Game Review of Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident

Still of creepy windmill from Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident.

Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident combines hidden object gameplay with puzzle-adventure gameplay. Players take the role of a detective hired to locate a powerful element on an isolated island. But, we were determined to solve a couple of other mysteries: why do people play hidden object games, and why on earth is Nintendo publishing one?

Pros: Good story and puzzles. A rare return to adventure games.

Cons: None, if you like hidden object games. If you don’t, that’s a con.

The Malgrave Story

You are hired by a mysterious scientist, Winston Malgrave, to come to his island and retrieve a potent powder that has become disbursed throughout the area. We instantly mistrusted Malgrave because of his oily voice and penchant for referring to me as “detective,” just what archvillain Ra's al Ghul always calls Batman. Malgrave is not the most helpful of clients, neither coming out to greet you nor explaining how to get past the various puzzle-locks all around the island. Instead, he simply phones you up, periodically, to congratulate or taunt you as you explore the island and glean intriguing pieces of information about Malgrave and his family.

Where's Waldo with a Dozen Waldos

Hidden object games (or HOGs), for the uninitiated, are casual games in which you are asked to look at a cluttered area and find specific objects on a list. In this case, you are asked to find objects covered with the strange, powerful powder. Some objects are pretty obvious--you might be told to find a helmet and see a helmet on a table--but at times, items are hidden within other objects, for example, a flute might be one of the legs of a chair. If you can’t find something you can ask for a hint, in which case the game will draw a circle around an object. In some cases this is absolutely essential; there were times when even we didn't know where an item was. Once you’ve received a hint, you have to wait a minute before requesting another one. Malgrave’s hidden object sections are nicely done.

You can zoom in and out, as some objects are hidden, requiring you to shift your view. There are sometimes buttons you can press to reveal items. While other HOGs played offer static scenes, Malgrave’s scenes are animated with butterflies or flashing lights, a particularly notable area requires you to search a pool of water while objects bob around on the surface.

The game also has optional in-world searches. Certain objects, such as postcards and pocket watches, are littered about the island and retrieving them tells you more about island life.

An Old-Style Puzzle Adventure Game

Every time you do a hidden object search you get to keep an item. These are used for the puzzle sections of the game. Outside of the HOG sequences, Malgrave is a basic point-and-click adventure game somewhat reminiscent of Myst. You explore the island (a map lets you transport to previously visited areas), use items in your inventory to repair machinery and solve some fairly clever puzzles. There is one puzzle towards the end that ingeniously combines HOG gameplay with puzzle gameplay. It is also notable for being one of two puzzles that come with a “skip” button for people who get frustrated (though they’re not that hard). Other puzzles are standards in many adventure games, such as a sliding tile puzzle. The adventure-game/HOG combination makes a certain amount of sense. After all, many adventure games involve pixel hunting, which requires searching for tiny objects needed to solve puzzles. We prefer the Malgrave approach, in which you know where to search and what you’re looking for.

Besides the single-player adventure, Malgrave also offers a multiplayer mode in which players can compete in speed or thoroughness--which is quite well done.

Decent if You Don't Like Hidden Object Games and Great if You Do

With its absorbing story, picturesque visuals, and engaging puzzles, there is a lot to like about Malgrave. It has a genuine adventure-game feel to it that I found quite enjoyable. For those who like HOGs, or for those who are curious about them, you couldn’t make a better choice than Malgrave.

Having played the game, we can see why Nintendo published it, as it really is more than the typically casual HOG. As for why people play hidden object games, to begin with, that remains a mystery; it just seems to come down to preference. Some people like to solve puzzles, some to build empires, some to kill aliens. And some like to find the feather hidden in a loaf of bread.