After spending Mystery Case Files: Ravenhearst holed up in a mansion, it’s nice to be back investigating suspects in Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate, the fourth game in the series. Madame Fate, the fortune teller at the local carnival, is convinced that she’ll die at the stroke of midnight, and it’s up to you to find her would-be killer before it’s too late.

Each of the 15 carnival employees has a motive for wanting Madame Fate dead: Lucy, the bearded lady, is jealous of her success, Larry the magician is afraid she’ll cost him his job, and the Mermaid is afraid Madame Fate will tell her husband about the affair she’s having with the Strong Man. The fact that the crime you’re investigating hasn’t actually happened yet puts a quirky twist on the detective work, but the gameplay itself is similar to past Mystery Case Files games.

You’ll investigate each person by searching the carnival grounds for clues. Like a typical hidden object game, each location is littered with a strange collection of objects, and you have to search through the clutter to find a specific list of items before time runs out. Once you’ve found all the clues, you’ll bring them back to Madame Fate so that she can use her crystal ball to reveal what the person’s fate will be when midnight rolls around – thus eliminating them from the list of suspects. Before the crystal ball reveals what it knows, however, you’ll have to solve a fiendish puzzle similar to the locked door puzzles in Ravenhearst.

These crystal ball puzzles aren’t the only time your brain will be challenged in ways other than simply searching for objects. In order to gain access to the rooms of the characters themselves, you’ll typically have to solve a short word-based brainteaser using scrambled letters. Once you’ve gained access to the character’s room, you’re given sets of the same item to find – for example, ten paperclips and 15 lightning bolts. Some of these are quite funny – in the bearded lady’s room, for example, you might find yourself search for 10 men’s razors and ten lady’s combs to reflect her split personality.

MCF: Madame Fate boasts a couple of other new features as well. Certain scenes contain smaller scenes inside them that can also be investigated. For example, in the entrance to the fairground, in addition to searching for a list of items outside, you can also click on the ticket booth to hunt for a new set of clues inside.

Items that change shape (such as going from apple to orange), is another new feature of MCF: Madame Fate. If you notice and click on enough of these items, you can unlock new carnival locations to explore like the Kitty Carnival – think lions jumping through hoops but on a smaller scale!

MCF: Madame Fate features stellar production values that aren’t only limited to graphics but extend to audio as well – an area that is so often neglected in casual games. Madame Fate’s voice is perfect, and not only does she narrate the game but she also interjects colorful comments as you search for items. You’ll also hear all the sounds of the carnival, from the murmer of the crowd to carnies shouting and the mechanical sounds of the rides.

It goes without saying that the game looks great as well, and there are some truly thrilling scenes that capture the excitement of the carnival at just the right angle, including peering over the top of a rollercoaster and riding along on a twirling horse carousel. Subtle animations literally help to bring the scenes to life too, whether its lightning streaking the sky or ducks that actually move left to right in the scene with the rifle-shooting game.

In fact, my only complaints with MCF: Madame Fate lie with the actual hidden object portion of the game. Namely, some of the items are tiny and difficult to make out. You do get five hints per level to work with, but the so-called hint circle is huge and imprecise, designed to draw your attention to the general direction of the item rather than reveal it.

Bring out the magnifying glass if you need it, though, because Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate isn’t a game to be missed. The lovingly detailed carnival atmosphere is as enticing as the real thing, and the story sucks you in as well – you’ll want to keep playing until you find out the fates of each of the carnies and of Madame Fate herself.