If you grew up in the 1980s, you can surely recall some puzzle games from way back when, such as the ones found in daily newspapers, where you have to pick out a hidden objects, usually a person’s face, from a picture no bigger than a couple of inches. The interest of these types of games lies in the satisfaction in finding your object. Fast forward to the 21st century and we can now see how puzzle games have evolved, a time when computer technology can be leisurely mixed with entertainment and education. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, hoards of computer puzzle games can be enjoyed by casual gamers, or those who simply want to unwind. It was not until 2005, however, that the public could get their hands on one game that quenches their thirst on all things puzzle-y. The game series is none other than the award-winning and best-selling games The Mystery Case Files.

The series is popular for its Hidden Object puzzles, with mysteries that players have to solve before they move on the next level. Along the way, players must uncover a certain number of hidden items and objects somewhere on each scene. The game did not reach its extremely high popularity only because people grew tired of playing other games, but simply because the series offers an enjoyable, challenging and engaging gaming experience.

Throughout the series’ long and prosperous reign in the Hidden Object game genre; Mystery Case Files has spawned six fantastic sequels, they are (in order of time release): Mystery Case Files: Huntsville, November 2005. Mystery Case Files: Prime Suspects, April 2006. Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, December 2006. Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, November 2007. Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, November 2008, and the last installment Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, December 2009. With a successful string of games and the last game being released recently, it looks like Mystery Case Files gamers may be in for more games.

So what exactly makes Mystery Case Files overwhelmingly popular? Well the basis of the game is not that hard to comprehend. Players are faced with 2D and sometimes 3D image backdrops, in which players must search for objects that appear on a list situated at the other side of the screen. Deceptively simple in the outer layer, this game is much more complex in the grand scheme of things. Items are not always easy to find; therefore the mini games are hard (at points). Those who have tried playing the game will know the feeling of not being able to stop playing the game as there is always just one more object that they simply must find before they can go to sleep (or any other activities).

The rooms that you will have to scour are littered with tons of items, some of which are big and some are small, all come in different colors and shapes, some which do not belong to the background, some that can be easily spotted, and some of which are camouflaged into the background. However, the majority of the challenge comes with the objects that are not included in the list; hence you will be trying to figure out what’s what is on the list and what is not. Some objects are there mainly to distract you from getting the correct items and in a way will play tricks with your eyes. Understandably, it will take a moment or two for you to get used to this environment, but eventually you will able to pick out the smaller items, while ignoring the irrelevant objects. Also, be careful not to celebrate when you think you have found the item that has been causing you problems, as it does not necessarily mean that the object is relevant to your list. To succeed, expect to spot things like butterflies that are camouflaged against the background, or long spears that are hidden behind a door, or sometimes it can be a small object on a painting that is placed in the back of a room. It may take a while, for you digest the whole picture, but if you slowly scan it and pay close attention to every item then you will soon find the objects.

General Interface

Upon playing, you will find that the controls on the Mystery Case Files series are remarkably straightforward. You will use the left mouse button, to click on the correct items. Once you click on the item, the item will disappear from the scene and the list.

On some games when you hover over the items, you will receive some notification that this is indeed the item you are searching for, but this is not the case in this game. This makes the game tougher and less childish, which in turn makes the game a much more compelling play. Likewise, convinced that you see something noteworthy, you will find yourself clicking numerous times on a certain spot in the scene, but alas – there is nothing there. Either way, the only way the system will let you know whether or not you pick the correct clue is by sounding off the correct sound effect. Sometimes it is also followed by the correctly-found item flashing and disappearing from the picture.

One of the bits about the games in the series is that in each game, players are not simply confronted with looking for items in a single room. Rather, your search is based on an integrated plot of a detective story, where you are trying to reveal some evidence or clues for justified purposes. To illustrate, in order to solve one puzzle, sometimes you have to visit many different locations to look for clues. The puzzles also get more challenging as each game progress.

Time is of the essence

In Mystery Case Files, one of the most influential factors you have to take into consideration is the time element. In the early games, in the series, you will have to race against time to get all the objects and clues needed and solve the puzzle. If you click on the wrong item, or if you click on the scenery instead you will also incur a time penalty. This might seem daunting, but it certainly adds more challenge. However, in later games, and maybe due to demand from casual gamers, you will be able to choose between a game with a timer and a game without one. In Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, the time penalty is entirely removed. In Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, you will be given the opportunity to choose between the regular game and one with an extended time mode. In Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst and Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, they do not have a timer at all.

Helpful Hints

Another major feature in the game is the hint button. It is practically your lifesaver if you feel like giving up looking for the hidden objects. When you click the button, what it does is, it will create a glowing effect over the area where one of the many items on your list is hidden. Casual gamers seem to appreciate this feature so much that the number of hints the game provides has gone up incrementally with each sequel. In Mystery Case Files: Huntsville you only get three hints per stage, in Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst it is gone all the way up to six hints. Upon using these hints in the game, over time, you may feel that it is only helpful if you are trying to look for the last item in a level, but these hints are extremely helpful when you are trying to pick out something minuscule in size or something that is camouflaged well in the graphical interface. As much as you would appreciate the hint feature to point out only the items that you want on the list, it does not work that way. So make full use of the hints, and only use it when you only have one or two items left to be found. However, do not hesitate to use it especially if time is not on your side, as you do not incur any penalties of any sort.

Game Play

The six installments of the Mystery Case Files have similar game play. What is different about each of the games are the storyline. Feel free to see the entire series as one gigantic challenge. Usually the items and objects that you will have to look for will be of the same nature, objects like pens or pencils. However, because the numbers of scenes are so large, it is not that detrimental.

Regardless of this, every game does have its own distinctive features, which is why you should try playing more than just one game, to get a feel for the series. There is usually more than one distinctive feature that you will see from each game. In Mystery Case Files: Prime Suspects, there is the flashlight feature that was not found in Mystery Case Files: Huntsville. In Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, the new features are the door puzzles. In Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, there are word and crystal ball puzzles. In Mystery Case Files: Return to Ravenhearst, there are cause and effect objects, and in Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, there are morphing objects. This is just one example of different forms of game play throughout each game, and this is why each game should be given a try, even if it is to decide which one matches your liking.

Technical

Although 3D in gaming is all the rage, there is still some space left for 2D Hidden Object Games. Utilizing 2D graphics are often quite straightforward; yet, the graphics on these games are beautifully drawn and feature intricate details, which most gamers would not expect of a 3D game, let along this 2D game. Due to the nature of the game, advanced graphics are not a requirement; this is because 3D graphics would decrease the addictiveness in the game play, because it would be a hindrance when trying to find objects.

In general, the music is particularly pleasing and moves the game along nicely. The music fits in with the ambiance of each stage and you will often hear terrific sound effects being put to excellent use in some scenes, for example, I think the sounds are at their best when building tension in a scene.

Summary

After all is said and done, the only things left to say about Mystery Case Files series, is it is an exceptional series. The Mystery Case Files series is one of the most played and well known titles in the hidden object genre. The cases are mostly light-hearted, which makes the game suitable for all members of the family, whereas it could have gone down a different route entirely. If you love casual games, then make sure you try all the games in the series for a guaranteed maximum gaming pleasure and enjoyment. Like all games it is best to start at the beginning, but, you do not need to start at the beginning as each story is independent from the next.

All six Mystery Case Files games are available to download, however, if you do not want to start from the beginning here is a brief summary to makes the game you want to play easier for you to choose: