Missing Treasure, Missing Person...
There have long been rumors going around that there’s a treasure hidden somewhere in the swamps of Louisiana. A treasure so valuable and fantastic, that its owner, the dread pirate Captain Crown, continues to haunt it centuries after his death, guarding it jealously from any fool who dare to search for it.
It’s all hogwash though, or so Marcus J. Lawson, loving husband and father, believes. Shortly after moving into his new home, a manor that is said to have belonged to Crown, he mysteriously vanishes in a flash of light while reading a bedtime story to his daughter.
Thus begins 13th Skull, another entry in the Mystery Case Files series of adventure games. Once more, take on the role of a detective called in to find out what happened to Marcus and bring him home safely.
To do so, you’ll have to delve into the history of the manor, solving all of its odd riddles. Like any good mystery, there are some neat twists along the way, as you uncover the truth of not only Captain Crown, but even the people you meet in the present. Because as we all know, everyone always know more than they let on. There’s enough here to keep you intrigued.
...Missing the Mark
Unfortunately, much of the way the plot is presented leaves a lot to be desired. Unlike most adventure games, all of the dialogue in Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull is fully voiced. This could have helped set it apart from the crowd, if not for the fact that the voice acting is pretty amateurish all around. Most of the people come across as caricatures of your stereotypical southern bumpkins.
It certainly doesn’t help that the dialogue is also written in typical adventure game fare, which just sounds silly when spoken in a human voice. It’s nigh impossible to take anything seriously, but at least maybe in that regard, the plot can still be entertaining, even if it’s not in the way the developers intended.
Louisiana Never Looked More Scary
It’s quite a shame that the voice acting is so bad, because the rest of the game’s presentation is very good. The backgrounds are well drawn and highly detailed, and there’s plenty of animation added to them, from swaying window curtains, to growling alligators, to add an extra touch of authenticity. Characters are depicted on-screen not as the cartoonish figures we’re used to, but as live action video actors.
Sound effects are utilized well to add to the ambiance, and the music subtly fits the southern style of the game like a glove.
There are a few odd inconsistencies, though. The game takes place predominantly at night during a rainstorm, yet we still see butterflies and bees flitting about as if it a were a bright day to walk around singing “Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah.” But overall, Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull does a good job at presenting an atmospheric world, as long as the people in it don’t open their mouths.
This Should Look Familiar
The developers of Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull were definitely ambitious when deciding how their game should look and sound, but not really in how it plays. If you have played your fair share of casual adventure games, everything here should be familiar to you.
Granted, that’s not entirely a bad thing, but if you want innovation, you’re going to be disappointed. You’ll explore the environment through a point-and-click control scheme, solve a variety of puzzles and riddles, speak with characters to move the plot along, collect various key items to open doors and hidden passages, and play through some hidden object sequences.
Most of the puzzles are pretty logical and well put together in general, and require a fair amount of observation to solve. Given the context of the game, though, some of the tasks you have to do seem a bit ridiculous. What kind of person is going to force a detective to fetch cleaning supplies, or fix a toilet, before giving him the information he needs to solve a crime? And furthermore, what kind of a detective would put up with this kind of humiliation?
The hidden object segments, on the other hand, are a bit more cleverly designed than usual. Often, the items you’re looking for match the location of which they’re strewn around.
For example, one early segment has you sorting through a fridge; most of the objects consist of various foodstuffs, like sausages and hot sauce that look like what you would expect to find. But others…don’t. A chicken, for instance, may come in the form of a doll hidden with the eggs. It’s still the same silliness we’re used to, but these kind of bait-and-switch tactics help keep you guessing.
However, some items you need to find, in both the HOG segments and elsewhere, can be a little difficult to uncover. They’re often obscured by other items blocking them that prevent you from getting a good bead on anything. One section might have you looking for a scooter, which is going to be difficult since the only visible part of the it is a handle.
Still, in the event that you ever do get stuck anywhere, you can always hit the hint button to point you in the right direction. There’s really no detriment for doing so, aside from a small recharge time. And elsewhere, HOG sequences discourage random clicking by forcefully pausing your game for a few seconds. But other than that, though the game honestly tries to be trickier than its brethren, it’s still pretty forgiving, for better or worse.
A Little Too Familiar…
The biggest problem with 13th Skull is how repetitive is in comparison to the competition. HOG segments are overused, with no less than five within the first hour, and there’s little else in between to pad them out.
Exacerbating the issue is that the game does not shy from even having you search the same location at least twice, and when you do so, don’t be surprised if you have to find some of the exact same objects as you did last time. It’s randomized, but still, care should’ve been taken to avoid this kind of annoying repetition.
Conclusion – Good Looking But Nothing Really New
In the end, there’s just not a whole lot to Mystery Case Files: 13th Skull. It looks fantastic, and its story can be intriguing and entertaining in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way.
But as an adventure game, it doesn’t offer a whole lot that hasn’t been done before, and it really needs to learn to put space between the hidden object segments. And like most adventure games, there’s not a whole lot of replay value to find here; what you see the first time is what you’ll get the second.
Mind you, it’s not a bad game, it’s just kind of middling. It’s worth a look if you enjoyed other games in the Mystery Case Files series, or are just in the mood for something a little more macabre than usual. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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