Mystery Case Files: Huntsville
Year Published: 2005
Publisher: Big Fish Games
Developer: Big Fish Games

My, what humble beginnings. Mystery Case Files is a wildly popular hidden object game series, and Huntsville was its first entry. In the faraway era of 2005, it sold phenomenally and broke some casual games records. I can understand why, but it has not stood the test of time so well.

This is a typical hidden object scene.

The game basically tells how the series' "Master Detective" became that - by solving a bunch of random crimes in the fictional town of Huntsville. The Master Detective is genderless in this game (essentially, it is the player), but became explicitly female in later entries. The villains are drawn as cartoon characters and their crime sprees have Carmen Sandiego-style vibes to them.

Because Huntsville is as old as it is, there isn't much to it. Each criminal case opens up a few areas on the map, and you go look for items under the pretense of it somehow solving the crime. The game alternates between pure hidden object hunts and puzzles in which you swap tiles to complete an image of each criminal as they're caught in the act. The latter occurs on a "Crime Computer" that consists of a video screen attached to a typewriter - I had no idea until just now that the legendarily bad HOG, The Flying Dutchman, had very obviously and completely ripped that off.

Each case gives you a generous amount of time to complete them, except for the last one in which you have only 4 minutes to find 8 items and solve a tile puzzle. It took me a few tries to get that one, even with using hints. If you run out of time, you begin the case again from scratch, but the items you'll have to find are randomized.

I don't typically mind oldschool HOG's, but Huntsville has problems. A list is the best way to break them down:

1. The game was made for 800x600 resolution. It opens in a tiny window. I had to increase zoom to 150% to see anything, and even then, many objects are miniscule and hard to distinguish from the backgrounds.

2. The graphics are static backdrops with clipart clutter everywhere.

3. The hit detection is sometimes a little picky, and there is a misclick penalty of losing time.

4. One of the criminals is an escaped mental patient, which some will find offensive in these changing social times.

5. Another villain's crime is stealing cats and turning them into stuffed clocks. For a silly hidden object game, this is a bit much.

6. You revisit the same locations often, and while the items are randomized, you often find the same ones again and again.

Even in 2005, this computer wasn't state-of-the-art.

HOG's older than 2005 were typically much simpler - you could play them for free on various websites, but they were 100% finding items on 1-3 screens. I can see why Huntsville, with its attempt at a story, characters, puzzles, multiple locations, and full soundtrack may have been a big deal. But with so many other better choices available now, the only reason to play it is just to see where the Mystery Case Files series began, and how far it's come.

SCORE: 2/5



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