In my never-ending search for strange and unusual games, or at least games that are different than anything I’ve played before, I stumbled across the Mystery Case Files series from Big Fish Games. This is a “hidden object” puzzle game series, and it includes MCF: Huntsville, MCF: Prime Suspects, and MCF: Ravenhearst (all released within the last two years). The three games are similar, and so I’m going to cover all of them in one review.
Hidden object games are basically scavenger hunt games. You’re given a set of locations and a list of objects, and you have to find everything on your list within a certain amount of time. In the Mystery Case Files games, the locations are fixed 2D scenes, and all of the objects you need to find are visible -- although they’re also probably hidden in some way. For example, if you have to find a bat, you’re not told what kind of bat it is (a living creature or a baseball bat or something else), and whatever kind of object it is, it’s probably integrated into location in some way. A straight and narrow object might be leaned against the panels in a fence, a blue object might appear in the sky, and a bell might be placed upside down on a doll, making it look like a hat.
In MCF: Huntsville, you discover that there is a crime spree going on in a small town, and you have to search for clues at various crime scenes to eventually uncover who is behind the dastardly deeds. In MCF: Prime Suspects, you learn that the Queen’s Hope diamond has been stolen, and that there are 21 suspects. Once again searching through various city locations, you have to narrow the list down until you’ve finally discovered who the culprit is. In MCF: Ravenhearst, you’re asked to explore a haunted manor and discover why it has remained empty for the past 100 years. This involves searching the many rooms of the manor -- and finding scattered diary entries that eventually reveal the answer.
Besides hunting for objects, the MCF games also include some other puzzles. In all three games, once you’ve found enough objects, you’re sent to your “Crime Computer” to wrap up the current portion of the case. In Huntsville and Ravenhearst, this means putting together a small jigsaw puzzle. In Prime Suspects, you might also have to play a game of Concentration or complete a word find puzzle. Also, in Ravenhearst, some of the rooms in the manor start out locked, and you have to figure out how to open them before you can get inside and start looking for objects. The locks are strange mechanical puzzles that made me think of “better” mouse traps, and they’re a lot of fun to play with.
But overall, if you’re playing an MCF game, then mostly what you do is stare at the computer screen. In Prime Suspects, some locations are dark and require you to shine a flashlight at where you want to look, but otherwise there isn’t a lot of action. You just study a location until you find an object, and then you click on the object to pick it up. You can click randomly if you want, and sometimes that helps if you’re not sure what you’re looking at, but if you click and miss too much, then you might incur a time penalty.
I enjoyed the MCF games. The cases are well written and often funny (among other things, you might have to track down a “black market cookie-pusher” or capture the criminal Gil T. Azell), the locations look nice and no “cheats” are used when hiding objects, and Big Fish Games has evolved the series to improve the games. For example, Huntsville is small enough that you can memorize where a lot of the objects are hidden, but Prime Suspects and Ravenhearst are much bigger (both in number of locations and number of objects to find), and so it’s much tougher to do. Big Fish Games also added a “Relaxed Mode” to Ravenhearst, so if you don’t want to worry about being timed, you can avoid it.
All three Mystery Case Files games are available from Big Fish Games’ web site, and I believe some might also be available in retail from Activision. I spent 25 hours playing the three games, and while I wouldn’t really recommend that you play them back-to-back-to-back like I did, if you enjoy casual games, and if the premise sounds intriguing to you, then I’d certainly recommend that you try one out and see how it goes.