Pros: Fun. Inexpensive. Solid graphics and audio that enhance gameplay but have minimal requirements.
Cons: Only about 15 hours of gameplay. Some puzzles to unlock rooms seem overly-contrived. Limited replay.
Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst is the third game in Big Fish Games popular “hidden object” Mystery Case Files series of games. Big Fish Games pretty much invented and set the standard for hidden object games when they released Mystery Case Files: Huntsville in late 2005. Recognizing the success that it was and the potential value of the Mystery Case Files name, Big Fish has since carefully crafted each game to improve upon the concept, without really changing it.
Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst neatly falls into the category of casual games. A casual game is one that you can play a few minutes at a time, or a few hours. The learning curve is minimal, but mastering a game is challenging enough to be fun. The best casual computer games have modest hardware requirements, but still have graphics, gameplay and audio good enough to make you appreciate your PC. Most casual games are inexpensive, $20 or less, and most often purchased by adults over 35.
Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst is available both in stores on cd, and can be downloaded from most of the casual games web sites, including Big Fish Games. List price is $20, though discounts are often available (see my review of the Big Fish Games store for more information on discounts). Versions are available for the PC or Mac. System requirements are modest, though I’d recommend a little above the minimum recommended:
600 Mhz cpu or better
128 MB memory, 100mb disk space
No problems here. We purchased and downloaded this game from the Big Fish Games website. Downloading the game required only a few minutes on my cable ISP connection. The installed game (on Vista) required just under 90MB of disk space. We’ve installed the game on 3 different systems, running both Vista and XP, without problems. One of the benefits of buying games like this from the Big Fish Games website is that once purchased, you can install it on any PC after logging into your account on the website and downloading and installing the game to that PC.
There’s only a small help section for the game. It explains how the game works quite well. But most users won’t need to refer to the help section, most of the gameplay is intuitive. (There are occasional “puzzle locks” that you must solve to move forward in the game at a few points. These “Rube Goldberg” type puzzles might cause a few players to look to the help files for guidance initially.) Gamers can buy a “strategy guide” for the game from the Big Fish Games website, but I can’t imagine anyone doing so, the included help files and hints should be more than enough for just about anyone. There’s also a tips and tricks forum on the website.
Ravenhearst starts with the Queen of England asking the game player to help unlock the secrets of Ravenhearst Manor. You’re presented with the diary of a young woman who lived there long ago, but most of the pages are missing. Your goal is to find the missing pages by visiting and solving puzzles in the manor’s rooms. The premise alone isn’t enough to keep you up nights, but as you find pages to the diary, you do find yourself wanting to solve more mysteries to see what happens next.
As you start the game, you’re asked to choose one of two game play modes, timed or relaxed. The timed mode adds a little challenge, but you’re given lots of time to solve each series of puzzles. I found I could solve most puzzles in half or two thirds of the time allotted, and I am by no means an expert puzzle solver.
The game starts with the player being requested to find a number of objects (22, 30, or more) in a few certain rooms (out of about 32) in the manor. Each time you finish a request like this, you find a page of the diary and learn more of the game’s story. There are about 15 requests, and each take about an hour, plus or minus.
To fill each request, you choose a room from the game map, and then are presented a very cluttered, but interesting image of a room in the manor. There’s lots of junk in each room, some sensible, some completely out of place. The items you need are shown somewhere in that image. As you find and click on each requested item, it is stowed in a briefcase. As each room is completed you are moved back to the game map to choose another room, until you’ve found the total number of requested items. With each quest, you have to find all the requested items except two, which minimizes the risk of gamers getting stumped on a single item. What makes the game fun is that all the items you are looking for are “hidden in plain sight” on your computer screen. There’s so much stuff in each room you don’t realize what you are looking at at first. And in some cases, the game’s developers confuse you with item names that might mean two different things (is “jack” something to lift up a car, or the man from a “jack in the box” toy?)
A few rooms require a puzzle to solved to unlock the entrance. The puzzles involve finding a way to activate a serious of items and devices put together in Rube Goldberg fashion (remember the games Mousetrap or Incredible Machines?) I find this to be the least satifying portion of the game, the puzzles seem inconsistent with story of the game, perhaps added as an afterthought to boost gameplay.
After finding all the items for a request, the gamer is asked to put together a jigsaw puzzle to earn another diary page. This is made somewhat challenging in that you only get 5 pieces at a time to add to the puzzle picture. (You can’t just put all the edge pieces in first.) The puzzles display an image of an event described in the diary pages, which neatly adds to the game’s story line, a another nice touch.
I’ve probably not described the gameplay as well as I should. Gameplay is easy, yet challenging. You can play for a few minutes or a few hours at a time. While the graphics are two dimensional, each image of the manor’s rooms is attractive and engaging, in a weird way, and the objects are realistic enough to keep you immersed in the game. The audio tracks are mostly “haunted house” sounds, but do help immerse the player in the game without becoming annoying.
Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst is fun to play. Most will get 10-20 hours of solid gameplay from the game. Subtly, Big Fish Games adds twists to each puzzle that engage and challenge players without overwhelming them. You can play the game without ever bypassing a puzzle or getting a hint, but if you do need help, its available in the game. If this game sounds interesting, Big Fish Games offers a 1 hour download demo version on their website.