Find everything except the “MillionHeir.”
You are a detective who detects things by finding small objects among large static backgrounds. You know those I Spy books? Yeah, like those. After you find enough objects from a long list, you solve a slide puzzle or some similar menial task, and then your witness coughs up information that doesn’t seem to have any relevancy to the case. Oh, right, the case. You’re investigating the disappearance (or murder, it’s never really made clear) of Mr. Phil T. Rich. The only way to investigate an area is to look for specific objects in rooms that make TGI Friday’s walls barren by comparison.
As you investigate more witnesses and find more kitsch, you are awarded new devices that let you find even more objects, like an X-ray scope, flashlight, and the ability to interact with certain objects. For example, if one of the clues is "fill the bottle," you find an empty bottle, hold down L or R, and color it in.
This is basically the entire game. On the "Hard" difficulty setting, you have a limited but very adequate amount of time to find all the objects in a room. If you’re stuck, you can always use a hint, which tells you where the next item on the list is. Yeah, the objects aren’t always as obvious as they appear—such is the charm—but there is very little to this game. At its most basic level, Mystery Case Files is a portable version of the I Spy books, so if you’re into that sort of thing, you might like this game.
The static backgrounds are nicely detailed, and some feature ambient animations, like falling leaves or swinging cables. The music is subtle but appropriate given whatever image you’re investigating. Character sprites (witnesses) are charmingly exaggerated, although they never animate. After investigating a number of rooms, you’ll be given a DS-specific mini-game to complete, like a slide puzzle, traditional puzzle (you rotate the pieces with the stylus), or blowing on the mic to clear dust off a document. The mini-games are my favorite part of Mystery Case Files, because they provide a nice change of pace from the constant searches.
You don’t actually do any detective work. It’s all put together for you in the background by your trusty computer, who takes your hand at every turn, leading you to your next objective without any muss or fuss. Thus, the plotline is forgettable and merely provides some abstract context to your endless eye-straining.
I will say that the interface is well thought-out. Each static image is larger than the DS touch screen. You move around it by dragging the image around with your stylus, a motion that feels very comfortable. The top screen displays a thumbnail of the entire image and the list of things to find. Tap an item to find it, or hold down the L or R buttons and doodle with it to fulfill its often bizarre condition. The clue "Five crossed out" is particularly interesting.
There are also some multiplayer options. Up to four players (each with their own copy of the game, of course) can either search a room cooperatively to achieve a fast time or competitively, to see who can find all the objects the quickest. But if your buddy does not have the game, you can send him or her the demo wirelessly. This is the same demo they can get on the Nintendo Channel.
Overall, there’s just not much here. The game might actually have been more enjoyable without the pretext of a plotline. Just give me a bunch of puzzles with some mini-games thrown in for good measure, and that’s perfectly satisfactory. As a Touch Generations game, Mystery Case Files would’ve done well to simplify itself. CrossworDS didn’t need any flair or storyline. It’s a crosswords game. This is an “I Spy” game. If you like such things, you might like this, and if not, you can safely ignore it.