May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville
Developer: Studio V5
Release Date: 06/13/2102 (Released on Steam on 10/15/2014)
We’ve always known that you can create a game simply by throwing a bunch of puzzles together in a collection. Professor Layton taught us that you can make that game great by tying it together with a mystery story and some cute animation. However, the good professor doesn’t have a monopoly on that idea. Enter May’s Mysteries. It’s easy to look at this game and see it as just a clone of a more popular brand. However, anything worth reviewing is worth reviewing on its own merits rather than what we expect it to be.
May Stery (Get it?) is described as a charismatic and smart girl. She loves puzzles and pragmatism. She and her adventurous little brother are out for a hot air balloon ride when a storm causes them to crash near the town of Dragonville. When May wakes up, she finds her brother has disappeared and must venture into the town to find him. It turns out the town is full of secrets. There are no children to be found anywhere, and the adults seem to be in complete terror of the Mayor. It’s up to May to solve this town’s riddles, save her brother, and get back home.
I wasn’t overly fond of the plot. For starters, the game tries too hard to get its point across. When her brother tells her he wishes he could fly, she starts into some speech about how flight is physically impossible for humans. It’s the game’s way of telling us she’s a smartypants, basically. It feels forced and unnatural. Another problem that shows up is repetition. May meets a group of inhabitants that have all lost their memory. They each explain this to her, and she makes the same promise to help them out. It results in the player clicking through a lot of similar dialogue.
Pretty much every character you meets is stuck on their own screen. They never move to another location, or impact the story once you leave them. There are a couple of exceptions. For the most part, May is either on her own or accompanied by the former mayor of the town. The dynamic between the two never changes, even though it by all rights should on more than one occasion. There just isn’t anything interesting going on.
One bad thing this game picked up from Layton was the end sequence. All of the game’s mysteries are neatly wrapped up in a short dialogue at the end of the game. Again, it feels forced. It also follows the good professor’s example by preceding this end sequence with a long series of puzzles for no good reason. It’s a contrived ending to a game that didn’t do enough to hold you attention to begin with. You won’t be satisfied by this tale.
I’m trying not to mention Layton all that much, but it’s hard to do. That’s especially true for the graphics. May, as well as the other characters, look like they could fit in the professor’s world without a problem. Between her oversized head and black button eyes, she could even pass for his daughter. The 2D animation clearly evokes the same kind of style as well. Things start to fall apart in the animation department. Though there are many animated scenes, the animation is incredibly stiff. Still, the bright colored world offers some legitimate visual delights.
The graphics during puzzles don’t fare as well. For starters, the puzzles only take up a portion of the screen. This game was originally released on the DS, and all they did was copy over the image and put it on top of a background. Thus, puzzles and cut scenes alike take place in windows. The puzzles themselves are often bland and comparatively lifeless. It mostly involves flat and static portraits. It definitely feels like a budget title from the DS library.
When it comes to how the game sounds, I must once again compare it to that one other game I keep mentioning. The music and sound effects are clearly similar. You’ll find light-hearted tunes that use unusual instruments, familiar chimes, and even a similar ditty when you solve a puzzle. The puzzle theme gets old quickly though, as you’ll hear it consistently throughout the game. You rarely go so much as a minute without finding a new puzzle, which only adds to the problem. You also have some voice acting in the game, but not much. It’s decent, but nothing to write home about. At the very least, you don’t have to worry about funky accents.
Playing the game is simplicity itself. All you have to do is follow the arrows to the next location and then click on the person or thing the highlights for you. That will either start up a conversation or a puzzle. Beat that puzzle, and then follow the next arrow to the next puzzle. You don’t have to hunt for items or hint coins or anything like that while moving around. You do have an inventory, but it functions without your input.
There are a variety of puzzle types and two-hundred seventy puzzles in total. About a third of these will need to be completed in the story, while the rest will show up in the bonus section. The bonus puzzles are how you earn hints. Each puzzle you complete will give you three to five hint coins. You can spend up to two hint coins to unlock hints for a story puzzle, or fifteen to skip that puzzle entirely. You don’t use hint coins for bonus puzzles, but you do get two free hints if you want to use them. Puzzle types include slide puzzles, picross, hidden object, word problems, math problems, and others. There are also rhythmic mini-games that ask you to copy sound patterns.
Most of these puzzles control well enough, but there are some oddities. When doing the picross puzzles, you simply mark squares instead of removing them. You also can’t protect squares so you don’t accidentally mark them. Even worse, you have to manually click each square. You can’t click and drag. The rhythmic puzzles are also very touchy. You have to be right on the beat, or you’re going to lose points rapidly. Perhaps the most disheartening thing is that you can’t bring up a notepad to scribble down notes or formulas.
When it comes to the challenge the puzzles present, the game is all over the place. Some puzzles can be solved in a second or two, while others will have you working your brain to try and remember math formulas you haven’t used since grade school. A part of this problem is that many of the descriptions were poorly translated, making it hard to tell what you’re supposed to do. The good news is that you can skip any puzzle that’s giving you trouble, provided you’re willing to solve bonus puzzles first of course. When you beat a puzzle, you don’t get an explanation on how it was solved. So if you take a lucky guess, you’ll never know why you were right. That was one of the best features of Layton, and it’s sad that it didn’t carry over to this game.
Playing through the main game will take you around ten hours. After that, you’ll have every puzzle available to complete at your leisure. The game doesn’t tell you which ones you’ve skipped, but you won’t have earned any points for that puzzle, so you can figure it out through trial and error. You can probably get somewhere between fifteen to twenty hours total out of the game if you go for perfect completion. That’s not too shabby for a ten dollar game.
Short Attention Span Summary
May’s Mysteries is an acceptable collection of puzzles loosely tied together with a forgettable story. The interface is a bit off, and the feature list is lacking. However, if you need a Layton-style game on something that isn’t a handheld system, this game can certainly fit the bill. While it’s a lower budget version of that game, the price is low enough that you’ll likely find it to be an acceptable trade-off.