Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident - Game Review

Will This Game Be the One That Turns Me Into a Hidden Object Game Fan?

Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident
Malgrave has the look of a Myst-style point-and-click adventure. Nintendo

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.

In Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident, players take the role of a detective hired to locate a powerful element on an isolated island. But in playing the game, I was determined to solve a couple of other mysteries: why do people play hidden object games, and why on earth is Nintendo publishing one?

The Story: Run-Down Island, Creepy Scientist, Mysterious Substance

In Malgrave, which combines hidden object gameplay with puzzle-adventure gameplay, 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. I instantly mistrusted Malgrave because of his oily voice and penchant for referring to me as “detective,” just what arch villain 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.

Gameplay: Where's Waldo with a Dozen Waldos

Malgrave is part puzzle-adventure game and part hidden object game.

Hidden object games, 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 when I knew where an item was I simply could not see it and just had to click in the middle of the circle. 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, and some objects are hidden behind other objects, requiring you to shift your view around. There are sometimes buttons you can press to reveal items. While other HOGs I’ve played offer static scenes, Malgrave’s scenes are animated with butterflies or flashing lights, a particular 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.

The Other Gameplay: An Old-Style Puzzle Adventure Game

Every time you do a hidden object search you get to keep a single 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 (they’re not that hard: tough it out). Other puzzles are standard types found 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. I hate pixel hunting, and so compared to a game with a lot of it, I prefer the Malgrave approach, in which you know where to search and what you’re looking for. But my ideal adventure game is one with no pixel hunting or hidden object searches. Besides the single player adventure, Malgrave also offers a multiplayer mode in which players can compete in speed or thoroughness. It is quite well done, although once again it’s not something I personally can work up much enthusiasm for.

The Verdict: Decent if You Don't Like Hidden Object Games, Great if You Do

With its absorbing story, picturesque visuals and engaging puzzles, there is a lot to like about Malgrave, and it has a genuine adventure-game feel to it that I found quite enjoyable. At the same time, even though it’s particularly well done, I just don’t find hidden object searches all that much fun. Still, for those who like HOGs, or for those who are curious about them, you couldn’t make a better choice than Malgrave. Did I solve my mysteries? Well, having played the game, I can see why Nintendo published it, because it really is more than the typically slight, casual HOG. As for why people play hidden object games to begin with, that is a mystery, like the popularity of Tom Hanks or the appeal of chocolate-chip pancakes & sausage on a stick, which cannot be solved with the intellect; it’s just a 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.

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