Mystery Case Files: Huntsville

Version Played: Mac

Official Site (includes link to buy).


If you have not played a Hidden Object (HO) Game, the object (no pun) is simple: find a grocery list of items in a room full of things. Difficulty comes from a variety of sources: room clutter, coloration of items to match background, items slightly behind other items (think Where's Waldo?), items in question being drawings or bookcovers or wallpapers or some other "2D" representation of named item, some sort of pun with items name, some of the items come in multiples and all instances of the item have to be found to clear it off the list, and so forth. The latter trick there becomes more prominent as the game goes on, with several stages having multiple multiples, which takes time to find and click as well as eating up hints (more on them in a bit). Usually, with the multiples, other of those tricks occur with some of the instances, so the one frog is actually part of the wallpaper and the one bat is actually a baseball bat instead of an animal like the other two.

As you can imagine, the game is not for hardcore games, and tend to be relaxed and easy. A time limit is imposed to give the game a sense of urgency, but after some minutes playing and getting used to the, albeit cluttered to the gills, layout of the room the average player will probably find the time limit over double what is necessary. There is one addition, though, in that once you clear every room per case of the hidden objects need for the list (more on the "story" in a second) you have to solve a jigsaw-esque puzzle. A picture is cut up into squares and jumbled. You have to unjumble them. How much time you have to do this is however much you had remaining on the clock after clearing all the hidden object rooms in the case.

How this is all put together is around a light mystery. A rash of crimes have broken out in Huntsville (initial interest in the game was generated because I live in a Huntsville, though the game's Huntsville is not the same) and you have to solve them. By solve, you have to go around to various town locations and find room after room of hidden objects. Then, after you have done this, you put together a photograph of one of the rooms you just visited, except now the room includes the culprit, and you win the case and unlock the next. Solving the puzzle displays the culprit, so there is no need for deductive reasoning. It almost must be pointed out that the objects found have nothing, or mostly have nothing, to do with the case. They are hidden for their own sake, it seems.

The first case is only two rooms, with 8 objects to be found per room, and you have to get 15 total before you move on the jigsaw. As the game progresses, intially it seems as if the number of rooms outpaces the amount of time; though later it seems to be the opposite, with quite a few later cases completed with lots of time left on the clock, assuming you have fair recall. In every case, you skip finding one last object (you automatically go to the jigsaw stage when you have but one object left). You are given three hints per case, which can reveal an object or it can reveal a piece of the puzzle to move (both at random). The one caveat is that while the hints are useful early on they become less so later as you have to start finding more and more multiples (all the bats in the room, etc) and a hint is only going to show one object of that class, not all of them.

For those despairing a game that just gives you more and more of the same, with more time and more objects the one mark of each subsequent round, the last case is a bit of a change-up. Namely, you get a brand new room and only a couple of minutes on the clock. It is a dramatic increase in the difficulty, or at least it was to me, because a jigsaw still has to be solved after you finish the hidden object portion of the game. I had to replay the last stage a couple of times, but after that it was not hard because the layout was well known to me.

There is not much story, but what little is there is cute and quick enough to be pleasant as opposed to cloying. It brought a smile or two to my face. There is a replay value, in going back and trying to decrease your time spent solving the case. The second time through is a different sort of experience, it becomes more about speed and recall, though you will get different lists of items to find, and sometimes notably different from your first playthrough.

There was only one glitch, and that is in the (somewhat) later cemetary scene. One of the possible classes of objects is "2 bats". However, one of the bats (even identified as such by using a hint) seems unclickable. If you use a hint, it will show you the bat (though slightly off) but you still won't be able to click it. Oh well. Since you can skip one item per search, that gets to be your one item. Sucks, but livable. And, if you get it, you can always escape out immediately and restart the game. You will be in the middle of the case and, I think, with a new grocery list of items to find.

The game is relatively cheap. Signing up for the club benefits through Big Fish Games, it is as low as $6.99. It gives up 3-5 hours of fun, fairly easily. That seems worth it to me. It's quickly accessible and easy to learn nature makes it very relaxing, overall. I have nothing but good things to say about it. Sure it is repetitive and kind of short. It plays very well despite those limitation.

The game gets a rank of Good.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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"The hidden is greater than the seen."