Reviewed: January 11, 2007
Released: December 15, 2006
Remember the I Spy books? The books that had pages of visual overload wherein the reader was challenged to spot as many objects in the cluttered picture as possible? Remember Where's Waldo? It was the same sort of deal as I Spy, only the ever elusive Waldo in his red and white striped shirt was the only object to be hunted down by the keen eye of eight year olds everywhere.
Such is the premise for Big Fish Games' latest, Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst, the third in the series of Mystery Case File titles. Aimed at the same crowd as the I Spy books, (about ages seven to twelve), Ravenhearst is a puzzle game designed to encourage kids to use their imaginations and their eyes to solve the mystery of Ravenhearst Manor.
Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst starts out with the player (or "master detective," as the game so flatteringly insists upon calling you) receiving a letter from the Queen of England ("seriously," the letter says), requesting an investigation at an old mansion. The only clue to go on is a single diary entry from a young woman who used to live in the foreboding old manor in the 1890s.
As the detective, you must investigate and find clues within the house leading to the finding other pieces of the diary entry. Naturally, these clues involve being able to spot random objects in the cluttered rooms, such as pickles, lizards, bicycle pumps and feathers. Of course, the discovery of enough of these vital clues will help you to piece together a puzzle to decipher another diary entry.
Makes perfect sense, no?
Well, it doesn't have to really. Keep in mind, this is a children's game, and the story is not as important as the puzzles that lead you into the plot. Ravenhearst is set up to look and feel like a spooky (but fun) adventure. Perhaps this isn't exactly forensics at its finest, but it is a lot of fun to go over these rooms with a fine-tooth comb to find the correct "clues" hidden within them.
After one room is cleared, the detective may go onto another, until he or she has collected enough of the clues to put together a jigsaw puzzle of a picture that coincides with the next deciphered diary entry. The picture is presented in faint, washed out hues, and the player must drag puzzle pieces into the correct place before the diary entry can be read. It's nothing too complicated, but it's just challenging enough to Ravenhearst's target age group to be fun.
Some rooms presented to the player are locked, and a different type of puzzle than the usual I Spy and jigsaw are presented. Certain objects on the screen are interactive and do various different things in relation to the other objects on the screen with them; for example, one such puzzle requires the player to ignite electricity into a television, where the dials can then be turned, and the antenna adjusted to reveal a code to be typed out on a typewriter. Decipher the Rube Goldberg-esque puzzle to unlock the door, revealing the next room. These puzzles are less common and a bit more challenging, but still fun and not too difficult.
Players are given a time limit (in relaxed time mode, seventy minutes are allowed to figure these puzzles out...it's not likely that you'll run out of time, but for the much, much younger audience, this is a forgiving timer), and clicking randomly on the screen only makes the timer speed up. A careful eye and some thinking are actually required in Ravenhearst. Otherwise, where would the fun be?
While I personally found "exploring" Ravenhearst Manor to be tedious at times (there is really not a whole lot of variety to the puzzles, which often repeat the same rooms but with different things to find, and the story is less than riveting), it's important to keep in mind that I'm not a ten year old kid. If I were though, thinking back to my childhood, I would have sincerely enjoyed Ravenhearst - for a while.
While this is a kid's game, it's also a puzzle lover's game, so it may not be for every kid out there. Also, while the spookiness of the game's overall atmosphere is no worse than a haunted house exhibit at a carnival, or a children's mystery novel with ghosts, some younger kids may not be entirely comfortable playing it. It's not scary by any means, but it may be a bit much for very small children.
Graphics in Ravenhearst are photo-realistic and really nothing spectacular, but the most important thing visually here is the layout and design of the puzzles, and they are done quite well. While the game does attempt to challenge its players by camouflaging objects by through placing something over a similar color or shape, it's done so cleverly.
A few objects do pop out like sore thumbs occasionally (who is going to miss the big, yellow fire hydrant?), but given the nature of the game, a few freebies are necessary to keep the game rolling along. Other objects will take some serious looking for, and it should be gratifying to child players who spot the brown lizard blending into the same colored and textured upholstery on a piece of furniture. Overall, the puzzle layouts are clever, fun and keep up a realistic difficulty curve for its players.
There isn't a whole lot to say as far as sound in Ravenhearst goes, because there isn't a whole lot of sound. Mostly, there are ambient noises such as creaking wooden stairs, distant thunder, and disembodied whispers. I have to say though; I was a little surprised by the random, breathy whisper saying, "help me." I was reminded of a true horror game, ones not intended for kids. It's genuinely creepy, which I thought was a nice touch, though it may give some serious shivers to some kids. But it wouldn't be fun if it weren’t a little creepy.
Ravenhearst does offer dozens of puzzles, but there is really very little variation in them. If you (or your kids, more precisely) enjoy these types of puzzles, and can play them over and over again, then you'll probably get a good amount of gameplay out of this installment of the Mystery Case Files series. If these "hidden picture" puzzles get old fast for you, well...perhaps your money is better spent elsewhere.
You can download a free demo from the Big Fish Games website to get a sample of the gameplay and if you enjoy it, the full game is only $19.95.
Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst is a good, solid game for kids who enjoy puzzles. It encourages careful thought, attention to detail and is a good exercise for the imagination. If you have a kid who loves puzzles and mysteries, then Ravenhearst is a good choice.