Review by Cordia, Nov. 5, 2010
Mystery Case Files: Huntsville was developed in-house by Big Fish Studios. It is the first of what soon will be seven games in the Mystery Case Files franchise. You might also recognize them from: The rest of the Mystery Case Files games, most notably Return to Ravenhearst and Dire Grove, as well as the Drawn titles, Azada, and Fairway Solitaire.
Mystery Case Files: Huntsville is a straight Hidden Object game, but is known for launching the most popular series of this type of game and fueling the genre’s rise to popularity. The I-Spy games were actually the first Hidden Object computer games out there, as far as I know.
I just finished this game tonight, so it’s rather fresh in my mind. A group of us at the Diving Bell Pub are playing the first four games of the series (in order; one per week) simultaneously and chatting about it- a little bit like a book club, except with games. Anyway, the quality of the graphics are actually fairly high, especially given how far we have come with regards to what we expect from these games. The scenes are junk piles of the highest order, but I can’t fault the game too much for that, since they were simply following the trail blazed by I-Spy. It does meet my criteria of being able to identify what I’m looking at, although some of the objects are pretty thoroughly obscured in some places. But, more often than not, I found myself using a hint and being exasperated with myself for not seeing it, because it was so obvious.
Okay, folks, I’m going to have to finish this tomorrow. I am extremely tired.
I’m back and ready to write again!
Huntsville has a fairly entertaining format. As with the other games in the Mystery Case Files series, the player is a detective, trying to solve a rash of crimes occurring all through the city of Huntsville. The map screen shows locations that are available to visit during a case. The first case has only two locations and 15 clues (hidden objects) to find, but by the final cases there are about seven locations and 50-some clues to find. Each case has a rather rigid time limit, during which the player must find the items required and then assemble a picture of the accused at the crime scene. The locations vary from
case to case, which makes up for having to visit the same scenes multiple times. The timer balances this out, additionally, because if I’d had to start a new scene from scratch every time, I never would have made it. It’s amazing to me that even scenes I felt very confident with could manage to throw things at me that I had not noticed previously. The picture of the criminal comes in after all the clues for a case have been found, and you should have heard me curse when I had two pieces left and time ran out! The pictures are a grid, but the squares can be swapped without restriction (It is not one of those “assemble by sliding the pieces via a single empty square” which, though I tend to be able to do them, they are not my favorite).
If time runs out, the player must then restart the case. The object list changes each time, but I seem to recall that the locations stay the same. The strategy that seems to work for me is to visit the locations I am the most familiar with at the start of each case, and find those last two items on the list before moving on to the next location. There are only three hints per case, so hints are extremely rationed. I visit new locations last so that I have some kind of a cushion with my time to find any tricky things. A lot of people advise leaving the last item or two on the list in the familiar locations if you don’t see them right away, but this does not work for me. If I don’t find them at the same time, I get worried and panicked that I won’t be able to find them in time. I would rather take the extra two minutes when I am calm than make a last second scramble to try and find the “unfindable” objects. It is just the way my brain works, and I am not saying either strategy is superior to the other. It will be an individual thing, in the end.
Too Long; Did Not Read: The cases are silly and punny and some of the pictures are pretty hilarious. If you can overlook the clip art heavy scenes, it is a fairly enjoyable game. It is not one that I expect to replay much, but it was nice to see the roots of the genre and how the Ravenhearst story came into being. It has a timer and only three hints per case (not per location), but the graphics are pretty impressive for when it was released. There is only one item I can think of that, when I used a hint to find it, I still did not see any resemblance between the clue and the image, and that was a ghost. There was one other clue that, when I used a hint on it, I frowned with displeasure because the item was clearly a pick axe and not what the clue said it was. But I remembered it every time thereafter. Also, I might never have played the game if it had not been for the group activity at the Pub.
Have you played Mystery Case Files: Huntsville? Did my review effect
your desire to play (or replay) the game? Did I miss anything essential?