Let's start with the elephant in the room - May's Mystery:
Forbidden Memories looks like a shameless Professor Layton knockoff. The art
style, the protagonist with button eyes, the interface, the overhead map, and
of course the puzzle-driven mystery adventure - it's hard to get around. If
someone tells a development team "Make a game that's exactly like that
other popular game but retails for $10 less," they would produce something
that looks almost exactly like May's Mystery. Perhaps this is a coincidence!
We'll never know.
Above: It's not exactly like Professor Layton. The hint
coins are in the top middle instead of the top right
With that out of the way, let's give it a fair shot. Is
May's Mystery a GOOD shameless-Professor-Layton-knockoff lookalike? The game
starts when May and her brother Tery are out on a hot-air balloon ride and the
pilot manages to accidentally fall out of the basket. The siblings survive the
ensuing crash landing, but when May regains consciousness, she finds her
brother has gone to look for help in nearby Dragonville. She quickly discovers
that everything is not as it seems in the town. It's a "curious
village," if you will.
You move May in a fairly straight line through the world,
hopping from challenge to challenge. Solve a puzzle to escape being eaten by
the pet spiders of a woman who keeps her husband locked in a dungeon. Solve
another puzzle to rearrange a hostile old man's medications so he falls
unconscious. (There was more than one point in the story when we said
"Wow, that's a little dark.")
Above: This is a
museum of ballooning victims. Realistic wax corpses are strewn around the floor.
No additional context for this is given
As a collection of puzzles, May's Mystery largely succeeds,
and there's a good variety to the challenges. You've got your "pour water
from one container to another" puzzles, your sliding block puzzles,
matchstick puzzles, algebra word problems, picross, and so on. The cute art
style belies the brain-busting toughness of some of these challenges, however,
and the difficulty seems schizophrenic. You might solve one murderously hard
puzzle, then be presented with one of the many rhythm minigames throughout the
storyline. These rhythm challenges only ask that you repeat the notes played by
tapping the stylus on the touchscreen, and they barely require any thinking.
After that, the game will turn around and ask you to calculate the probability
of four people each winning a hand of poker given that there are 36 possible
communal cards remaining.
Fortunately, you can earn hints by playing puzzles outside
of the main storyline. Burn 15 hint points and you can skip a troublesome
puzzle entirely. Of the game's 270 puzzles, only 89 are part of the main story,
so there's no shortage of hint points to be earned. We spent plenty skipping
puzzles that stumped us, but probably more on skipping rhythm puzzles that we
didn't want to bother with. The "hidden object" puzzles also seem
badly out of place. They're all the rage in the casual gaming market, and the
scenes are well-rendered, but the tiny DS screen is not a good medium to be
hunting for fine details in. Spending much time on these is asking for a wicked
Above: Keep in mind
this is the actual resolution of a DS Lite screen
There's a bigger problem with the game, though, and that's
the writing. The script seems like it was written by someone who speaks
English, but not as a first language. (Judging by the names in the credits, the
development team is in Russia or Eastern Europe.) There's punctuation in odd
places, words are capitalized when they shouldn't be and sentences are awkwardly
phrased. For instance, when a woman named Pepper is giving May a puzzle that
involves a identifying a certain letter of the alphabet, the game tells you
"It's the beginning of Pepper's astrological sign and this sign is also
related to the commonly greatest zoo attractions." It isn't broken
English, but it's definitely cracked.
Above: Mouse, I don’t
even know what your deal is. Get outta here, you
Most of the time, the dodgy writing can be shrugged off.
However, many of the tougher puzzles, the "color area" puzzles in
particular, don't give the player much feedback on when they've broken a rule
of the game. When the rules are ambiguously worded or difficult to parse,
you're left with May giving you disappointed fail-faces and not knowing if
you've gotten the logic wrong or if you just don't understand the game in the
first place. A good localization editor could have cleared up these problems,
but none seem to have worked on May's Mystery.
Above: A localization
editor might have also had something to say about the bone-in-nose island
natives who play bongos and go "waka haka haka." But we digress
Again, there are good puzzles here, the kind where you can
unravel the problem by finding just the right thread of logic to pull on.
There's also plenty of picross-type puzzles, which hold up well even after
playing a few dozen. However, outside of these specific puzzle types, there
isn't much to recommend May's Mystery. The story is serviceable for moving you
from one puzzle to the next, but not particularly engaging, and there isn't
much to do in the world except tap through dialog and receive the next puzzle
in a fairly linear fashion. If you're choosing between May's Mystery and one of
the other puzzle/adventure games on the shelf, you might want to ask yourself: are
you really that hard up for $10?
Oct 7, 2011