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Review #334

Becky Brogan –The Mystery of Meane Manor
Publisher: Mumbo Jumbo
Developer: Let It Rain/Levelord Games
Genre: Hidden Object
Release Date: 02/12/2010

Hidden object games is one of those genres that tends to appeal to both casual and career gamers. The gameplay tests one’s wits as well as their eyes, and they are usually coupled with a strong or fun story between puzzles to keep your addicted. Everyone seems to like them no matter their preferred genre. Nate liked Where’s Waldo, Mark liked The Lost Cases of Sherlock Holmes and I had a blast with Cate West: The Vanishing Files. So when I saw the cover to Meane Manor, I thought it would be a blast to play as it looked both creepy and would be a fun diversion for a few hours later.

So is this first entry in what appears to be a new Hidden Object franchise worth your $19.99?

Let’s Review

1. Story

There are eighteen different locations in Meane Manor, and you’ll be seeing them all several times throughout the multiple chapters of the game. Although this might seem dull at first, Becky has in-game story reasons for returning to places and you are given different objects to find each time. After you beat the game, you unlock Free Mode, where you can play any of the 18 locations whenever you want, with randomly occurring objects to find.

The story however is not really what comes to mind when I think of casual gamers or puzzle games. It’s extremely dark and although the graphics LOOK like the game is geared for younger gamers, the plot certainly isn’t. It’s quite freaky and will probably spooky small children. So of course I loved it.

Becky is a junior in high school who has a knack for solving puzzles and mysteries. Being young and dumb, she decides to try and solve the mystery of Meane Manor, a house that everyone in town considers haunted. Becky enters the property and finds herself wrapped up in a chilling tale of satanism, madness, murder, and g-g-g-ghosts! It’s actually really well done and the story alone had me playing the game from beginning to end without a single break. I mean it’s not Persona 2: Eternal Punishment or an epic story like you’d see in a high-budget RPG, but for a puzzle game/budget game, this is one of the best stories I’ve ever seen in either of those catregories.

Becky will not only be looking for hidden objects, but diary entries written by a deranged lunatic, occult tokens that allow a haunted fortune telling machine to come to life, scrolls containing satanic spells, and even items for a sacrificial altar. Throughout the two to three hours it took me to beat the game I was waiting for Becky to be horribly butchered or wake up to the whole, “I’m listening the ghost of a woman who spat incubi out of her womb. WTF, yo?” The ending was a bit weird and a little more over the top than the rest of the game, but it’s definitely a creepy and extremely fun story to connect a ton of hidden object puzzles together.

Story Rating: 8/10

2. Graphics

There are two kinds of graphics in the game: the story graphics and the hidden object graphics. The story visuals are cutesy visuals that make the game seem like it’s geared for pre-teen girls, but then the story comes into play and you have this very cute but very creepy game taking place and it’s all a bit surreal. I love the art work and I have to admit, it threw me for a loop when the game kept getting darker and darker. I was like, “Look at the name! It sounds cute. It looks cute. Why is Becky making a half corpse – half vending machine?” Very awesome indeed.

The hidden object parts are done with static images. It’s high quality rendered backgrounds with “randomly” placed objects all around the screen. Most of the objects appear to be photos rather than renders, but if they were actually hand drawn, this is some exceptional work. There are some images that are obviously graphics though, such as the scrolls, or diary entries and that’s because they need to be. I highly doubt the developers could get their hands on the Kitab Al-Azif after all…

Meane Manor is a very nice looking game from beginning to end. I really loved the art style of the story images and this is certainly one of the better looking hidden object games I’ve played.

Graphics Rating: 7/10

3. Sound

There’s no voice acting per say, but the further into the game you get the more you’ll hear ghostly laughter or murmuring mixed in with the background noise. In fact there is more background noise than music. In the library, you might hear sneezing or a cell phone go off. In the forest you might hear a bird warbling. In the house, it’ll be ominous noises and things going bump in the…day. The only real problem I have with the background noises is that they tend to be overwhelming. There’s so much of it, it can be a bit distracting, although that does add to the challenge of the game. Still, I’m glad you can turn the noises down from their default volume.

When there is music, it does fit the creepy story of the game and it meshes nicely with the game. The sound effects are limited but they fit the game. You get a happy noise when you find an object, a bad noise when you screw up and a variety of kitty noises when you find a cat item.

I would say the sound is the weakest aspect of the game and truth be told, it is a game I’d rather play muted, but it is very atmospheric – I’ll give it that.

Sound Rating: 5.5/10

4. Control and Gameplay

Controls are exceptionally simple. When you go into a puzzle, all you do is use your mouse. At the bottom middle of your screen is the list of objects you have to find. Move your mouse to the object when you find it and click the button. If it’s good, you’ll get a “correct” tone and if the object will fly off your screen. If it’s a special item it will move to the middle of the screen and let you get a good look at it before it goes away. If it’s not the right item, you get an “incorrect” noise.

The only problem with this game is that you don’t get a complete list of items at the start. You can only see eight of them, which is a pretty big foul-up in my opinion. Usually you are able to see the entire list of items you need to find in one of these games. Not here. However one could always look at this as making the game easier since you have less items you have to look for right away.

There are two unique things this game does. The first is that you can find and unlock story items in the game. These range from very creepy diary entries to tokens that activate the fortune telling machine in the house. These flesh out the story nicely and I enjoyed having to find items that related to the plot instead of purely random things like lunch boxes or dragonflies. The other thing the game does that is quite unique is the hint system. In hidden object games you can usually earn “hint” points which outright gives you the location of an item you can’t seem to find. Here you earn hint points by finding cats or cat-based items in each room. There are three cats per stage and each one earns you a hint. As well, the game also gives you a “half hint” without using a hint point. Here you get a silhouette of the item. I loved this because hidden object games often give you very similar items but only one counts. These games might also give you say three toad and just tell you to find a toad. This leads to guess and check. Here you can at least see the outline of an item so you know a “flask” is a whiskey flask and not an erlenmeyer flask. The prevention of homonym confusion is something these games tend to lack, but not here in Meane Manor

So the game does one new thing I don’t care for and two things I think are awesome. Overall I’m quite happy with the game and would love to see these sorts of things implemented in other hidden object games.

Control and Gameplay: 7.5/10

5. Replayability

Although you unlock Free Play mode when you beat this game, it also permanently locks your profile. This really sucks as I’d like to be able to look at all the diary entries or the scrolls again, but now I have to replay the entire game to do so. Sure the game is only two to three hours long, but it’s extremely annoying to have to replay everything. You can’t even do a second save so that you can play one and go back to the original. Everything auto-saves over the same profile so you’re stuck.

This really killed a lot of enthusiasm towards the game for me. At the same time, I loved the story so much, I know I’ll replay it several times over the next few years. I like the mental challenge in hidden object games and the whole “Satanic Nancy Drew” angle is so awesome I can only hope this horrible aspect of the game in the corrected in the next game in this series. At least I HOPE it’s a series. It’s too twisted not to be.

Replayability Rating: 4/10

6. Balance

I found Meane Manor to be rather on the easy side compared to other hidden object games. Often times objects were in the same exact spot each time you “entered” a location, including the cats that give you hint points, so I was able to quickly run through locations. As well, objects were so obvious that it seemed the game was more about unlocking the story than the puzzles. For example, ground animals would always be on the ground, darts and nails would always be in a wall, birds would always be in the trees or at the top of the screen and so on. I ended the game with well over 100 hint points saved up which seemed a little extreme to me. As much as I’d like to think I’m just that damn good at these games, I’d going to be a little more humble and say that the game’s difficulty is like it’s graphics and name – geared for younger games, while the story is geared for an older audience.

This isn’t to say the game doesn’t have its moments where it is challenging or its hard to find a piece or two in a puzzle, but it is noticeably easier than most games in this genre and anyone should be able to wade through this in a single evening if they sit down and put their mind to it. Of course, the one benefit to the game being this easy is that at least everyone can then enjoy the plot.

Balance Rating: 4/10

7. Originality

Hidden object games are pretty much a dime a dozen, but not like this. Most of them don’t have a cracktastic plot that features Nancy Drew vs. Satan. Most lack the extra story content like the scrolls and diaries you find in addition to other items. Most also lack the two layer hint system Meane Manor contains. Sure the core gameplay and puzzle elements are the same as in any hidden object game, but at least Meane Manor tries a few new things to bring in a larger demographic while also placating fans of the genre.

Originality Rating: 6/10

8. Addictiveness

I actually played Meane Manor straight through without stopping save for a bathroom break and to get a glass of water. It’s only two to three hours long, and if you like a weird or spooky story, you’ll be hooked on this game almost instantly. I was playing more for the story elements than for the puzzles, because it became fairly obvious things didn’t randomize that much (or at all with some pieces) and I was more than a little ticked off that my profile was locked after beating the game and I couldn’t return to look at the creepy occult items and diary entries I unlocked. Still, this puzzle game had me glued to my laptop, although it wasn’t necessarily for the gameplay.

I wouldn’t advise playing the game straight through as I did simply because your short term memory will retain item locations. Otherwise, Meane Manor is a solid game that is hard to stop playing once you’ve started it.

Addictiveness Rating: 7/10

9. Appeal Factor

Meane Manor is a game that will appeal to casual and ardent gamers alike. Hidden object games are quite popular with the casual crowd, while more hardcore gamers will love the story and the strange blend of family style artwork with satanic horror. I showed screenshots of this game to two of my friends that generally eschew anything casual and their reaction was, “Woah. Dude, I need to play this thing.” It’s such a weird combinations of art style, gameplay and disturbing plotlines that if one can get by the “cute” nature of the name and its alliteration, they’ll find a game that is charming as it is creepy. It still won’t be for everyone, but it should definitely fare well with people who prefer their games a little more mature than one normally thinks of when they hear the phrase, “casual game.”

Appeal Factor: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

Supposedly a second game in the series, The Epiphany of Demons is in the works and will be released later this year. Just the name has me excited as it promises to be a blend of Lovecraftian weirdness and “Oh look, that’s where the abacus is!” Becky Brogan and the Mystery of Meane Manor gave me a good story and was also a nice diversion from the RPG’s, fighting games and workout titles I seem to review these days. It was light in the game play but offered me a better story than most survival horror games like Silent Hill or Resident Evil have provided me as of late. At only $19.99, this is a nice budget title for any gamer, no matter their usual genre preferences, and aside from the locking you out of your profile once you’ve beaten the game, the sheer weirdness of the title will probably have you coming back for more. I know it will me.

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10

The Scores
Story: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 5.5/10
Control and Gameplay: 7.5/10
Replayability: 4/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 6/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10
Total Score: 62

Short Attention Span Summary
I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed Becky Brogan and the Mystery of Meane Manor. Not only does this title bring a few new elements to the whole “hidden object” sub-genre of puzzle gaming, but it also contains one of the creepier and more surreal stories I’ve experienced in quite some time, even outdoing a lot of console “survival horror” titles. Don’t let the cute name fool you – Becky Brogan is basically Nancy Drew is Nancy went around conjuring up the ghosts of religious fanatics and satanic murderers while solving mysteries. At $19.99, it’s a nice little budget casual game, although the fact the game locks you out of your profile after you finish the story can be more than a little annoying. It’s definitely worth experiencing though and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

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