Bearing in mind I make a career out of slating crappy adventure games forcing you to hunt for one sodding pixel in the middle of a busy screen before you can advance to the next tedious conversation and discover you were supposed to click the clipboard on the fridge before the Captain would give you the next assignment, or whatever backwoods misery it may be, it makes little sense that I enjoy Mystery P.I..
PopCap's, er, "versions" of the Mystery Case Files-inspired casual genre are especially well put together, and yet remain nothing more than giving you a list of objects to find in a cluttered screen. It's the sort of activity that would more normally go ignored in a bumper book of puzzles, perhaps glanced at once all the mazes were complete and fishies reunited with clumsy, tangled fishermen. And yet... cannot... resist. Which is to say, last month PopCap released a sequel to Mystery P.I., The Vegas Heist, and I just noticed.
The secret to why these games work is the incongruity of the simplicity of the task, and the obfuscating execution. On the left is a list of objects too long to be quickly put into short-term memory, and taking up the rest of the screen is a picture containing a billion things, all of which you're almost certain were on the list, but, no. Here is my internal monologue as I play:
"Okay, a steering wheel, two fish, a gramophone, a crocodile... let's see. Wait, was a bucket on the list? No, okay, so a pair of pliers too. Oh, wait, I'm sure it said snooker cue. It doesn't say snooker cue? Hey, since when was chicken on the list? I've seen the chicken - where was it? How can I not find the chicken now? Wait, was there a steering wheel? This is ridiculous, there's no gramophone in this picture..."
Of course the gramophone is there, and about eighteen feet tall, in the middle of the screen. That's what I love best about this nonsense - that you can hide things by making them much bigger than they should be. You try noticing the hairbrush that's as tall as the building it's been stuck next to.
Should you want a go, there's the usual 60 minute free trial available from PopCap, and of course every other casual game distributor on the internet. If your passion goes beyond the hour, you can get the full game for $19.95 (£10) from every casual game distributor on the internet, or for £15 ($30) from PopCap. In short, huh? Why the extra 50% for the UK? Get it from somewhere like Game Tunnel and save save save!
You think admitting to loving this sort of game makes me uncool? I'm listening to The Beautiful South as I write this. Oh yes.