Not so scary.
I may not have played dozens of hidden object puzzlers on iOS, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thoroughly prepared to tackle The Ghost Archives: Haunting of Shady Valley. In fact, when it comes to this title’s presentation and plot delivery, I couldn’t have been more ready. I’ve been burying myself in visual novels as of late, and Shady Valley’s haunted mining town looked to serve up plenty hidden beneath mountains of text—usually set atop wacky caricatures and meticulously drawn backdrops. As it turns out, the makers of Shady Valley are no master storytellers, nor are they the architects of mind-shattering puzzles or pages of engaging dialogue and prose. They are skilled enough at each, however, to craft a worthwhile and spooky mobile experience, even if it does stop short of knocking any single thing out of the park.
The game’s premise will be instantly familiar to those who’ve experienced this sort of game before. You play as an agent tasked with investigating suspicious happenings. The organization you work for is called S.O.U.L., and you’ve been sent to check out an abandoned mining town and get to the bottom of the hauntings that have occurred there. As it turns out, there’s no Scooby Doo smoke-and-mirrors prank going on—the place is actually infested with ghosts. Much of the game revolves around interacting with, chatting with, and ultimately helping various friendly and not-so-friendly phantoms, at which point they complete their unfinished business and abandon their haunting ways. The character cast is a mixed bag, but most of the ghosts I met were at the very least amusing or funny, and some actually gave me the creeps. It’s all in good fun of course, but the variety is a nice touch and an effective one.
Where the game breaks down is when you zoom out and assess what it is you’re actually doing each time you encounter a new ghost and a new set of puzzles. Yes, each wandering soul you assist is different but the manner in which they tie to the overarching plot is sometimes a bit hackneyed and at other times nonexistent. Similarly, the first batch of puzzles and item-hunts did induce some brain drain, but before long I’d learned what to expect and could decipher most things within minutes.
Boosting the difficulty from casual to expert alleviated this initially, but not for long—the same process soon reoccurred. This is especially problematic given the title’s home on mobile devices. If I’m not compelled to take on the next challenge because of a “just one more” attitude and the game-wide narrative doesn’t pick up the slack, where does that leave me? Halfway through a haunted iPhone game with no motivation, that’s where.
Luckily, the solution to this is spacing out your play sessions and even if you don’t aggressively whip out your smartphone to play Shady Valley during every train ride or workday commute, it doesn’t mean you won’t eventually complete it. Environments in the game are highly detailed and well-drawn, the ghosts continue to be engaging and fun, and if you concentrate every last figment of your imagination toward what’s happening onscreen, it is indeed possible to become immersed. Still, it remains questionable whether your average mobile player wants to try that hard.
There are other quirky gamer nitpicks here and though they didn’t bother me all that much, I’d be remiss not to mention them. There are multiple occasions where you visit an area and see an item that you know (or at least highly suspect) you’ll need later and the game simply will not let you gather it prematurely. Later, when you’re assisting the ghost whose mission requires said item, you’ll have to travel back and forth all over town gathering what you could have already grabbed. It’s not so bad for one-off components or items of particular interest or value, but when you’re asked to gather 10 notebook pages or 6 thingamajigs and you’ve already eyeballed half of them but can’t remember where, it can get old quickly. In those cases, not even a well-placed wisecrack from a liberated ghost could make me feel better. I just closed the app and came back later.
As a fan of visual novels (which, by the way, this is not), Ghost Archives: The Haunting of Shady Valley was able to win me over with its story, characters, and art direction, but only just barely. If those things matter little to you and let’s be honest, for some iPhone players that will be the case, it’s highly questionable whether or not this game will provide the addicting, pick-up-and-play puzzling you may be looking for. Not only that, but with so many highly rated hidden item titles on the App Store (including others from the very same developer), a title needs to suit your tastes near-perfectly to stand out. That said, if you meet the prerequisites and are a fan of lighthearted, spooky tales, you’ll probably find something to like about The Haunting of Shady Valley.
Code provided by publisher. iOS exclusive.