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Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull

Score: 80%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Big Fish Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull is yet another blend of point-and-click adventure mixed heavily with hidden object puzzles. However, I have to say that this statement isn't all to fair for Mystery Case Files since it is a fairly well established series at this point and 13th Skull is the seventh game in this line to be released.

Like a couple of the games before it, 13th Skull blends well illustrated backgrounds with live action people to make a pretty convincing scene in which you can test your detective skills. That being said, the acting that portrays the characters you are interacting with feels very wooden, and at times, over the top. Actually, it felt a lot like participating in one of those mystery dinner theaters where you ask the cast questions and they reveal their part of the story to you. I don't know if it was the directing, editing, or just generally wooden acting, but the character interaction definitely doesn't feel natural.

To top it off, I actually felt a little insulted at times since the game takes place in southern Louisiana and a few of the characters portraying locals seemed a bit too stereotypical for my liking. Of course, that's just because I'm born and raised in the area being portrayed and I tend to get a bit overly sensitive on the matter.


Gameplay:

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull seems to blend the adventure and hidden object genres rather well. Instead of simply throwing you at junky screen after junky screen with the occasional inventory-based puzzle thrown in, or going the other way by relying heavily on classic adventure mechanics and tossing the occasional hidden object screen to force you to get inventory objects, 13th Skull's use of a dialogue system (granted, a basic one) and quite a few tasks to perform while not looking for hidden objects seems to allow the game to find a happy medium that many others find hard to hit.

In 13th Skull, you, the detective, are called to investigate an old Southern house that is reputed to be haunted by a long-dead pirate's ghost. This house was recently bought by a family who has just moved to Louisiana and what prompted your visit is the disappearance of the father by the ghost. As a result, the mother is constantly crying and the daughter, who saw the ghost take her dad away, won't come out of her room.

As you walk around the grounds, you will discover clues about the pirate ghost, as well as work to uncover his long-lost treasure. You will talk to quite a few characters, both locals who know the myth and, of course, the family. Usually, dialogue will result in you having to find a list of items scattered around the house and surrounding area. Snooping from room to room will yield these items, and a lot of times, you will also find hidden object screens that will give you some inventory item that will grant you access to one of the objects you are looking for around the house.


Difficulty:

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull seems to be just as well balanced in the difficulty department. Neither the inventory-based puzzles nor the hidden object screens are overly complex, making it a good match for the casual gamer who isn't necessarily well skilled in one or both of the genres. While I found that I occasionally needed to click the Hint button in the hidden object puzzles, these times were typically few and far between. As for the other puzzles, I typically found them simple to solve and generally at about the right skill level for the game's casual target audience.

Game Mechanics:

Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull takes the approach I find the most appealing when it comes to hidden objects. What I don't like is what I've decided to call the Highlights For Kids method. This being the hidden object style where you see a picture and there are tons of items that appear in trees or on the sides of houses and in the grass or in the clouds that simply don't belong where they are. Nothing frustrates me more in this style of game when the object I'm looking for is actually some outlined shape in a cloud somewhere - to me, this is the game simply trying to trick you and it seems to be the sign of an ill-designed hidden object screen.

Mystery Case Files seems to realize that you don't have to fill the screen with unnecessary junk or objects that are out of place and yet still make the experience challenging. When digging through a drawer, the items in that drawer make sense and the objects you are looking for also seem to fit in. A few other games I've played recently stick to this format, but I've seen on a few occasions that they will end up throwing an object on the screen for you to find and the scale will be completely off, thus making it less realistic and starting to border on the Highlights style of hidden objects. 13th Skull never does that, and it is appreciated.

The Mystery Case Files games have been doing a good job of finding the sweet spot between adventure and hidden object gameplay styles, and 13th Skull is the same way. While the acting could have used a bit more work, the overall product is good for a few hours of fun. If nothing else, then fans of this style of game should download the demo. Most likely, before the trial period is up, you will be hooked.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP/Vista, 2.0 GHz Processor, 1 GB RAM, DirectX 9.0, 778 MB Hard Disc Space
 

Test System:



Windows 7 Ultimate, Intel i7 X980 3.33GHz, 12 GB RAM, Radeon HD 5870 Graphics Card, DirectX 9.0c

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Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated