The Hidden Review: When Good Ideas Go Bad

The Hidden Review: When Good Ideas Go BadThe Nintendo 3DS, in and of itself, is a great idea that hasn’t been fully realized. Sure, there are some great 1st party games (the Zelda and StarFox remakes, Super Mario 3D Land), and the built-in games, like FaceRaiders and the ARGames, are pretty fun, but all in all, the system hasn’t hit its stride just yet.

It is very fitting that The Hidden, from developer 1st Playable and publisher Majesco, is designed for the 3DS, as it too is a great idea that just falls short.

Now, I love high-concept (or “gimmick”) games. I like when developers step outside the constraints of gaming to bring us something new and fresh. And when I first heard about The Hidden, I thought this was going to be one of those games.

The Hidden is basically an augmented reality game for the 3DS. You are a new member of G.E.I.S.T, or Ghost Entity Investigation and Strike Team. G.E.I.S.T. is tasked with tracking down and destroying spectral entities that are invading our plane of existence.

Using the 3DS’s outer camera, the player walks around to “scan” their home for Shades, which are the ghost-like creatures that have to be found and destroyed. As you play, the top screen shows you your living room, your refrigerator, your toilet, but then a floating monster appears above the toilet and you are tasked with destroying it and sucking in its “ectoplasm.” The more ectoplasm you collect, the better tools and weapons you can buy to further your hunt. Sounds pretty neat, doesn’t it?

Well, it is… to a point. Once you get going, you realize that the game has one huge flaw. The 3DS picks up on the local wireless network access point of your location and then it gives you a mission. Once you complete that mission (at your house, with your wireless network) you are done. To play another mission, you have to find another wireless access point. And if you don’t have access to another wireless network access point, well… therein lies the problem.

I think that 1st Playable shot themselves in the foot here. They have created a beautiful concept for a game – one that both kids and adults can play and enjoy – and then castrated it to the point that a casual gamer, or even a “closet” gamer can only play the game for a few minutes, and then it’s done. Just like that, $30 gone for a few minutes of play.

And yes, I know, you can always seek out other wireless access points, but really, would you? Would you walk around (and you HAVE to walk around) your local Starbucks “scanning” for monsters? Would you whip out your 3DS at a school or hospital just to try and shoot and kill a little floating blob of blue for its ectoplasm? I would not.

The technical aspects of the game are all solid, especially for a handheld. The graphics are well done, and the Shade creature design is actually very cool. The menu interface, which uses the lower touch screen, is laid out well and the “email” system is a perfect vehicle to deliver a story like this.

The music is generic, but really, you aren’t playing a game like this for the music. And the sound effects are pretty good, especially the sound the Shades make as you are blasting them, or you yourself are taking damage. In the heat of battle, the various sounds and intense action make for a great experience… even if it is just for a time or two, depending on your access to wireless networks.

The promise of cooler Shades and even cooler weapons and tools to fight them is there, so I believe that The Hidden has a serious level of customization, but again, getting to that point may require a cross-country road trip and a wireless access finder app on your smartphone. That’s a lot of trouble just to bust some ghos – err – Shades in a handheld game.

The Hidden is one of those great concepts that had a ton of promise at the beginning, but then quickly fell flat once the idea was fully realized. Everything about the game points to something very neat and unique, but the decision to use dedicated wireless network access points for missions is a real brain-scratcher. If it ever gets a sequel, and this issue is resolved, I’m confident it could be pure magic.

Shop for The Hidden on Nintendo 3DS at a discounted price at (October 11, 2011 release date).

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