A Star is Found: the Hoshi Saga Series
This is Hoshi Saga; a fun, challenge based title by Nekogames. The first installment of this Japanese find a star game originally came out back in 2007 and has been followed by plenty of sequels. This visual puzzle game relies on player's careful observation in order to find the solutions -some are simple, some are funny, a few are naughty, and others are very, very tricky. The main objective of every stage is to find a hidden star - it can be done by uncovering it behind an obstacle, forming it through the objects onscreen or through other inventive methods.
Since the game's initial release in 2007, Hoshi Saga of find a star games has enjoyed quite a bit of success - some would even say that the game has garnered a cult following. Thanks to its stylized graphics, intuitive controls, addictive gameplay and minimal dependency on written text, Hoshi Saga not only gained success as a Japanese flash game, but has also earned a name in the international market -since nothing needs to be translated, the game can easily be played by anyone.
Crafty Solutions to Feel Good Puzzles
One of the first things we loved about the Hoshi Saga series is that its use of very "inventive" solutions to puzzles. There are currently eight Hoshi Saga games out right now and no two puzzles are entirely alike -and with at least 30 puzzles per game, that gives us well over 240 completely unique puzzles to solve!
Some solutions can be very simple, such as tracing the outline of the star, simply moving the mouse around the edges of the screen, or just dragging an object from one side to another. On the other hand, the tougher puzzles can prove to be challenging -requiring the player to plan every click ahead of time or in some cases -realizing when to not move the mouse at all.
In terms of overall difficulty, the game combines a need for logic, observation and sometimes, a good sense of curiosity for figuring things out in a trial-and-error fashion. It may not seem like the most elegant way of figuring things out, but for many puzzle games like Hoshi Saga, the approach certainly works well for many. The game does not place a limit on time and mouse clicks - there is no ranking, scores or points to keep track of. You simply play a puzzle, solve it and move on to the next. The real focus here is actually figuring out how to find the hidden stars -and some can quite well hidden.
But more than just delivering a good challenge, Hoshi Saga also excels at providing a sense of accomplishment - every puzzle feels crafty and clever, figuring out the solution to one makes the player feel confident and encouraged (whereas some puzzle games tend to be repetitive and frustrating). From the slow reveal of the star to the definitive chime of the audio cue, players are always made to feel that they reached the goal of the stage with a feeling of triumph. This combination of well made puzzles and creating an emotional reaction for the player is probably why the Hoshi Saga series has been so successful in a genre flooded with so many similar games.
Imagery and Sound
As with any other interactive game, there are two important design elements to be considered: visuals and audio. In both cases, there is no doubt that Hoshi Saga has been polished to a stellar shine.
The first Hoshi Saga games came out in mid 2007 to late 2009, these original three were done in monochromatic visuals -using various shades of gray to deliver a wide variety of graphics. As early as this time, it was easy to see that game develop Yoshio Ishii had a penchant for exquisite yet simplistic art. The puzzles were visually impressive - providing believable scenarios for players to focus on, without distracting anyone with oddly made designs.
With the introduction of Hoshi Saga Ringo in early 2010, the series made a massive leap from monochrome to full color -with puzzles now fully colored in soft, muted tones that bring out a combination of depth and texture to the artwork.
The audio for Hoshi Saga is also an important element, it provides players with an ambience that further encourages you to focus on the puzzle and it also cues the successful end to solving a puzzle. From the victorious ding of a star reveal to the click of the mouse on the menu, the game's audio cues move in harmonious sync with the player's actions.
This is certainly one game we encourage you to play with the speaker on -particularly because of the fact that some puzzles will require you listen in. Whether you are tapping a wall for hollow, breakable parts or trying to figure out the notes for playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star", the game heavily incorporates the use of sound in some of its puzzles -so players better listen well!
The Full Experience
Currently, there are eight versions of Hoshi Saga: the original trilogy - find a star 1, 2 and 3 plus the five Ringo versions (Ringo 4, Ame 5, En 6, Hime 7 and Dokuringo 8). The newer Ringo series sports color puzzles - among other new things.
We highly suggest that players start off with the original Hoshi Saga find a star -while the simpler monochrome visuals may be a stark difference to the newer colored games (particularly if you already tried the Ringo series), the gameplay itself is already refined and provides a pretty good challenge.
The only drawback we have found in the entire series is the game's lack of pre-loading features. Only the launcher is obtained in the initial download; the game then downloads each stage individually as it is selected - not really an ideal setup for those who are saving on internet bandwidth. This works well for those only planning to play a few stages at a time but it also makes the games impossible to play offline -unless you already played all the stages.
Overall, we consider the Hoshi Saga series as a must-play game for everyone. The puzzles, art and delivery of this impressive title left us glued to our seats for hours on end. And while the game offers little in terms of replay value, the first run alone is an experience great enough to for any gamer to relish and enjoy.