Publisher: Real Networks
Release Date: November 18, 2008
At first glance, it might be difficult to tell if Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor is an adventure game in the vein of the Nancy Drew titles on the Wii, or something more akin to the static picture-finding titles that populate the PC casual market. It turns out to be a mix of both game types, offering up some limited exploration and puzzle-solving with the standard object search in games like the recent Interpol, which popped up on Xbox Live Arcade a couple of weeks ago.
When you were a kid, chances are flipped through a "Highlights" magazine or two, and even if you haven't, I'm sure you've seen the hidden object puzzle in a variety of other magazines at some point in your life. That's pretty much how the gameplay in Mortimer Beckett works; you're given a list of objects to find in a room that's pretty much just a picture. There's some limited interactivity between objects, which offers up enough innovation that it's something that could only be achieved via digital entertainment and not standard print. It's pretty easy to tell if Mortimer Beckett is going to be the kind of game for you, and I'll admit that I find these hidden object games to be strangely addictive, regardless of their simplicity.
However, I had a hard time enjoying Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of the Spooky Manor. It's pretty basic, but it takes certain ideas and tries to change them up, often for the worse. The case in point: the hidden objects. Most games will give you a word or picture list, showing you what to look for among the on-screen clutter. The difficulty usually relies on how big the object is and how much the on-screen items resemble (but don't match) the object for which you're currently searching. Mortimer Beckett tries to increase that difficulty by splitting up the objects that you're looking for into three or more pieces and scattering them all over the room that you're currently investigating. If you thought that finding a top hat in a room full of furniture, newspapers, jewelry and other objects was somewhat difficult, then try to imagine the frustration in locating the top circle part of a top hat, the round brim section, or perhaps the small cylinder that makes up the middle part of the hat. It's even worse when the fragmented object is already incredibly small, and when that is split into three or more parts, it starts to get pretty ridiculous.
There is a limited zoom option, like in most titles, but the muddy graphics keep that from being useful, and if you're playing this on a larger television set, you're already setting yourself up for some failure since you'll be impacting the resolution of the image and how clear everything looks. The game doesn't support much in the way of component video (aside from what the Wii already produces), so you're better off trying to play this on an SDTV. Also, to keep the player from randomly getting lucky and clicking all over the screen, if you click three or four times without actually finding things, you'll spawn on-screen ghosts that will move around and further restrict your view. They'll also block your pointer from touching the screen, so you'll have to wait a few seconds for them to dissipate.
Besides finding hidden objects, the things you discover will often have some purpose for the room you're in, often leading to a new passage that will unlock another section of Spooky Manor, which you've been tasked with exploring. Whether it's a new gear for the clock or a missing valve for the pressure release, different objects will interact pretty often with other things on-screen. You don't really have to search out where they need to go either; just simply select the object you've discovered and then float your pointer around the screen until you highlight something that can be used or applied. Sometimes using objects doesn't have much of an effect, but there's usually a necessity for the things you discover.
There's a story to Mortimer Beckett, of course, that involves the title character searching through a relative's mansion for a device that will rid it of the various ghosts that plague the place. It's lighthearted and told through different comic panels, which you can highlight and blow up to a larger size if necessary, and it's entertaining enough to see it all play out. Unfortunately, the actual gameplay isn't all that engaging, and as far as hidden object games go, I'm going to have to put Mortimer at the bottom of the heap.
There's a limited soundtrack here, and it fits the title's mood pretty well. It kind of reminds me of something you'd hear on "Scooby Doo," which definitely fits the theme, and while the soundtrack isn't always there, it's still pretty decent. There are plenty of audio cues for the various objects and things you'll interact with, so at least the presentation is better than the actual gameplay.
Still, since the gameplay makes up the bulk of the experience, I can't give Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor much of a score here. It's a chore to make it through each room, finding the small split-up objects isn't all that fun, and ultimately it's a frustrating experience. I know there's a crowd out there that definitely enjoys this game style, and I usually count myself as a member of that group, but Mortimer Beckett definitely left me out in the cold. Give it a rental if you really need to try it out for yourself, but it's not a title that I could suggest to anyone, even fans of the genre.
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