The legendary waters of Malgrave Island have attracted tourists from every corner of the world, drawn by the legend of their curative properties. The mysterious industrialist Winston Malgrave was one of those tourists, and after visiting he used his whole wealth to purchase the island and become it’s caretaker. Things went well for a while, as Malgrave embellished and developed the island even further to create a true paradise and a flourishing community, but after a few years all connections with the outside world were suddenly cut and the flow of tourists interrupted.
At last, Winston Malgrave is reaching out to the world, and to be more precise, to the famous detective of the Mystery Case Files investigative agency. The industrialist needs help investigating the whereabouts of a mysterious powder found only on his island, that seems to be able to cure every kind of illness and aliment known to men. His wife, Sarah, is on her death bed, and Malgrave needs the powder to save her life.
This simple backstory creates the setting for Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident, putting the player in control of the detective that will have to follow the hints left by Mr. Malgrave in order to find the powder and solve the mysteries behind the nature of the island. While it doesn’t exactly shines in depth, at least as an introduction, it creates a sense of unknown and uncertainty that’s rather fitting for a detective story.
The first thing that greets us as we set foot on Malgrave Island is the fact that the visuals are unexpectedly charming for a game that some would dismiss (rather wrongly) as shovelware. The areas of the island are lush and beautiful, full of extremely well designed little details that show a level of artistry that you won’t find in many games with a much higher budget and larger scope. There’s a lot to take in, as every corner might hide some crucial little element, or even just a small piece of beautiful scenery you may want to see.
Even more than the graphics themselves, the art direction is what really shines, clearly inspired by the classic point & click adventures of times past, it creates a great atmosphere that fits the setting perfectly, immersing the player in an island that looks extremely surreal, but at the same time coherent and believable.
The spot-on art direction reflects in the puzzles as well, as it should, considering that they are the centerpiece of the game. They fit the surrounding areas so well that the passage from explorations to puzzle solving feels completely seamless, further enhancing the immersion. This is actually something rather rare in this kind of game, as in many similar productions the puzzles show a quite abrupt divide with the rest of the world, almost like they were pasted on it as an afterthought. The Malgrave Incident definitely doesn’t suffer from that problem.
The audio of The Malgrave Incident is adequate, even if not exceptional. While the musical score is appropriate to the atmosphere of the island, it tends to become a tad repetitive, especially considering that you’ll visit the same locations many, many times.
The voice work, with Winston Malgrave doubling up as guide and narrator, is well acted and characterized, even if a little scarce, and contributes to furthering the mysterious atmosphere of the game, despite the fact that most of the times Malgrave will be talking to us through a Wiimote-shaped golden-plated dust-gathering cellphone. A definitely weird contraption for a weird character.
The Malgrave Incident is a rather simple game, definitely aimed to a casual audience, but it’s far from being a piece of shovelware. Quite the contrary, it’s a game that can prove challenging even for the most veteran between core gamers.
The heart of the gameplay are the hidden item puzzles that form the most prominent staple of the Mystery Case Files games. Very often, during your explorations, you’ll find yourself in need of a peculiar item to proceed. To find it, you’ll have to solve one of the many hidden item puzzles. You’ll be presented by a chaotic but charmingly well designed array of objects between which you’ll have to find those that you need. Described like this it sounds easy, but it isn’t, as there are so many items, and the ones that you have to detect are often so well hidden, that you’ll need a lot of focus and a very good eye to find them all quickly. Luckily for the less patient among us, there’s also a hint feature that can help when the player gets stuck.
Even here the peculiar art direction of the game comes into play, enhancing the enjoyment of the puzzles. Simply enough, they’re so well designed that they almost look like a painting, and it’s hard not to spend a few moments just appreciating how good they look. The visual impact is enhanced further by the fact that they are formed by multiple layers of items, and moving the camera gives a lovely three-dimensional sensation, also adding a further layer of complexity, as shifting the point of view is often necessary to find some hidden items.
There are also other kinds of puzzles in the game, like complex locks and similar brain-training contraptions that break the challenging (but a bit repetitive) sequence of hidden item puzzles. While they are mostly fun and well designed, they almost always lack any kind of explanation or tutorial, often leaving the player wondering what he has to do and clicking casually until he finally makes sense of the puzzle. There are also some that require finding some hints and clues by exploring the island, to add more variety to the bunch.
Of course the game isn’t just a sequence of puzzles, as there’s also a prominent point & click adventure element, that, as casual as the game can be, reminds me a lot the most hardcore adventures by Lucasfilm and Sierra. The player isn’t given much in terms of direction or guidance, often finding himself wandering across the island to find that one item necessary to continue with the exploration. While this is charmingly nostalgic, it can easily lead to frustration for the least driven and focused players.
Exploring Malgrave Island is definitely fun, at least when one doesn’t get stuck because he missed some obscure item or clue hidden somewhere, and the puzzle elements are most of the times very well designed, providing a gameplay that, while repetitive, puts The Malgrave Incident quite a few steps above the usual casual-friendly game, making it appropriate even to the most puzzle-loving among the core player base of the Wii.
There are also multiple local multiplayer options, that revolve around the hidden items puzzles, ranging from competitive item-finding contests to an hot potato mode that forces players to alternate in finding an item before their timer runs out. They are rather fun, and definitely add some more value to the game, but honestly I’m not sure about what kind or longevity they can provide.
Ultimately Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident doesn’t aim very high, but manages to hit the spot in almost everything it aims to. While the game intentionally keeps things simple, it’s not necessarily an easy one, and will provide quite a few hours of enjoyment to those that look for a solid brain and eyes-teasing challenge. It isn’t a perfect game, or a game for everyone, but it definitely shows some unexpected qualities that deserve to be appreciated by those that enjoy the genre and a good mystery story.