Hidden object games are a relatively new genre descended from “point and click” classics like King’s Quest, Broken Sword and others. Secret Agent Files: Miami strives to combine hidden object gameplay with more traditional point/click puzzle solving and attempts to make good use of the 3DS’ features along the way; yet the end result is a sloppy, incoherent mess. With incredibly clunky gameplay, a paper-thin story and generic and fuzzy visuals, Secret Agent Files: Miami is one object that should have stayed hidden.
Players are put into the shoes of Mia, a hardened former CIA agent who finds herself on the run in Miami, Florida after receiving a "burn notice." Mia resolves to figure out who is behind the notice, and reconnects with her mother, old boyfriend and various other shady characters along the way. The already-clichéd tale is told through still portraits that speak through word bubbles. The portraits have artificial, uncanny valley-like expressions, and the dialogue — which is rife with spelling errors — combines the worst of film noir and procedural drama for exchanges that are sure to cause eye rolling and continual pressing of the A button to skip through. It doesn't help that Mia is thoroughly unlikeable and crass, with nary a redeeming quality save for some thought bubbles that expose her vulnerability, but the extent of that vulnerability is her worrying about her stereotypical trailer trash mother and cookie cutter cop ex-boyfriend. For a genre that relies on story to drive the gameplay, this is one of Secret Agent Files: Miami's biggest blunders.
The bad story would have been less noticeable had the gameplay been sharp and addictive. Unfortunately, Secret Agent Files: Miami's gameplay is frustrating and confusing. After flat dialogue sequences, such as Mia agreeing to make her mother a cosmopolitan (why not enable an alcoholic?), players are given a scene to comb through to find items. The list of items on the border of the top screen is scrolled through with the shoulder buttons, but you can't see the full list all at once, so knowing what to look for is frustrating. The art style makes finding objects more difficult than it should be; while players can zoom in on the top screen to get a closer look at the environment, seeing several drab items like cups, utensils and tools that all look the same isn't a clever way to make the player think. It just shows a lack of variety and poor design.
Mixed in with the hidden object sequences are scenes that require the player to use some of the items that have been found to solve puzzles. There's nothing wrong with that concept, but the player is never given any inkling that they have to open Mia's purse to find her items, then drag the item to the right spot on the touch screen to get the desired reaction. One early scene requires Mia to use a knife to find a hidden compartment in a wall. Between the shoddy graphics and one-note hint system that simply repeats Mia's often-vague objective, players will either think something's wrong with their game or simply give up. There are also puzzles that require you to shake the 3DS, use its gyroscope, the circle pad and even the shoulder buttons, but once again there's no explanation or hint that players are supposed to do so. It's a shame, because the puzzles that require creative use of the 3DS would be the most satisfying part of the game, but instead feel sloppy and half-baked.
The visuals, which are dull and bland across the board, are complemented by grating music and sound effects. There's mercifully no voice acting, and the music is generic "cop show" fare that loops over and over again. Every sequence ends with the screen fading to black, but there's often a delay, causing the player to wonder whether they're supposed to be doing something or not. There's nothing worse than worrying that the game encountered a glitch or is broken.
There is very little to recommend in Secret Agent Files: Miami. The poor story, unintuitive interface and atrocious presentation make for a thoroughly disappointing game that gamers will likely regret purchasing. There are plenty of quality adventure titles on the 3DS and DS; Secret Agent Files: Miami doesn't even come close.