Few genres are as saturated as Find the Hidden Object, and with production values already well blown through the roof it simply isn’t enough to be a big market player any more. Quite frankly, you’d have to be a little mad to jump into this segment of the casual games industry — either that or you’ve got some creative gameplay ideas up your sleeve. Fortunately for iPad-owning Hidden Object fans looking for a cool free download, the latter holds true in Mystery Manor. The latest of many collaborations from developer 17 Bullets and publisher Game Insight, it does well to cross genre lines and blend RPG elements into the usual item gathering routine.

Mr. X, the suitably mysterious owner of the estate, enjoys playing host to eccentric scientists, polar bears, seventeenth century pirates, and amnesiac adventurers under one roof. Guess which one you are! You’ll have to wander around and interview the manor’s creepy clientele to unravel the mystery of your past, but they won’t say much until you help them gather their own missing items in turn. A dastardly plot to make you clean up after a wild dinner party, perhaps?

Whatever the case, Mystery Manor will stick in players’ minds just as much for the genre-bending gameplay as it will for the story. Pinch-zooming and plucking a laundry list of items from beautiful environments is par for the course in Hidden Object games, but gaining experience points, picking your way through a nonlinear campaign map, and buying tools with your level-up earnings are big surprises here. Mystery Manor trades in the usual “Hint” function for charms that change object size, alter lighting levels and fulfill other roles that make the camouflaged trinkets easier to spot. The player also has a limited time to find all the items in a particular scavenging hunt, and there’s so much hustle and bustle in the manor that no two visits to a particular room are the same. In fact, the game promises an infinite adventure, with updates stirring in new characters, rooms and side quests.

Wherever you fall in the great free-to-play debate, you have to admit that it’s great to see veteran publishers and developers get together for a genre crossover that shakes up game design tradition — this is undoubtedly the main driver of Mystery Manor’s 77,000+ App Store ratings. Could you be the next mobile developer to share that kind of success with Game Insight? Why not give them a shout on their contact page and find out? Gamers can also check out Game Insight’s publishing portfolio to see what else is on tap for free.