There's no mystery here; this game has severe issues.
The point-and-click adventure genre is undeniably the best genre for mystery stories. The concept of snooping around the scene, finding clues, and solving puzzles makes for a solid way of presenting a thrilling story. It is also a genre that has been gaining a lot of strength in the last few years, thanks to the efforts of developers like TellTale Games (creators of the Sam and Max series, the Strong Bad series, and the recent Tales of Monkey Island series). The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft is one that combines a mystery-solving franchise with the point-and-click adventure, but unfortunately it's not very good at either aspect.
The Hardy Boys started out as a series of children's mystery novels penned by Edward Stratemeyer, first appearing in 1927. The stories are about two brothers, Joe and Frank Hardy, teenaged super-sleuths who are able to solve even the hardest cases with in-depth investigation and critical thinking. The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft presents the boys as modern American teenagers, but still keen in mystery-solving and acting out against crime. They are part of an elite group called "American Teens Against Crime" (ATAC). Their mystery in this game begins when the vault of the Spencer Mansion is broken into, and the Bayport police summon them to tie up some loose ends. But what starts as a simple burglary soon evolves into a major crime investigation that takes the boys across the nation.
It's a really good story, and fans of the series will appreciate it the most. But considering that plot is a major element in any point-and-click adventure, it doesn't captivate as well as it should. The conversations go on and on to the point of rambling, and even if some of the characters have interesting tales to tell, they can be rather superfluous to the overall story.
The Hidden Theft first started life as a PC game released a year ago. It was then ported to the Wii, and it shows. Pointing with the Wii Remote simulates scrolling with a mouse pointer, and it works very well. But the problem is that when movement of the character is dependent on the click of a mouse or the push of a button, it can be very tedious if not done right. There are times in which the characters will get stuck in tight corners, or when you won't know how to get out of the room. This is alleviated somewhat by icons that change according to the situation, but these are so small and subtle that you will likely miss them.
Like many point-and-click adventure titles, the boys collect clues and evidence that is used to solve puzzles and unravel vital pieces of the story. In many cases you can combine two pieces of evidence to form one part, and then use it to solve a puzzle. While these items are key to the story, it’s a shame that they don't stand out a little more. Usually, items that can be picked up stand out from the rest of the scenery or sparkle in order to give away its presence; however, here they blend in with the rest of the scenery. This makes it confusing for the player, forcing them to run around in circles trying to find something that was right under their nose, but very well-hidden.
The game also has issues with puzzle solving and investigation. While it is common to wander around in circles in point-and-click adventures, in The Hidden Theft you are left walking around with no guide to help you. The conversations may reveal what to do next, but most of the time you are left to your own devices. To fans of the genre this might take them back to old school point-and-click titles, but it can get frustrating. The solutions to some of the puzzles are rather obscure, making the game much harder than it should be.
The Hidden Theft's biggest claim to fame is that Frank and Joe Hardy are played by teen idols Jesse McCartney (pop singer and the voice of Roxas in Kingdom Hearts 2) and Cody Linley (Hannah Montana), respectively. The characters are even modeled after them. While they do a good job with their roles, they don't really stand out.
In terms of presentation, The Hidden Theft is basically a low-end production, save for the two lead actors. They consist of 3D characters placed in front of pre-rendered backgrounds. The 3D characters are very low resolution and lack enough details to make them stand out. Frank and Joe Hardy barely look like the actors that voice them, and the rest of the cast don't help at all. The backgrounds look good in terms of design, but the low resolution makes them very grainy, and the CG used is of low quality as well.
The Hardy Boys: The Hidden Theft tries hard to recreate the golden days of point-and-click adventure gaming. While its intentions are good, the exploration and puzzle-solving suffer from poor planning and execution. Hardcore fans of the genre are likely to appreciate this, but there are better games that are challenging without being obscure in their solutions. For fans of the Hardy Boys this might be worth a rental, but there are better products that bear the Hardy Boys name.