases are not quite up-to-par with expectations.
Although this Polish studio was founded in 2006, it was formally a part of ZSK Progres, a company founded in 1991 as a software developer and reseller. Artifex Mundi had its start as a new branch actively focusing on game development. They currently develop for many different platforms and have recently moved into the role of a publisher for other developers as well, currently sporting 40 titles in their portfolio and 140 employees.
All of their protagonists to date are female, citing the reasoning behind this is that HOPA gamers are mainly women and so they cater to that market. Personally, I don't think they are doing themselves any favors by boxing themselves in to this perception as just buzzing around the internet indicates that men are playing these types of games as well.