I'm the daughter of a veteran who spent my childhood in Killeen. As of 2013, I have a degree in English from the University of Texas at Austin. I'm a critic of books, films, television, and video games. Find me on Twitter: @rachel_knows

Photo: Going Casual: Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, Sacred Grove

Better bundle up. Again.

Did you think I would abandon you during the month of the AAA-deluge, casual gaming fans? Never! Especially not when the newest entry in my favorite hidden-object series is out. Also, I need a little more time to form an opinion on Far Cry 4. I swear, open-world games will be the death of my attempts at scheduling.

I reviewed Dire Grove back in the day. Sacred Grove takes place in the same town, and apparently Dire Grove can’t avoid snowy destruction at the hands of vengeful spirits, because it’s happening again and for entirely different reasons this time. The local forest spirit is wreaking havoc, and the few remaining residents and the local clan of druidic Mistwalkers are each claiming the other is responsible for its anger.

I feel an opportunity was missed to tie the story more closely to its predecessor. Are the Mistwalkers the same clan that sacrificed the girl who became the banshee in the first game? Where were they when she was turning the world into Noveria? If it was them, were they sacrificing her to the same spirit who causes the snow in this game?                                         

 

Mechanically, almost everything is the same and is as fun as it’s always been. The hidden-object scenes are broken up with complex puzzles, though I think the latter are a bit too needlessly complex at times. There are new, more challenging difficulty settings, which encourage you to replay the game and scale up each time. The story is good for what it is, and I found the character design on the Mistwalkers to be very appealing.

I really didn't like that the Master Detective suddenly has a voice. Being able to choose gender didn't bother me. It’s just the dialogue trees that got to me. We can see the text onscreen in dialogue and in the MD’s internal monologues, so the voice adds nothing. If anything, it decreases my ability to really get into the game.

The inclusion of a “deduction board” sounds like it would make sense, considering you’re the Master Detective, but you don’t get to do any deducting on it. You gather clues, press a button, and the MD explains the conclusions like Captain Obvious giving testimony. In trade, they've eliminated the MD’s personal journal. I really missed that journal, as the MD’s world-weary commentary in it made everything feel more fleshed-out.

Overall, this Mystery Case Files takes away a little too much, and leaves just enough of the usual behind. I love MCF, and Sacred Grove didn't change that. There are just a few bells and whistles that didn't feel as though it fit within the game’s series. I will keep playing the games no matter what they do, and I can’t say I really blame Big Fish for attempting to innovate with their flagship series. I just don’t think everything they threw at the wall here stuck. We’ll see what they come up with next.

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