On paper, hidden-object games in which you spend your time searching for items in painterly 2D locales don't sound like a whole lot of fun. The Mystery Case Files series has enjoyed enough success on the PC to suggest otherwise, though, and now developer Big Fish Games has turned its attention to the DS with Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir. The game introduces some new features to the MCF formula that are a great fit on the DS, and the Story mode is amusing enough that you'll want to play it to its conclusion. It's unfortunate that the diminutive DS screens don't really lend themselves to this style of game, but MillionHeir works well regardless.
Like previous games in the series, MillionHeir casts you as a detective investigating a big case. On this occasion, it's the mysterious disappearance of an eccentric millionaire named Phil T. Rich. As you search the Rich mansion for clues via a series of hidden-object puzzles, it quickly becomes clear that this is a kidnapping case and that there are no fewer than 12 colorful suspects who would stand to gain from the millionaire's demise. Even if you choose to play them with a time limit, the puzzles aren't overly challenging. That's because if you're presented with a list of 30 items to find, for example, you'll likely only need to find 25 to proceed. Furthermore, you typically have five "hints" at your disposal for each puzzle that show you almost exactly where to look for items that you're missing. Regardless, completing a puzzle is still satisfying--even if it only takes you 10 of the 30 minutes that you're allotted to do so.
Some of the items that you'll be asked to find will feature quite prominently in the locale that you're searching for them in, but most are cleverly hidden, camouflaged, or just small enough to be tough to spot. As you scroll around each environment on the touch screen using either the stylus or the D pad, you'll inevitably spot countless objects that look out of place, but the only ones you're interested in are those listed on the top screen alongside an image that shows the whole puzzle area. It's worth trying to remember where you've seen other items because as you progress through the story, you'll revisit the same levels two or three times with a different list of things to find. Items on these lists are repeated more often than they should be or seems necessary given the cluttered nature of every location, but even remembering where you found the same item previously can be tough.
A number of new gameplay mechanics are introduced in later puzzles. Some of these take the form of investigative tools that are necessary to find certain objects. There's a flashlight for searching in the dark, an X-ray with which to locate items that are hidden behind others, a "super straw" that you can blow flames out with (using the microphone is optional) when you want to search a fireplace, and a pair of goggles for use underwater. None of these really make the puzzles more challenging, but they do add some much-needed variety. Other features introduced as you progress include items that you need to interact with in some way other than just poking them with the stylus when you find them. You might have to pet a cat, dot (add a pupil to) an Egyptian eye, or draw a line between a chicken and an egg, for example. Again, these add very little in the way of challenge, but some of the interactions aren't nearly as intuitive you might expect so it might take a while to figure them out.
Several different minigames that need to be completed between hidden-object levels round out the story mode. The most simple of these are spot the difference, sliding picture, and jigsaw puzzles, while others include a relatively fast-paced color-matching game that looks like a DNA sequencer, as well as logic problems that are presented as doodles in a character's notebook. The quality of these minigames varies, but they're never so long or so difficult that they get in the way of MillionHeir's object-finding action. Most of them also aren't much fun. Similarly, such activities as dusting items for fingerprints and opening a safe are plot-device formalities rather than challenges of any kind.
In addition to the Story mode, MillionHeir will randomly generate Quickplay puzzles in any of the environments that you've unlocked and supports up to four players (with up to four copies of the game) in competitive and co-op modes. Regardless of the fact that the multiplayer puzzles are really no different from the single-player ones, playing with friends competitively adds a sense of urgency that's only ever a factor in the single-player game if you opt for the unlockable "Gumshoe" difficulty level. Your respective scores appear on the top screen at all times, and because you're playing against a time limit, it's a race to see who can find the most items--spread across multiple locales if you so choose.
If a game in which you simply spend your time searching for objects inside 2D images doesn't sound like a complete turn-off to you, Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir is definitely worth a look. It might appear to be little more than a series of cleverly constructed paintings accompanied by ambient sound effects, but the amusing Story mode will likely take you several hours to get through, and the randomized item lists add a good amount of replay value to boot.