As a series, Mystery Case Files has been around since 2005. There have been seven entries on the PC, which has been the series' main platform since the original release. Three spin-off titles have debuted on other systems, one for mobile phones, one on the Nintendo DS, and this review focuses on the Nintendo Wii entry. Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident incorporates a lot of the gameplay elements found in the hit PC titles, and those elements carry over well to Nintendo's home console.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the MCF series is heavily focused on completing hidden object puzzles to advance the story. In The Malgrave Incident, you take on the role of a master detective who has been summoned by the owner of an abandoned island resort to gather information related to the island's rumored restorative abilities. You're tasked with gathering strange purple dust, and after gathering enough of this dust, you're able to proceed through locked passages into new areas of the town.
Hidden object puzzles are essentially the video game equivalent of the old "Where's Waldo?" books. You're presented with a 2-D image filled with various objects that have been designed to initially look like a bunch of clutter, but all of the objects usually fall within a particular theme. At the bottom of the screen, you're given a list of 12 items that you need to find within the image. There's no time limit in The Malgrave Incident, and if you're having trouble locating something, there's a hint system place that helps you pinpoint an item's location. The hint system is unlimited but has a cooldown timer in place so you can't use it over and over again. You also can't quickly click on random things to hopefully find an object; the game penalizes you with a view-obscuring mist after you've made five quick clicks in a row that don't reveal an object.
Some elements are slightly reminiscent of the PC classic, Myst. You're always presented with a first-person view of the town, and you move by using the Wii Remote to point and click on arrows that push you through a street or path into a new area. You can walk backward to the previous area by moving the pointer down toward the bottom of the screen and clicking on the arrow prompt, and you can interact with various objects by moving the pointer over them and bringing up an eyeglass icon. Some objects are merely there for background information or filler to expand the players' knowledge of the game world. Other objects actually have a purpose and offer up limited interaction to change the setting of the location or unveil an important piece of information that is gathered in your in-game diary.
Going around and gathering information is a major gameplay element. Sometimes you'll encounter a clue that seems inconsequential for what you're currently trying to do, but if it gets collected into the diary, you can guarantee you'll need to use that information later. Beyond the hidden object puzzles, you'll come across a number of other puzzles that need to be solved. This helps eliminate the repetitive nature of strictly doing hidden object games, and it breaks up the gameplay quite a bit.
The puzzle selection is pretty varied, incorporating some old video game tropes like slide puzzles, where you have a 3x3 grid with one empty spot, and you need to slide the square pieces in the grid to create a coherent picture. Other puzzles are slightly more unique, including a particularly interesting one that comes up as a diorama that feels like a hidden picture puzzle from the '60s or '70s, not unlike old electronic football games.
The Malgrave Incident has a strong emphasis on story, but the story is actually pretty weak. The mystery isn't much of an actual mystery, as you get a pretty good idea of the villain's identity pretty early in the game. This is due to the voice-over work giving far too much of a sinister overtone to a particular character, and that ruins the surprise. As the story expands by collecting more information, it starts to enter the realm of the fantastic, which isn't uncommon for the series. However, there are definitely elements that don't make a lot of sense from a logical perspective. Who would design a door to be opened only after someone places a horseshoe on it? Who would come up with three multi-colored gears? Part of this is explained away by the island's sole resident being insane after years of seclusion, but you can tell that some of the puzzles have been shoehorned into the environment without any concern about them being a natural fit.
Some of the elements near the end of the game felt a little rushed. It's almost as if the game got bored and rushed the player to the finale with a series of easy puzzles that can be solved in a handful of seconds. Compare this to the middle of the game, which does a better job of presenting tougher challenges by making the player gather necessary objects and revisit locations to unlock more options. Because of this, the end is kind of a letdown.
After you complete the story, the game is light on content. You can revisit the island and tackle any of the hidden object puzzles; while this is nice, there's little point in doing so. Nothing new is unlocked, and since the game has no online functionality, point scoring system or online leaderboards, there isn't anything to draw you into going back to the puzzles. There are hidden object games on Facebook that have more replay value than The Malgrave Incident, so it's a shame that the developers couldn't have been a little more forward-thinking in that regard. There is an offline multiplayer component that lets you work on the hidden object puzzles with up to three other people, but once again, that has limited appeal.
The title is budget priced, which leads me to be more forgiving about the lack in content. At $30, you're getting a pretty decent experience in the Mystery Case Files series. I prefer the more precise mouse controls over the pointer controls of the Wii. There are puzzles within The Malgrave Incident are more frustrating with the Wii Remote than they would be with a mouse, simply because it's easier to mess up your aim with the Wiimote. Also, there are certain advances made in the MCF series on PC that are absent here, including interactions with NPCs and different gadgets and equipment that increase your detective skills. If you play this game and enjoy it, I'd urge you to check out the PC releases as well.
Overall, Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident is a solid attempt at porting the series to home consoles. I could definitely see the game being incorporated on the other two major home platforms, and hopefully, the title will see some success on the Wii so that publisher Big Fish Games can potentially port the MCF series elsewhere. I think it shows a huge amount of confidence from Nintendo to handle the publishing on its own platforms, and there's certainly a large established fan base for the series. With a little more work and refinement, it could be just as enjoyable on home consoles as it is on PC, and I hope to see another console entry in the near future.
More articles about Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident