Seek-and-find video games have become commonplace these days, arriving in every form from the kid-focused Adventure on Lost Island: Hidden Object Game to the dark but educational Real Crimes: Jack the Ripper. These probably got their start, however, when an unknown group of bored friends decided to pass the time by challenging each other to spot what they spied with their little eyes. Based on that formula came Scholastic's I SPY series of books, though unlike the impromptu game at its source, it challenges players to find specific objects rather than locate things simply based on colour. Clues are presented in a rhyming format, and the series is generally intended for children.
I SPY Spooky Mansion is similarly meant for the youngest of gamers. It follows Scholastic's earlier Wii release Ultimate I SPY and differs from most titles of its type, including the identically named 11-year-old computer game upon which it's based, in that rather than looking at 2D images players stand still and search whole rooms or sections thereof, usually having the freedom to view the setting in an almost 360-degree circle. Unlike the book series, the game presents its puzzles in polygonal format rather than having players study a photograph. Each riddle also requires that you play an extremely simple mini-game to find at least one of the objectives.
The level of challenge is generally quite low, though there's always a bit more to each clue than meets the eye. For example, one riddle has you search for a queen, three jacks and a king. While the latter is the predictable card, Her Majesty comes in the form of a doll and the jacks are the little metal toys that you pick up from the ground. All of the mini-games are similarly simple, having you flick, turn or waggle your Wii Remote in different uncomplicated ways. Most have you just perform a few easy motion commands, though there are some that challenge you to spot the difference or use basic arithmetic skills. Luckily Gusto Games never tries to make these too complex, unlike its previous release Goosebumps HorrorLand, which overshot its design capabilities and ended up with mini-games that tried to do too much and only served to frustrate players.
All told, there's enough content to keep its young audience entertained for a long while, with 33 riddles and over 30 mini-games spread over 12 locations in the mansion, which is suitably spooky. That's a little bit less than its predecessor, though not by far, and the game makes up for this by living up to its ominous name. Kids will have a great time exploring Skelly the Skeleton's residence, making fly soup and bobbing for apples in a rotten broth. The presentation does a good job, but not one without its flaws – while it contains a spooky soundtrack full of ambient aural effects, for example, this is no Eternal Darkness and you can get used to hearing the same unimaginative footsteps, whispers and ringing phone (gasp!) over and over. The graphics are a bit of a let-down as well; some more detailed textures and lighting effects could have greatly benefited the spooky atmosphere. Finally, some things make a simple, fun animation and sound when you roll over them with the cursor, but far from enough; had every or nearly every object done so, kids could have found themselves entertained for hours just walking around and figuring out what everything does. You'll still see every clue you locate perform an action, but had Gusto implemented more of these outside of the riddles, they could have provided a more fun and enveloping experience.
The game is quite accessible, and any kid should find it easy to explore the mansion. Skelly always introduces new mini-games with (unfortunately unskippable) spoken instructions and a visual depiction of the way you should move your Wii Remote, and you can have the narrator re-read each riddle in sections or their entirety, perfect for kids who have yet to master the English language. Your host always compliments you on a job well done as well.
I SPY Spooky Mansion will creep out and entertain its intended audience of four to seven year olds, though those looking for a more challenging or adult seek-and-find experience should look elsewhere. The game is accessible, imaginative and of a decent length, though the graphics aren't anything to write home about and the atmosphere could have been helped by better or more plentiful aural effects, outside-of-riddle object animations and detailed textures. Still, this title provides a fun experience that your young and morbidly imaginative relatives will definitely enjoy.