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Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor

Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: RealNetworks
Developer: Pronto Games
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Family/ Adventure/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

I have become a fan of casual games in recent years, as the genre has expanded to include many games with considerable depth and nuance. Mortimer Beckett and The Secrets of Spooky Manor could be called a "port" of what previously has been released across the Web on various casual gaming sites. Its transition to Wii has some pros and cons. Secrets of Spooky Manor is a classic "seek-and-find" game, where the player must view a static image and find objects (in this case, pieces of objects) by clicking on them with the pointer. Before pointing out the biggest drawback of translating a PC game to the Wii, let's first take a short quiz. How many of you are using a resolution less than 640x480 on your PC? Not many, we suspect. Realizing this, you'll understand why this style of game just doesn't work on the Wii without some tuning. Without more than the 480p output possible on Wii, Secrets of Spooky Manor becomes impossible to play without sitting uncomfortably close (less than 6 feet) to the television screen. The developers weren't ignorant to the issue, and tried to offset the lower resolution by adding a "zoom" feature, but it just isn't enough. Finding the small pieces of objects hidden throughout each level is difficult enough because of good design, so adding the downside of poor resolution is a killer.

On the flip-side, the overall design of the game is solid, with cool looking locations and a nice photo-realistic art style that must have required a steady Photoshop hand to execute properly. There are even some animated objects scattered throughout levels, making Secrets of Spooky Manor a bit less static. The music is excellent and in classic casual-gaming style, it is the kind of soundtrack that won't annoy your roommate, partner, spouse, or parent. The more likely reaction is, "What are you listening to over there? Sounds nice..."


Gameplay:

The huge plus to having Mortimer Beckett and The Secrets of Spooky Manor on Wii is the multiplayer option. Two distinct modes for multiplayer, Scavenger and Ghost World, are purely for two or more competitors. Only local multiplayer is supported, but up to four people can join in and compete. The Story Mode operates in traditional single-player, but also features co-op play for up to four. The potential for this is huge, if there weren't the big detractor of poor graphics. Even with some visual impairment, there's no reason to think that a family or couple can't have fun playing this... as long as they don't mind sitting close to the television.

In Story, you'll investigate Spooky Manor and rebuild a strange device known as the Ghost Machine. What it does is unknown, but it was important enough that your Uncle Jerome scattered its pieces around the house and left you hidden clues to its whereabouts. Secrets of Spooky Manor takes a more linear approach than other games of this style. Instead of the entire house, you'll just have a few rooms to solve at one time, with more opening up as you solve puzzles. The puzzle-solving component is a nice addition to finding objects, and Secrets of Spooky Manor doesn't actually have you hunting for whole objects, anyway. Instead, you will search for several pieces of a specific object. The interface shows you how many pieces of an object are hidden, and the shape of the remaining pieces.

Scavenger is similar in look and feel to Story, but it is strictly a competitive mode. At least two players compete to construct objects on the screen and use the completed objects to solve puzzles. Each level is timed and contained, so you'll automatically be moved through a series of levels until one person is declared the winner. Ghost World breaks the formula down a bit differently so that each player has an assigned object; each player in Scavenger can make progress by finding any part of any item and solving any puzzle, making it more of a free-for-all. Ghost World does feature shared items, but requires players to be more targeted in their searching.

The overall goal of the Story Mode is to find the pieces of Uncle Jerome's Ghost Machine and clear the spooks out of Spooky Manor. Once you reach the end of the game, you'll have the chance to replay with a timed option, but there isn't a huge amount of additional depth in terms of new item sets for each stage. This is a disappointment, but not unusual for games in this genre. The bigger replay value here is likely to be the competitive modes that will keep you and your friends or family involved, after you've beaten the story a time or two.


Difficulty:

There is an unintentional difficulty introduced because of graphics' tuning issues. Apart from that elephant in the room, Mortimer Beckett and The Secrets of Spooky Manor has many good design features that adjust difficulty to the needs of each player. The first, a staple of seek-and-find games, is the hint feature. In each stage, you have a finite number of hints to use when you're faced with a particularly elusive object. Some items are actually occluded by a ghost or other object that will need to be cleared out by solving a puzzle, which can make things a bit confusing. As you play through the first stage, you do get a feel for it. Each "room" contains at least one puzzle that can only be solved by using a specific object. In some cases, that object will be collected from a different room. As you complete objects, you'll find them added to your inventory, so Secrets of Spooky Manor becomes the visual equivalent of an Adventure game. These puzzles are very straightforward, and there are rarely more than a few items in your inventory; are you going to cut through that rusty chain with a teddy bear, or a hacksaw..? Like any game in this genre, clicking in a manic fashion will result in a penalty. In keeping with the Spooky Manor theme, obsessive clicking will earn you an annoying ghost that flits around the room for a time. There are even ghosts that you'll need to flick away with a gesture of your Wii-mote, which is the only motion control you'll use in Mortimer Beckett and The Secrets of Spooky Manor.

Game Mechanics:

On one hand, there's no need for motion controls in a game like this. On the other, actually pointing with motion is great. The biggest downside to Mortimer beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor as a Wii game is how control-precision is implemented. The on-screen pointer reacts too quickly to any small motion you make with the Wii-mote. Trying to click precisely on a small sliver of an object hidden in the room is often difficult without steadying the Wii-mote or moving closer to the television. There is a great need for tuning so that movement on screen is delayed considerably, similar to what FPS games do when they allow players to adjust control sensitivity. Secrets of Spooky Manor is otherwise incredibly straightforward, with no need for the Nunchuk and no support for other controllers. The menus throughout the game are very clean, products of designing for players that don't expect to read any manual in order to learn to play.

We can all see the value in bringing quality games from the huge library of online casual titles to Wii. It's not like the Wii needs more software, but if these games are right for any console, it is this one. The problems with translating PC-monitor graphics to the television must be addressed. It's not complicated, but it will require some attention that wasn't given to Mortimer Beckett and The Secrets of Spooky Manor. As a result, gamers may not appreciate how fun and engaging a good seek-and-find game can be, as they will be distracted by murky graphics and twitchy controls. Our guess is that the solid design, cute thematic material, and compelling multiplayer will bring Secrets of Spooky Manor onto the radar of Wii gamers that have an appetite for more casual gaming fare. The charge for Nintendo and developers is to make this stuff available through Wiiware, rather than requiring us to pay more than we should in the store and have to deal with boxed product. Once these obstacles are overcome, there's a large quantity of quality casual games out there just looking for a home on the Wii.


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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