The (Hidden) Object of My Affection?
The Malgrave Incident is a mystery puzzle game interspersed heavily with "find the hidden object" scenes. You are a detective hired by a rich recluse to investigate the strange happenings on his island. Once thriving but now a deserted ruin, the island contains a valuable natural resource... and a secret.
Like any good mindboggler, there are plot twists and MacGuffins that will keep you guessing. The puzzles presented along the way remind me of old PC games like Trilobyte's The 11th Hour and The 7th Guest, and the hidden object scenes bring to mind the I Spy books that adorn the shelves of the children's section of every public library I've ever visited. Close one eye and squint the other, and The Malgrave Incident starts to look like Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Unfortunately, it's hard to find hidden objects that way, and once you open both eyes, some things may disturb you.
Malgrave's narration is in perfectly accented Queen's English, which matches well with its eerie otherworldly presentation. Strange devices litter the island. Many of the hidden objects look like antiques, and the game's entire palette is sepia-toned. The atmospheric music is mildly spooky, if completely predictable (think... a Scooby Doo episode without the theremin). All these elements combine to give a steam-punk feel to the island, adding to the mystery because things feel so out of time. Getting around the island is easy and intuitive with the Wii remote, and the settings make it pleasing as well.
The hidden object scenes are apparently a staple in the nine-title-strong Mystery Case Files library. This is my first venture into the MCF world, and The Malgrave Incident is the first title made exclusively for Wii. Thankfully, The Malgrave Incident is a standalone unit and you won't suffer for lack of familiarity with the franchise. The first time you play, the game guides you through steps to adjust the picture, but even optimized, the graphics have a fairly low resolution. What did you expect for the Wii really?
A rudimentary zoom and an unlimited hint button do little to help the poor graphics. Even though it is the go-to console for casual games, the Wii may not be the best choice for the Where's Waldo? antics this game demands. There are only a handful of hidden object scenes, and in order to advance, the player has to revisit each of them many, many times. The eyestrain and repetition induce a state indistinguishable from sleep. Or rather, I fell asleep about twenty minutes into my first attempt. Luckily, the background music started to annoy others in the house, and they kindly woke me up.
I made my second attempt with reinforcements and had a much better time. Having two or three sets of eyes on the hidden object scenes proved to be more fun than playing alone. I suppose that is why the game offers a multiplayer mode, which turns the object seeking into a competition. Multiplayer might be good in a parent-child or sibling—a much younger sibling scenario—but it's not much use in any other arrangements I can think of.
The puzzles are few and far between. Solving them will open doors, activate machinery, or reveal things needed to advance and solve the mystery. Some are easy, some are challenging, and others make no sense whatsoever, much like the puzzles in the aforementioned PC mystery games of the nineties. If a puzzle makes no sense, it's probably because you haven't come across the right clues during gameplay. Best to leave the puzzle and come back to it later.
Unlike the hidden object challenges, hints are not offered for puzzles, although you do have the option to skip a puzzle entirely after attempting it for a certain amount of time. The Malgrave Incident could have benefited by taking a cue from the staggered hints in Professor Layton. It's a shame to skip the puzzles, sparse as they are, especially when the only alternative is to go back to one of those godforsaken hidden object scenes.
The island is deserted and you are guided by a recorded communicating device Malgrave has left for you. The lack of interaction with other characters makes gameplay feel a little claustrophobic and barren. It's not necessarily a bad thing and may have been intentional. Without giving too much away, it meshes nicely with the theme of the mystery. Why is the island deserted? Is it, really? And why is the butcher shop frozen solid? But with all the repetition, will you stick around long enough to solve it?
Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident falls squarely in the casual game genre, but its faults may make it a deal-breaker for the casual set. Puzzles are sparse and often confusing. Much of the game is spent pinballing from one hidden object scene to the next. The endless hints with no penalty make the hidden object scenes feel meaningless. Since the Wii cannot produce clean crisp graphics, the game suffers further. The game quickly begins to feel like a chore. And it's no mystery - chores are exactly what most casual gamers are trying to avoid.