When Nintendo announced Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident as one of the only Wii titles it planned to publish for the quarter it set itself the lofty task of creating a hidden object puzzle-based game on which the Big N could feel proud to put its name. If such a release fails to stand out in quality, it amounts to yet average casual title, the type of which we've seen the non-gamer friendly Wii overloaded with during its lifespan. Thankfully, Big Fish Games has largely pulled it off, but is this the perfect puzzler or does its full potential remain a hidden object?
You find yourself hired by the clandestine Winston Malgrave to venture around his island seeking and collecting a glowing purple dust and sending it his way via a series of scattered mechanisms. Somehow, he says, this will save his beloved Sarah, but for the majority you're left in the dark, the true nature of the proceedings hinted at only by the mysterious engine cryptically displayed whenever you send a batch of powder, powering on one light at a time accompanied by a very ominous string sample. All in all it's not a perfect plot, but it accomplishes the essential goal at which so many seek-and-find stories fail – it feels tied to the action and compels you to move forward and learn more, rather than seeming completely extraneous to the gameplay.
The title is split between seeking-and-finding – searching, as in the I Spy book series, for a list of objects hidden within a cluttered menagerie – and journeying throughout the island between pre-rendered spots while solving puzzles, adding objects to your inventory and finding the right places at which to use them. You'll also acquire one such item for each completed hidden object segment. The adventure portion is largely competent and presents some challenging and creatively designed logic tests along the way, but only about half of the inventory-based puzzles that you encounter require a satisfying level of lateral thinking, while the rest amount to no more than placing a horseshoe you've acquired into a horseshoe-shaped hole in a locked door or some such task. It's not always a walk in the park, but don't expect your higher faculties to suffer too much stress.
On top of that, it turns out that exploring a deserted civilization isn't always terribly entertaining. Adventure games by nature require a lot of backtracking, but you might find yourself growing weary of going from one unpopulated room to the next. Still, the setting is largely interesting and fun to explore, except the tedious and repetitive Maize Maze, and it helps that you can instantly travel between one spot to the next by clicking it on the map.
The seek-and-find segments themselves, however, are as good as it gets. There's a great balance between simple- and difficult-to-find objects in each, and all of the more challenging items feel cleverly concealed instead of unfairly hidden away. You can see them at three levels of zoom, and the objects are spread over a few separate depths, your perspective slightly changing as you scroll about, revealing and concealing items in the back layers. These portions are where the title really shines, and they're everything that an entry in this subgenre should be.
The game's biggest detriment, however, is that the adventure forces you to return to previous hidden object puzzles multiple times. Though you're given a largely new object list, having to look at something old rather than explore something new and often search again for some of the same items that you found the first time stifles the flow and makes proceedings feel sadly more stale and less interesting.
You can play the main quest alone or with up to three friends who enter to lend a hand whenever a seek-and-find segment pops up. There's also a multiplayer mode that lets you compete to see who can find the most objects, who can find a specific item the fastest or who can win in two variations on Hot Potato. There's quite a bit of fun to be had here, and the snappy presentation keeps things exciting. You're also allowed to vary the time limit or add a handicap for players of different experience levels.
Apart from a few minor hiccups the controls are accessible, work solidly and competently pull off the few motion-based puzzles included. It's a title that anyone should be able to pick up and play with little difficulty. For those who have a tougher go of it, they can use unlimited time-staggered hints to help locate objects and skip over the majority of the puzzles in adventure mode if they so please.
It helps that the art style is so wonderfully executed, an aesthetic that resembles an oil painting in a very good way. Some of the settings are simply gorgeous, and the seek-and-find puzzles are quite easy on the eye as well, with not a single object appearing crudely inserted in. Aurally, there are a few songs that stand out as quite pleasant, while the majority, while adding a mysterious tone and feeling appropriate to the action, are just too repetitive.
Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident blends a competent but somewhat lacklustre logic-based adventure with excellent and cleverly designed hidden object gameplay, even managing to throw in a solid and somewhat compelling storyline. It's a title that anyone should be able to pick up and have a fun time with, whether alone or with friends or family, though the main mode's focus on repeating old seek-and-find segments as well as some bland puzzles along the way make the things feel, at times, unfortunately dull.