The success of Professor Layton over the years on Nintendo DS has inevitably brought about a number of wannabe titles seeking to challenge Level 5 to make the next hit puzzle game. When developers follow suit with what’s become popular with consumers, we usually end up with watery clones that shamelessly take influence from bigger releases but fail to exploit them to their full potential. This is most obviously evident with console games, where we have the influential titles reigning supreme while the mediocre releases nab a few of their features and infect store shelves like a nasty butt rash.
However, the cloning of the mystery-solving, puzzle-beasting formula of games like Professor Layton is easily excusable on the DS. Let’s face it, the DS has had a great run, but now it’s only good for messing around on for a few minutes at a time. So, what better a game for these situations than one that also stimulates your rotten and warped gamer brain? For my needs, puzzle games are usually the only genre I play on DS, so it’s nice to get a bash at all its offspring and not just the Prof. In this case, I’m taking a look at May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragnville by Mastertronic.
A new face for the genre? She might not be as big as the Prof, but child genius May and her little brother Tery certainly have the goods to give him a run for his money. May’s Mysteries plays like a conventional entry to the puzzle scene, boasting 270 puzzles and mini-games built around an adventure introduced at the game’s outset. May and Tery find themselves in the mysterious town of Dragonville after their leisurely balloon ride goes pear-shaped thanks to a thunder storm. Following a note left by her brother, May follows him into the town, hoping to reunite with him and to find out what exactly is going on in Dragonville.
If you’ve ever played any of the 5,239 incarnations of Myst, a large portion of May’s gameplay will seem very familiar. The player is presented with scenes that remain largely un-animated, and provide the opportunity to investigate certain objects, buildings and characters to gain clues and advance the plot. Just tap with the stylus if there’s anything you wish to interact with. As ever, games like this that are so appropriate for the platform are an absolute joy to play.
Despite its simplicity, May’s Mysteries had a few surprises for me. It had a fully animated intro and even includes voice acting. Admittedly unnecessary for what is essentially a standard puzzle game, but it’s great to see Mastertronic putting the effort in to help make it all that it can be. The visuals aren’t too bad all round either, with a charming artistic style prevalent in all the scenes’ backgrounds and a helpfully detailed overhead map on the top screen.
The puzzles make up the muscle of the game’s appeal though, as there’s loads of variety here. A simple music puzzle was the game’s introductory delight, where I was challenged to tap the DS screen along to a tune being played on an organ. There’s also Sudoku-inspired puzzles (which I am coincidentally rubbish at) and, my favourite, “Hidden puzzles” where the player is invited to find certain items in a massively cluttered and confusing scene – Think Where’s Wally? (or Waldo, whoever the hell that is) except the stuff you’re challenged to find sticks out a lot less than a lanky bespectacled bloke dressed like a candy cane. Luckily, if the puzzles get too frustrating, there’s a “Hint” feature you can use a limited amount of times to cut yourself some slack.
It’s difficult to criticise Mastertronic’s puzzle triumph as it succeeds in what it sets out to achieve. However, it would’ve been nice to have a few more animated scenes, and some of the dialogue between characters was unnecessarily long winded. Regardless, with near faultless grace, May’s Mysteries provides a light gameplay approach best suited for ten minute bursts that, provided it is played as such, will keep the cartridge neatly tucked into the back of your handheld for a surprisingly long time.
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