Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident
Developer: Big Fish Games
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Release Date: 6/28/2011
Although most console gamers wouldn’t know who or what Big Fish Games is, PC gamers know BFG as one of the largest video game publishers in the US, specializing in publishing adventure and hidden object based games. Their own first party line of games mixing the two aforementioned genres is the Mystery Case Files series, which outsells most mainstream high budget and heavily marketed console games. I reviewed The 13th Skull>, the most recent release in the PC series about six months ago and found it to be a nice little game, especially with a $13.99 price tag.
The Malgrave Incident marks the series’ first console release, although a previous entry, Millionaire Heir, appeared on the Nintendo DS. While the series tends to have dark and supernatural overtones on the PC, these are mostly swept under the rug in both the games that Nintendo published as exclusives for their systems. This doesn’t bother me, as a good mystery is a good mystery. I’m also happy to see the Nintendo Wii FINALLY get a adventure game exclusive for it, as the system is pretty much built for these type of games. Unfortunately, all they’ve really had up until now are PC ports of things like And Then There Were None, Sam and Max and Secret Files: Tunguska. It’s a shame that this genre has been so neglected when the Wiimote is potentially perfect for point and click gaming ala a mouse.
The kicker here is that while PC games in the Mystery Case Files series run between $6.99 and $19.99, The Malgrave Incident is $29.99. Now for a Nintendo published title, that’s pretty cheap, but for a BFG title, that’s a bit of sticker shock. So does the price tag coupled with the move from the PC to the Wii spell disaster for the The Malgrave Incident or do adventure game fans finally have the high quality point and click title for the Wii they’ve been hoping for since the system’s inception?
You play a nameless faceless detective who has been called to the island of the fantastically rich (and fantastically eccentric)Winston Malgrave. Malgrave is positively ancient by human standards, claiming to owe his long life to the supposed curative springs on the island. Malgrave has called you to the island to help collect pink dust from around the area that he says will help restore his critically ill wife, Sara. Once you reach the island you can see that this one time resort is now abandoned and horribly run down. Indeed, there only appears to be three people on the island, You, Malgrave and a mysterious person who leaves you notes and clues while warning you that nothing is what it seems here.
Now on the surface, the story is…okay. It’s a passable excuse to move from one location to another solving puzzles or engaging in hidden object scenes. However, the longer you play, the worse things get. First of all, is Malgrave is such a wealthy man, why hire you to do something as menial as gather dust for him. As well, since you’re the super famous detective from the Mystery Case Files series, why would you either demean yourself to such a task and why would you not do some sort of research before blindly going into this island and its sordid history? That’s just terrible and it totally ruins the suspension of disbelief. In 13th Skull, you’re at least looking for a kidnapped person who may or may not have been taken away by pirate ghosts, in Ravenhearst, you’re exploring a spooky mansion and so on. Travelling to a remote island to collect dust is…beneath the series’ protagonist and is also a horribly stupid hook. It gets worse as you play through the game and realize that the story progression is EXACTLY THE SAME as 13th Skull, right down to the plot twists and heel turns. I was outright disgusted by this. How can you basically use the same plot (albeit it with some slight window dressing) for two games back to back? It didn’t work for Teen Wolf Too and it’s not going to work here. The only real interesting twist is who and what Sara really is and even then you see it coming a mile away. Hell, you see it coming from the very beginning of the game.
The ending of the game is downright terrible and I would have thrown my Wiimote down in disgust if I didn’t want to risk breaking it. Seriously, I know that the general endings for the MCF series have let be down in the past, but this ending was terrible even for a $6.99 budget game, so for a $29.99 console release I was just flat out shocked at how little BFG and Nintendo seem to know the point and click audience. Basically you get an ending where the bad guy gets what he wants, but not exactly in the way he wants it, and gets away without so much as a slap on the wrist and your “detective” looks even more insipid than he did at the beginning of the game. Honestly, story wise, The Malgrave Incident is up there with Ting Bang Story as the worst adventure game I’ve played this year storywise and it’s easily the worst story in the Mystery Case Files series hands down. Truly terrible
Story Rating: Dreadful
The last PC entry in theMystery Case Files series tended to be very heavy in its use of Full Motion Video, or FMV for short. This was meant to make the game not only stand out from the deluge of adventure games out there, but also show that there is still an entertaining and oft-overlooked aspect of gaming. Unfortunately, The Malgrave Incident doesn’t offer that. It relies mainly on the static images and backgrounds this genre is primarily known for. The good thing is that that images aren’t PURELY static. Some hidden object scenes have animation, such as a pool or a tank of water where items are swirling around, adding a slight degree of difficulty in picking them up. Other scenes might show animation when you use an object on an interactable item on the field. Besides that, the visuals are static rather than animated, and while this is all but expected in adventure games, that genre is primarily played by PC gamers and so console owners might be taken aback by the fact the game is pretty much pictures that you move from in a first person manner.
That being said, the visual quality in The Malgrave Incident is noticeably weaker than those in the PC series. Here the graphics are jaggy, grainy and are more akin to a WiiWare or even a DSiWare title than a disc based release for the Wii. I know some reviewers rag on the Wii’s graphic capability since it’s not a high definition system, but honestly, just taking the visuals by the Wii’s standards (which is how it should be done), this looks…like it could have been better. Again, compare the visuals here to games like Secret Files Tunguska which is a Wii port of a five year old PC game and the older game blows this away. Again, knowing the level of quality both Big Fish and Nintendo puts into their titles, I was left kind of shocked by this.
I should close out this section by also pointing out that the game suffers from slowdown on occasion, which has to be a first for either an adventure game or hidden object scenes. Words can’t express how disappointed I am with this thing.
Graphics Rating: Below Average
I’ve ragged on the Mystery Case Files series in previous reviews for having really cheesy/hammy acting in their FMV scenes, so it’s odd that this is one area where The Malgrave Incident actually is superior to its PC predecessors. Now there are only two voice actors in the game, but both do an excellent job. Winston Malgrave‘s actor has the perfect voice for a crazy old capitalist and although you hear him infrequently throughout the game, he’s a lot of fun to listen to.
The sound effects in the game are sparse, mainly because you are on an island with only three living things, but what’s here is fun, be it something falling through a bit loosely covered by wooden boards, or the creaking of an old tomb. The music is also a lot of fun. It doesn’t necessarily fit the mood of a ghost island (like a ghost town, not an island populated by the undead. Deep Silver has that niche covered in a few months). Still, the overall score is fun to listen to and makes for nice background music as you search for items or try to solve the occasional puzzle.
Sound Rating: Enjoyable
4. Control and Gameplay
Nearly all adventure games has the same basic format. You use a mouse to point and click on objects that are either on the screen or in your character’s inventory. Of course, the Wii doesn’t have a mouse, so everything is mapped to the Wiimote. In theory the controls work pretty well. You just use the Wiimote exactly as you would the mouth. You click on direction arrows to move. You turn the wiimote to change your character’s view (It’s not a full panoramic. More 180 degrees), click on items to pick them up, bits of the background to interact with them and so on. You have two main icons towards the bottom of the screen you can click on – one in your inventory case and the other is your casebook. The inventory is where you hold various objects and you pick them up by pressing A and B together and then moving the object where you think it should go. The casebook contains clues and notes to help you solve puzzles, along with a gallery of “postcards” that you can find with showcase the island in its heyday. There is also a special set of hidden objects revolving around timepieces, tiaras, teddy bears and kites that you can find strew across the island. Finding all of one of the four categories nets you a cutscene and some voice work as you learn more about the two remaining inhabitants of Malgrave Island.
Now for the problems with the controls and there are several. First up – detection issues. You’ll discover that even if you click on something several times, the game might not register it. This is especially painful in hidden object scenes where if you make too many wrong guesses, you are punished by a pinkish-purple fog that obscures the screen. As well, there are some puzzles (including the very first one in the game) that require specific clicks and you’ll find that even though your cursor is hovering over one area, the game will take the click for an adjacent area. Arrgh. You’ll also find the game is a bit unresponsive to your movements at time, which is VERY odd for a Nintendo published game and it’s kind of sad when a point and click game NEEDS Wiimotion+. Again, I was surprised Nintendo and/or Big Fish allowed the game to be published with these control issues.
The final gameplay thing to talk about is in regard to the hidden object games. Unlike most hidden object games that are on a single plane, the ones in Malgrave are actually on three planes and you’ll have to move between all three to find all the items. I tended to start off with the faraway viewpoint as the entire board could be seen on a screen and then slow work my way into the zoomed in planes to see what was left to find. The multi-plane thing is kind of a neat one but it can also be a frustrating one as some items could only be found on a specific screen if your cursor is in a specific spot.
Overall the game plays…okay. There is definitely room for improvement, especially since there are several adventure game ports that have tighter controls. Since The Malgrave Incident was designed specifically for the Wii and had Nintendo publishing it, the game should have blown everyone away gameplay wise. I mean, this is a team up of the most successful console with the biggest adventure game publisher. Somehow though, the end result is less than impressive.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Decent
Most adventure games are a “one and done” situation due to being so linear without any room for variance. The Malgrave Incident does its best to make up for this fatal flaw in the genre and in this respect, it mostly succeeds. The story mode of the game offers two optional hidden object games that go across the breadth of the game and after beating the game, you can now enter “Free Mode” which lets you try and find the remaining things that you might have missed or any puzzles you decided not to solve. This is a nice touch but ultimately it’s not enough to make one want to keep The Malgrave Incident in their collection.
This, however, is where Multiplayer mode comes in. Multiplayer offers several different modes that you and up to three of your friends can join in with. The modes basically come down to co-operative and competitive play and they are ALL hidden object based, so if you’re more the adventure gamer who wants more cerebral puzzles, this is probably going to be a bust for you. If you enjoy hidden object puzzles however, the multiplayer experience really gives things a whole new twist and it can be a lot of fun.
So there isn’t really incentive to replay story mode, especially since the story itself is horrid, but the option for free mode to 100% things afterwards in a nice touch and multiplayer hidden object play should delight a lot of casual gamers.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
Once upon a time, adventure games were considered the most hardcore of gaming genres. Things like Maniac Mansion, Zork, Grim Fandango, The 7th Guest, Sam and Max Hit the Road and more were games that any self-respecting gamer worth their salt played. Somehow though, the genre has become linked with “casual gaming” even though many of them, especially those developed by European studios, offer some pretty intricate and tough puzzles, testing one’s mind as tersely as a hidden end boss in a SNK fighter. Unfortunately, The Malgrave Incident isn’t one of those adventure games. Perhaps it is because I just finished Alpha Polaris, which has some of the hardest puzzles we’ve seen in an adventure game in some time, but The Malgrave Incident was really, REALLY, easy.
At the same time none of the puzzles have any real explanation regarding how to do the puzzle or what the end result is supposed to be. This means that newcomers to the genre may be stymied and frustrated as there is no hand holding. For long time adventure gamers though, you will recognize all the puzzles almost instantly, which means there is absolutely no challenge at all. So in this respect, The Malgrave Incident is a point and click that will alienate newcomers and long time fans of the genre alike. That’s pretty impressive in a dubious way.
The good news is that if you are stuck on a puzzle or just let the screen sit on one for a while (say due to a bathroom break, phone call or the like), the game will pop up with an option to skip a puzzle. This is ultimately unsatisfying, but I guess for those that get stuck, at least they have this little option to help them see the story through to its completion.
The hidden object scenes DON’T let you skip through them though and due to some bad programming you will outright need the hint option for some of these. Here’s a great example. In one puzzle you’ll have to find a nutcracker. There is a big old school nutcracker right in the middle of the screen, but the game won’t take it. After some frustration, I decided to look for the metallic V style rather than the toy soldier style. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one of those anywhere. Finally, I clicked for a hint, which gives you the general location of the object and it turned out to be…a corkscrew. What the hell? This happens several times in the game, where the clue and the actual object don’t match up. Even worse, there are times when you will be asked to find a specific item and it will turn out there are multiple version of that object on the board and you’ll have to guess and check to see WHICH one you need. These were some of the worst hidden object puzzles I have ever encounter. It’s not that they were hard – it’s that they were just flat out stupid and poorly designed.
This whole thing just seems slapped together and I’m shocked Big Fish and Nintendo fronted this thing because it’s nowhere near the level of quality one comes to expect from either company. What’s here’s is playable, but that’s about all you can say about it.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
On one hand, this game is the first adventure game exclusively developed for the Nintendo Wii. On the other hand the plot is horrible, the main progression of the story follows The 13th Skull almost exactly and the puzzles are all rehashes of ones found in countless other adventure games. In truth, there’s not a lot of originality here. The Malgrave Incident is basically a half assed Frankenstein’s Monster created by pieces of other, better adventure games stitched together. There’s…multiplayer hidden object mode. That’s something I guess.
I wish I could say something positive here, but there really isn’t anything to say.
Originality Rating: Bad
I really wanted to like this game. I love adventure games. I love Big Fish Games. I love my Nintendo Wii. All three things combined should have given me a pretty awesome experience, but honestly, I was most happy with this game when the end credits finally began to roll and even then I was still pissed off at the horrible ending. The game seemed to go on FOREVER. There was too little puzzle diversity for my liking. The vast majority were hidden object which I knew going into this but the last few Mystery Case Files games were light on them so I was hoping this game would continue to be progression rather than regression. Factor in visuals that were nowhere as good as what we’ve seen in the PC version and rehashes puzzles that were so easy my rabbits could do them and you’d think that my sticking through The Malgrave Incident until the end was a herculean feat.
In fact, it wasn’t. Yes, I didn’t like the game but I wanted to see things through out of loyalty to the series and the genre. Because of that I kept playing, mostly searching for the hidden postcards and hoping that it would get better. Now, newcomers to the genre or people that haven’t seen these puzzles or story before will probably find this more intriguing than I did, so we’ll be nice and call it a thumb’s in the middle here.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9. Appeal Factor
Adventure games, even in their golden era, were almost universally found on the PC save for a few ports like Secret of Monkey Island, Shadowgate and the like. Even then, savvy gamers almost universally pronounced the PC versions to be superior due to either graphical quality or because the console versions had some noticeable edits (Like games on the NES). Because of all that, adventure games have never really had a chance to find an audience on consoles. There have been a few successes but not many. The Malgrave Incident will not be one of those. Why? Because of many factors. The game isn’t very good, it’s noticeably weaker in nearly every way from previous Mystery Case Files games and most importantly, it’s far more expensive. For thirty dollars you could get FOUR other MCF games or the collector’s edition of 13th Skull and two other MCF titles. ALL of which are better than Malgrave. I realize there is a premium for having a game on a console, but seriously, at thirty dollars, The Malgrave Incident prices itself outside what the majority of Mystery Case File fans are used to paying. That alone is going to kill the potential audience here. Then you have to realize most console gamers will pass this up for being a “casual” title and so The Malgrave Incident has kind of trapped itself in a no win situation.
Look, I enjoy most adventure games and I really didn’t like this. Most fans of the genre won’t either. There are better adventure games out there, even for the Wii.
Appeal Factor Rating: Poor
So we have a Mystery Case File game for the Wii. Unfortunately it’s roughly twice the cost of a PC one and sports inferior graphics, rehashed puzzles and a plothole filled (and poory told) story. It does offer multiplayer mode, which is a first for the genre (and really for hidden object games in general), but it’s just not enough. Fans of this specific series will be able to tell that this is nowhere near the quality of say, Return to Ravenhearst, Dire Grove or any other game in the series. This whole game has kind of left a bad taste in my mouth and I’m not sure which company to point the finger at. Look, in just checking EBGames.com, you can get both Sam and Max Season One AND Secret Files: Tunguska for less than this turkey. Both are vastly superior in every way and it’s two games for the price of one, so why wouldn’t you?
Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless
Graphics: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Poor
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident isn’t a very good Wii game. It’s not a good adventure game. It’s not a good hidden object game. It’s not a good Mystery Case Files game. For thirty dollars you’re getting something that pales in comparison to the rest of the series, all of which go for about seven to fourteen dollars, or twenty for the collector’s editions with nifty swag. Why would anyone pay extra to play a third rate MCF game on the Wii? Let’s put it another way. If you want an adventure game you can buy BOTH Sam and Max Season One AND Secret Files: Tunguska for the Wii for less than this supbar point and click game, and both of those are high quality productions.