9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is a fantasy hidden object game that was developed by a Polish company, Tap It Games, and published by Artifex Mundi. It’s also the first volume in the 9 Clues duology series. For folx who may be unfamiliar with the term, Hidden Object (HO) refers to a brand of puzzle games where the player searches for items from a respective list that are hidden within a picture.
My introduction to HO games occurred about three to four years ago when I was placed on bedrest for the first time. I needed something that could easily run on my then slightly low to mid-range laptop, and I also wanted a game that wouldn’t require a huge emotional or mental investment; just something casual and chill to help me pass the time. 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek was my first experience and ended up becoming my gateway into this underrated genre.
When a private detective receives a phone call from her chum in the middle of the night, urging her to come to the small town of Serpent Creek due to some sinister activity, she grabs her stuff and heads off immediately. Upon arriving, she discovers that her mate has gone missing and the townspeople are being less-than-enthusiastic in helping her to solve this mystery.
The first ten to fifteen minutes of the game does a great job of introducing the basics of the gameplay in terms of interacting with people, objects, and the scope of the hidden object portions. There’s also a tutorial that pops up to help guide the player along if they need it. This clean layout and straightforward manner of what the player has to do in order to progress the story forward isn’t limited to the introduction either. Rather it’s a facet that sticks with the game from beginning to end. If the player does find themselves to be stuck, a small jumble of question marks briefly pops onto the screen to help give a nudge in the next step, sort of like a miniature hint. Because of these traits, it’s a superb title for folx who are completely new to the HO category of games.
The downside to having a HO game that is as basic as Serpent Creek is that it’s not challenging. The puzzles are very simple, which includes searching for clues and solving the HO portions the category is named after. Even so, as someone who has played this game twice, I felt that the lacking difficulty makes it a good title to return to if one is in the mood for a mindless distraction, particularly when they’re undecided on what to play. For example, when I picked it up for the second time, I was in that unusual mood where I knew I wanted to play a game to escape reality for a while (method of de-stressing) but I was wholly unsure of what sort of game my mind wanted. I reached for this and it was a fun comfort. So, it’s really up to the discretion of the player. More veteran folx may feel that pang of boredom a lot more strongly than others.
There is one unique aspect to Serpent Creek’s gameplay that isn’t found in most other standard HO games and that is the investigative element. Every once in a while, the detective will come across what is clearly a crime scene. These bold question marks shall pop up all around the screen (and then disappear) indicating the bits of evidence that must be discovered into order to piece together the sequential progression of that specific crime. This added a layer of interactive engagement that helps prevent that bit of potential boredom that I mentioned earlier. It reminded me a somewhat of Danganronpa or Ace Attorney, whereby finding the evidence, a picture wheel (of sorts) of the crime being committed appears, which then provides the narrative with more intrigue. That said, the intrigue in Serpent Creek is pretty humdrum as a whole, yet it’s still fun and helps the player retain their interest in moving along towards the end for the most part.
The animation quality of the cut scenes was a bit below average, probably even poor in today’s standard of visuals, however, the detail work and the vibrancy of the graphics for the actual gameplay holds up well given that this title was released about seven to eight years ago. These elements helped to create somewhat atmospheric environment for the investigation that the player is involved in. There were some locations that I liked checking out over others, such as the museum, due to how much it fit the creepy-crawly vibe the game was trying to go for. It’s not going to send chills down the spine or inflict jump scares on the player. Nevertheless, the almost deserted town and scenery helps to build upon the eeriness of strange small-town culture that I appreciated to a tiny extent. Younger players will probably get more of a kick out of it than adults, that’s for sure.
Another thing that was a surprise was the story. While it’s not a narrative to win awards, it was entertaining. By the time I finished, I laughed a little bit, yet I also looked forward to playing the sequel. My brain was curious enough to want to see how this tale would come to its conclusion. Mildly convoluted, the plot of a girl going missing due to some shady shit that the townspeople are involved in was curious. It definitely matched the uncomplicatedness of everything else in Serpent Creek, which is excellent in terms of keeping it levelled out and balanced across the board.
The rest of the characteristics of the game are unmemorable. The music is as standard as they come. The characters all sort of blend into each other without much to set them apart; they’re just bland, uniformed pawns on a chess board, so to speak. The investigator herself is also rather forgettable. This is done so that the player can more easily fall into the role of investigator themselves without any discerning identifiers, which I do appreciate, but her voice acting was a duplicate of all the other female voices out there for HO games and it was slightly disappointing.
A couple of traits that more non-casual gamers may appreciate are the trophies and its mild replay value. There are approximately 19 trophies total for Serpent Creek and most of them can be obtained by playing through the story. The rest are collectible trophies (find all the hidden symbols, complete so many puzzles, etc.), which is what gives it the replay value. So, if one is a trophy-farming dude/dudette/dudeling (my non-binary version of “dude”), then this is decent incentive to check out the game.
On the whole, 9 Clues: The Secret of Serpent Creek is a modest casual game that is fit for some chill playtime. It won’t be a complex, intellectual dive, however, it’s also not completely boring or a waste of effort either. Due to its simplistic plot and gameplay, the title runs approximately three to five hours in length, depending on the player’s speed of reading and collecting clues. Serpent Creek is solely for entertainment purposes without needing a big commitment and that’s a great thing at the moment. If you’re a player who has never played a HO game before but are interested in trying it out, then this is most definitely the perfect title for that. If you’re a non-casual gamer searching for something laid-back, I would recommend this to you as well. At the very least, it’s a walk in the park with upping your trophies.
30 serpents outta 50
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