Mystery Stories: Island of Hope is one of those hidden object games that with a little more tweaking could have been a standout title in the genre. While gameplay shows the occasional flash of inspiration, and the package is attractive enough, the game is hampered by a slew of minor issues.
Michelle is a reporter who travels to an exotic tropical island for a vacation – the first one she’s had in three years. Although the story is a bit haphazard, it gradually emerges that a Mayan artefact has gone missing and she must search for it with the help of an attractive diving instructor.
You can play the game in normal or relaxed mode; the latter gives you much more time on the clock. The goal in both is to search various scenes to find a list of hidden objects (such as a kiwi fruit, tuba, life preserver and soccer ball) before time runs out. You can find and click on extra hints and other bonuses scattered throughout the scene.
Mystery Stories does a good job of mixing up the hidden object gameplay. Besides the straight-ahead seek-and-find challenges where you search for items from a list, you’ll also get to search for more than one of the same type of item (such as 10 keys, 4 fruits), find items by silhouette, search a darkened room using a flashlight to illuminate objects in a small radius, and complete something called "Quick Search," where only one item is shown at a time and you must find it in 30 seconds or less, after which the next item is revealed, and so on.
There are also two-part clues, like "put film in camera," which requires you to click one object and drag it onto another (in this case, dragging the film onto the camera). Another variation is sound-based challenges, where clues are short sound clips that correspond to an object, like a ribbit sound to a frog, or hooting to an owl. Occasional mini-games, like piecing together a torn document, playing a memory game, or picking a lock, are optional and can be skipped if the player chooses.
While these variations have all been done before in some form or another (even the sound clips aren’t quite unique – Cerasus Media used them in its previous hidden object game, Animal Agents), the game is all the better for the variety.
Unfortunately, gameplay is uneven in several respects. The most genuinely thrilling parts of the game are the situation-based scenes, where the objects you’re clicking on actually have a logical context. In one example, you must help a soft-headed sheriff escape from his own jail cell by finding different sets of objects so that he can try different techniques to get the door open, including finding guns, ammo and a helmet to try to shoot the lock, finding the ingredients to build an explosive charge, or finding the rolodex and telephone so that he can call for help. On the downside, these scenes can all too easily take a turn for the ridiculous, like the one where you’re diving underwater and are asked to find, among other things, a torn up photo and a box of chocolates – both of which must have been mighty water-logged!
Objects also repeat very frequently, sometimes clicks don’t register right away, sometimes a name can refer to more than one item in the scene, and the game suffers from imprecise labelling of objects. Often, labelling is actually quite off the mark, like calling a sandal a "shoe," or a cup of pencils "pen." And maybe we’re just being grumpy, but did Cerasus Media have to brand everything in the game with its own company name, from the "Cerasus" brand television to the "Cerasus Was Here" graffiti scribbled on the wall of one of the scenes?
Although flawed, Mystery Stories: Island of Hope does have its positive qualities as well. Beyond the gameplay variety mentioned above, there’s also a Puzzle mode in addition to the main mode where you can go back and play any of the scenes again. The story is advanced through lightly-animated still photographs, with is a nice aesthetic change from the usual comic book-style narration.
In the end, Mystery Stories does enough right to keep die-hard hidden object game fans happy, but a handful of minor issues unfortunately add up to an ultimately mediocre experience.