At first glance, Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident looks like another bit of casual flotsam in a sea of Wii shovelware, which is a shame, because behind its dull box art and a title that makes it sound like a Wii port of some bargain bin PC dud, it's actually a quality game.
Above: Malgrave communicates with you through a BioShock-esque radio
Yes, it's definitely aimed at a casual audience, but games like The Malgrave Incident show that casual games don't have to be bad, and they don't have to feel cheap either. Malgrave is mainly a mix of hidden object puzzles (think Highlights magazine) and brain teasers (generally comparable to Professor Layton) packaged in a well-presented point-and-click adventure format with a surprisingly good story and atmosphere.
You begin your adventure as a private eye traveling on a tiny rowboat to Malgrave Island, an abandoned, dilapidated isle that used to be a thriving vacation resort. Its waters were known for having restorative, even miraculous powers, able to cure illnesses and slow aging. Winston Malgrave summons you to the island to help find a cure for his ailing wife, Sarah. As the title suggests though, you soon find the mysterious island and its illusive inhabitants have more than a few secrets.
Above: Puzzle screens aren't completely static - they often have moving parts that hide objects under an extra layer
As far as hidden object puzzles go, these are quite strong. Puzzles are detailed and multi-layered, so you must zoom in and out and move the camera to find everything. Each puzzle has a good mix of fairly easy to very difficult items to spot, which gives a satisfying flow to your solving. If you get really stumped, there's a hint system that will circle the general area of the item you're missing, so there's no danger of staring at the same screen for hours.
To break up the object finding, The Malgrave Incident also has more general brainteaser puzzles smattered throughout that each fit into the story contextually, like solving a lock puzzle to open a door or a water pitcher puzzle to fill beakers that power a chemical machine. These puzzles are nicely varied and are almost all similar to what you'd find in Professor Layton. They get quite hard too, and some of the puzzles are almost too organically meshed with the story – at times we wished we had a little more guidance in terms of what you're supposed to do. Instead of a hint system (which we would have preferred), you simply get the option to skip the puzzle after a certain amount of time. There were a few points where we got stuck on a puzzle, or just got stuck trying to advance the story, but overall the solutions we eventually found felt rewarding rather than frustrating.
Above: One of the easier puzzles, once you figure out what to do
Despite its E for Everyone rating and kid-friendly gameplay concept, The Malgrave Incident wasn't designed with children in mind. Many of the hidden objects you're tasked with finding are either really old-timey or just something that most kids wouldn't be familiar with, like decanters, T-squares, calipers, brass knuckles, and so on. And even when the object is something familiar, often the version of it in the puzzle is something that smaller children might not recognize, like an old-fashioned phone or radio.
Luckily, you can play the adventure mode with two controllers, where one person controls the camera and a second person assists in the object hunts, so if you're a parent, this is a great game to play through with your kid and perhaps assist them with some of the objects they're unfamiliar with (in that regard, it may even be educational!).
Aside: Aside from cooperative play, there are three competitive modes that also work well, including a hot potato-style mode, a classic "whoever finds the most objects wins" mode, and a mode where objects are listed one at a time and you get points each time you find the item first
Although it does of course feature a ton of hidden object puzzles, Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident is more than that. Its well-crafted point-and-click adventure format is a perfect fit for Wii, and shows that casual games can be respectable too. The presentation is lovely too – beautiful environments and an absolutely spot-on soundtrack and audio elevate the story into a surprisingly atmospheric (and occasionally sinister) experience. Its Twilight Zone-esque setting strikes an ominous mood so expertly, at times that it's easy to forget it's an E-rated game. Yes, the gameplay is quite simplistic – but sometimes that's not a bad thing.
Jun 27, 2011