Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir Review
Casual games are becoming a big and lucrative pond these days and online publisher Big Fish games is positioned to become that pond's um...big fish. One of its top selling franchises is Mystery Case Files, which features interactive mystery stories told through “Where's Waldo” style gameplay. Until now, the Mystery Case Files series has been strictly for Windows and Mac, but in the latest installment called “MillionHeir”, MCF goes from PC to DS.
The MCF series is something of a throwback to old school adventure games and feels a little like the old board game, Clue. In each title someone commits a misdeed, say a murder or a kidnapping, and you play the detective whose job it is to “Seek and Solve” by rounding up suspects, digging up evidence, and collaring criminals. MillionHeir begins with the disappearance of an obnoxious millionaire named Phil T. Rich, who appears to have been kidnapped from his equally obnoxious mansion. Due to your keen perception, portable Crime Computer and skill with a stylus, you've been hired to find him.
The first step in the investigation is to interview all of Phil's friends and acquaintances, to see if any of them had reason to do away with the old blowhard. Fans of the Phoenix Wright brand of suspect interrogation are bound to be disappointed in this aspect of the game. Phoenix Wright expertly employs this gameplay element to flesh out the characters, build their motivations and advance the story. Not only that, it's interactive, allowing you to cleverly root out inconsistencies in the suspects' alibis. If Phoenix Wright was a jelly donut, its narrative would be the thick and delicious powdered sugar topping. By sad contrast, MillionHeir's jelly donut barely got a light narrative dusting.
One by one, crazy characters: cowboys, gardeners, firemen, narcoleptic actresses, chefs, and clock makers are introduced, and their relationship to the missing millionaire is hinted at. Notice I said "hinted at". Context is never more than a few lines, and functions as an excuse for, er...as a lead-in to the main task—finding objects hidden in places as cluttered as your grandmother's attic. To move the investigation along, you must visit two to five different, but similarly cluttered locations per suspect, only one of which has any fictional connection to the character you're investigating. The clues have no connection to the narrative either. It's all pretty random, searching locations for scissors, masks, tanks, rubber ducks, shovels, ropes, bowling pins, dog bones, etc.
Some of these random objects are found in plain sight, and some are hidden within shadows, patterns and colors. Some need to be interacted with (lighting candles, cutting carrots) and some of them can only be seen using special equipment like underwater goggles and x-ray vision, and can be fairly challenging to locate.
In addition to random object hunting, other aspects of the investigation are represented by various random mini games. The Crime Computer lets you dust for fingerprints using the DS mic as well as clean things by scrubbing the stylus over the touch screen. DNA analysis is done by way of a Tetris-style minigame and getting suspects to cough up more information requires you to reassemble an image by moving jigsaw puzzle pieces or rearranging sliding tiles. Progress is dependent (for some reason) on comparing two seemingly identical images for subtle differences, and tweaking your Crime Computer by making the whirly hoosits inside it line up. Oh, and to get access to more suspects, you'll have to learn to work a couple of goofy Wallace and Gromit style gadgets.
The game looks and sounds pretty good; the art is cute and colorful and the music and sound effects are appropriate if occasionally annoying. I mean, how many times can you listen to a cuckoo clock go off in the background without going cuckoo? Then again, the mystery music and random creaking noises in some locations were really freaking me out. I gotta stop watching Ghost Hunters.
Looks and sound aside, MillionHeir is disappointing. The paper thin story and cardboard cut-out characters just aren't enough. If the game was billed as merely a collection of mini-games, it wouldn't matter so much, but MillionHeir aligns itself with the very popular mystery genre, which cries out for a better developed story line. The gameplay isn't quite as thin as the narrative aspect, but it's close. The game is rated E for Everyone but except on the highest difficulty, it's too easy for most adults. The puzzles are so simple and contain so many hints, there's really no reason to think.
Mystery Case Files are known for being single player games and single player is the main mode of MillionHeir as well. There are two single player modes: Story and Quick Play, which are essentially the same thing except for the Story mode character intros. Single player comes in three difficulties: Rookie (untimed), Detective (timed) and the unlockable Gumshoe (timed). Also unlockable is the totally pointless Treasure Hunt mode wherein you do the same object hunting you've been doing all along, but rack up dollars instead of things.
In addition to single player, MillionHeir has added two multi-player modes but the developers shouldn't have bothered. The 2-player Scavenger Hunt and 4-player Hot Seat entail yet more object hunting but this time you take turns with a friend without knowing exactly how much time each of you has to find things. It's about as exciting as standing in line at the post office.
Overall, MillionHeir isn't a bad game but it lacks the interest of a Phoenix Wright, the challenge of a Professor Layton and the depth of a classic PC adventure game. It's too bad because MillionHeir has a lot of things going for it: it's part of a popular genre, it's easy to pick up and play, it looks and sounds pretty good. It's the lazy, C-student quality of the narrative and game mechanics that's dragging it down. Yeah, I know; it's a casual game. But to me, casual doesn't have to mean simple or shallow.
The Good: Cute art style, easy to learn
The Bad: Too easy for adults, lacks narrative complexity, pointless multi-player mode