Review: Mystery Castle: The Mirror’s Secret
Call me old-fashioned, but if I’m playing a game called Mystery Castle I expect to spend my time exploring a mysterious castle. Hidden object games have a tendency to defy expectations though, and this one does so in some pretty unwelcome ways. The lack of a castle is one, but the lack of exploration or engaging puzzles or even functional object scenes are far greater issues. I’d say the real secret here isn’t worth delving into, but we’re here already so we might as well talk about it.
You play some lady whose tiny daughter gets kidnapped and whisked away to a matte painting of a castle by a World of Warcraft cosplayer. Charging in through the conspicuously unlocked doors you find yourself lost in a series of bizarre rooms linked by portraits, condemned to help confused ghosts deal with their issues so they’ll give you pieces of mirror to glue back together. There’s really no more plot to it than that (the villain never gets any sort of motivation or story), so I’ll take this opportunity to say this is the game that made me realize hidden object games make their protagonists moms protecting their kids or family because that’s their target demographic. I know, I’m a moron for not realizing that sooner but it really is striking how many HOGs play up the maternal angle for their heroes.
The big departure here from other games in the genre is that there is no exploration. This one is 100% linear, with you being stuck on a single screen until you solve all its scenes and puzzles. Each scene follows the same formula, too: Talk to ghost, collect items and solve puzzle for ghost, do one hidden object scene twice, get a mirror shard, and do some stupid cleaning minigame to activate the portrait to the next scene. There’s no moving around or backtracking, and none of your items carry over between scenes so the game feels extremely small and directed the whole way through.
Don’t expect the puzzles to save this one, either. The most basic ones just have you align pictures or move objects off of something, and the harder ones are bog-standard wiring or alignment puzzles tuned to be just a few moves from completion at all times. The only one I got stumped on was one where you had to match foods to their colors that made absolutely no sense, even after I viewed the solution. This is a problem in the hidden object scenes as well, where either mistranslations or poor word choices make it very hard to find certain items without randomly clicking everywhere. One scene is actually bugged, with the majority of the items on your list corresponding to completely different things.
There’s no story to follow even if you suffer through the buggy puzzles and haphazard scenes, so why should you? The few things Mystery Castle does well are easy to find in other hidden object games, absent the crippling issues that drag this title so far down. I mean, there are even difficulty levels that do next to nothing to change the difficulty of the game! Oh, and the in-game achievements are bugged as well, so you’re not even going to get proper recognition from the game for putting up with it. Hidden object games often scrape the bottom of the barrel for quality, but this one punches right through the bottom and wallows in the filth below.