cerasus.media have found themselves welcomed on the Nintendo DS in the UK thus far. Having partnered with Rising Star Games for Cradle of Rome and now Avanquest Software for Mystery Stories, the developer reached number two in the GfK full-price charts, placed just behind the latest entry in Nintendo’s lucrative Pokemon franchise, Pokemon Platinum. As a Hidden Object Puzzle game, to which publisher Avanquest are not unfamiliar, many gamers may wonder whether this success has been deserved by the seemingly unassuming release.
Mystery Stories does, in fact, have more than a few ideas as to how to mix-up the typically sluggish pace of Hidden Object Puzzle games, some of which have been devised perfectly for the host system, and a few others which are not quite so successful. Only two gameplay modes are available, Adventure Mode and Free Play Mode, the latter of which is simply the option to replay puzzles from the former. Much of the game’s appeal does rely on the ability to engross the player either in the storyline, or in the delivery of the puzzles.
The storyline is an intriguingly Hollywoodised plot about a journalist on holiday that lands straight in the middle of a kidnapping. While most will at least tolerate its presence, there are a few who will find its consciously flippant delivery a complete turn-off. Luckily, the variety of the puzzles will pull most through regardless of their view of the plot.
While much of the game is based around simply locating a list of items on a detailed backdrop via the Touch Screen, there is plenty of variation to break-up the monotony throughout the collection of more than one hundred and eighty puzzles. Of the more presentable additions to the formula is the item combination and timed assortment levels. Certain items will not only have to be found, but also combined within a level in order to discover clues, and other levels will grant the player only a short amount of time to find an object before moving-on to the next, coming back to those missed only when all others have been found, and only if the overall time limit allows. A nice idea, yet one unfortunately of inconsistent quality when delivered through the Nintendo DS’s tinny speakers, is that of locating objects by sound alone. While the sound of a cat meowing may be easy to decipher, that of a broom sweeping the floor may not be as easily recognisable.
Within each puzzle lie two power-ups which can be gathered and used at will on later levels. Both a hint function and time-pause ability are available for players to gather and use at will, and for most will be necessary on later levels. It does take a considerable amount of playtime before any real challenges appear, though this has clearly been intentional as to deliver the breathing space required by those unfamiliar with the new ideas employed in the Hidden Object Puzzle game.
The visuals are, unsurprisingly, far from being groundbreaking work on the Nintendo DS, but are of a more than comfortable standard. The story is delivered with real-life digital imagery and each of the locations is exquisitely detailed. The decision to have a panning camera doesn’t hinder a player’s exploration as much as may be thought upon initial play and the on-screen furniture has been designed to house all the necessary information whilst still being immediately accessible. The fact that the objects stay in place when found and are simply greyed-out a little is somewhat of an annoyance, and it often appears as though the player must be firm with their selection on Touch Screen for it to register correctly, but these are minor niggles in an otherwise well-presented game.
Mystery Stories has done well to deliver a touch of freshness to the Hidden Object Puzzle game, and being brought to retail as a Nintendo DS release would predictably find the title a welcoming audience. However, Mystery Stories is not Professor Layton & The Curious Village, and does not receive primetime television advertising, regular coverage in lifestyle magazines, nor even the hint of the software being bundled with it’s host system, and it’s current success is only likely to increase as word-of-mouth spreads. Mystery Stories may not be grabbing the headlines, but word on the street will be that this is the best Hidden Object Puzzle game the Nintendo DS has to offer.