[Review] Gotcha! Celebrity Secrets is Amusing, Sign of the Times

This article was originally published on Site of the Gaming Dead, a now-defunct video game blog, on April 4, 2010. I have attempted to recreate the article here, complete with images (when possible).

Every now and again, it’s good to take a break from all those first-person shooters, monster-thrashing RPGs, and gem-matching puzzles. Enter the world of casual games, where companies like PlayFirst and Big Fish excel. Sure, a lot of their games are the same type of casual game, just in a newer, shinier package, but they can be surprisingly addictive and fun to play, like PlayFirst’s Gotcha! Celebrity Secrets.  I picked it up because PlayFirst offered me a $2.99 game from their selection of already low-priced games. I decided to pick the one where the protagonist looked suspiciously familiar….

“Gotcha! Celebrity Secrets” is a fun “hidden person” game with a bit of a replay value and a lot of laughs. It’s an original take on the “hidden object” type of casual games, but with a challenging and modern twist.

The plucky heroine of this game is Gaby, a would-be celebrity blogger. She hates her dead-end job and would love to be a top gossip blogger, but she’s got competition in the form of snooty Dante. But luckily, she’s got a mysterious secret informer who tells her all about the goings-on of Hollywood’s elite, including such folks as Bobby Rocker and Carrie D’Away. Your mission is to help Gaby locate the people who can tell her what’s what and who’s who. Every “chapter” consists of eight “scenes” where you go and locate people.

At first, you’re given small pictures of the people to look for and plenty of time in which to look for them. There’s also only a smattering of other people nearby, so it’s pretty easy to zoom through the first chapters of the game if you’ve got a good idea. But the scenes get increasingly crowded, and eventually, you have to locate people according to headshots, silhouettes, or just descriptions like “Pirate” or “Woman with keys.”

You also have to try locating Gaby herself and a special person or object, along with pocket watches and stars for bonus points. Getting all five stars in a level nets you a special bonus, as does locating everyone before the timer on the Expert Goal bar runs out. The pocket watches freeze that timer so you have more time to locate people or objects, and you can always refer to your handy rechargeable Hint bar if someone is being particularly elusive.

Finding more and more of Gaby and the chapter’s special person or object allows you to modify Gaby’s blog, changing her header image, background, and animation, but in order to get all three, you have to complete every scene in every chapter. The scenes are broken up with amusing mini-games, often involving puzzles with shredded pictures or other “drawings” you have to assemble.

If you fail to find Gaby or the special person or object or don’t find all your “sources” by the time it takes to reach Expert Status, you can play again and again. The scenery will be the same, but the folks you have to find will be different. The good news is, you don’t have to relocate stars, Gaby, or any other special hidden people/objects if you found them during a previous play.

Finding all the people (including Gaby) in a chapter, or being a trigger-finger sleuth might get you medals, which add to the game’s replay value: the likelihood of you successfully earning all the available medals in your first play-through of the game is unlikely, unless you’ve got laser eyes.

The overall story is at times amusing, heartwarming and downright funny, but it’s also a sign of the times: people love to read celebrity gossip and Gotcha! Celebrity Secrets takes advantage by offering a game that is a mirror to our own obsessions, whether it’s secret weddings, new babies, or catfights at award shows.

It’s unfortunately short-lived with only five chapters and eight scenes in each; since characters meeting a particular description (e.g “Man with playing cards”) never change appearance, they can get easier to find with each progressive chapter, assuming you don’t get distracted by all the other goings on in any given scene. The game lets you submit your score online to a Global Scoreboard, but PlayFirst could stand to expand on this connectivity by offering downloads of additional chapters or customizable blog features for Gaby to “buy.”

As mentioned in my dissection of the PlayFirst/Big Fish partnership, the two companies could expand their casual games as major casual game companies Playfish and PopCap have done by taking advantage of the ultimate casual gamer: those on Facebook with only a “minute” or so to spare for gameplay. It would be fun to see Gaby’s adventures on Facebook, or perhaps even scoreboard integration with one’s Facebook friends’ list.

Unlike a lot of other hidden object games, Gotcha! Celebrity Secrets features a fresh, modern story that is both amusing and true-to-life. Gaby is likable and well-meaning, not coming across like an eager paparazzi, and so it’s fun to help her locate “sources” to up her rank in the Hollywood Gossip Association. The game encourages the perfect amount of replay necessary for a casual game; having finished all five chapters, I’ll probably forget about the game for a few months and then play it again from the start, not knowing who to look for or where. But my goals will be different: to get all the available medals and to beat that old high score!

Gotcha! Celebrity Secrets is a PlayFirst original game, available for $6.99 from either PlayFirst or Big Fish Games, for both Mac and PC.

Survivor: 4/5