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Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident Wii proves itself a cut above the average hidden object game.
The prospect of a hidden object adventure game on the Wii or DS inspires a sinking feeling, especially when it's part of a series called Hidden Mystery Secrets (or something similar).
My expectations for this type of game tend to be low. I'm expecting that the game will be a port of a low-spec PC game that underuses the power of the host console in favour of mostly static screens and limited animation. I'm also expecting the playable parts of the game to be hammered into the plot with no justification whatsoever.
It's a relief then to find that The Malgrave Incident has been put together with some thought and effort. While it's neither the smartest nor the prettiest game on the Wii, by the standards of its sub-genre it's a distinctly decent effort that deploys its resources well.
The story opens in a standard fashion, dropping the player into the role of a private detective hired by a mysterious Mr Malgrave to conduct an investigation on his own private island. Your character is bodyless and voiceless, and moves through the environments on rails.
The first pleasant surprise is that while movement is restricted, the environments aren't actually static images - your nameless detective can look around him/herself at a fully rendered environment, with little animated details such as swaying trees, rippling water and so forth. It's a lovely, surprisingly lively world, albeit a deserted one.
The second surprise is how well integrated the often-forced traditions of the adventure game, and the hidden object puzzle genre, are into the plot. On arrival at the island Malgrave provides you with a Wii-mote-styled gathering device to collect a special purple dust disseminated across the island. This dust, which is the main driver of the plot, has attached itself to lots of different objects - hence the need for hidden object rounds.
Justifiable in plot-terms as evidence of an insane, frantic mind at work on the island.
That's not all. This kind of pretty, relatively static game has traditionally taken place in deserted locations, for technical as well as aesthetic reasons, and this too is worked into the plot of the Malgrave Incident - the explosion that spread the precious dust also caused damage which drove the population of the island away.
It all fits rather neatly together, with even the use of puzzles as locks to doors and gates potentially justifiable in plot-terms as evidence of an insane, frantic mind at work on the island.
There's a third level of pleasant realisation that also occurs as the game progresses, and that's that the Malgrave Incident is not entirely without wit, with some deadpan text descriptions as your detective examines items around him (or her) and some sharp-tongued narration from the unseen Malgrave, whose voice bursts out of a speaker in your ever-present Wii-mote dust collector thing.
The second surprise is how well integrated the often-forced traditions of the adventure game are into the plot.
A pleasant surprise all round, then, although the Malgrave Incident can't quite escape the vices of the graphic adventure and hidden object genres.
Those hidden object rounds can become wearing, and even on a reasonable sized TV objects can be not so much hidden as virtually invisible - this is a genre still best-suited to a close monitor or touch screen. Also, some of the logic puzzles are ridiculously opaque leaps of the imagination.
Thankfully, the game is very lenient in both these cases, with a hint option that zeroes in on the right spot in the hidden object rounds, and a prompt allowing you to skip a puzzle if you sit staring at the screen blankly for a few minutes.
The Malgrave Incident is unlikely to convert more action-hungry player to its genre, and it certainly doesn't fully utilise the technology of even the modestly-powered Wii. But as innocuous, fantasy-tinged mystery games go, this is a thoughtful, solid product that stands out from its shoddier peers.
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