The only mystery is why the game hasn’t evolved.

Fancy a little spookiness to go along with your real estate moguling? Build-a-Lot: Mysteries is ready to provide, by blending the familiar Build-a-Lot formula with a healthy serving of creepy omens, dark skies, foreshadowing rains, and unusual characters who should really stay out of the housing business.

Build-a-Lot: Mysteries plays exactly like its predecessors. Each level sets you up in a small piece of land with empty lots, houses you own, and houses you don’t own. Listed at the top of the screen are your goals for the level, usually something like “Have rental income of at least $5,000″ or “Build two three-star cabins.” Complete the goals as quickly as you can and you’ll move on to the next level, hopefully with a blue ribbon in hand!

Build-a-Lot: Mysteries

There are four basic things to manage in Build-a-Lot: Mysteries: money, workers, materials, and appeal. Money is gained by selling or collecting rent on your properties. Rent is automatically gathered every so often, but the amount for each building is determined by a number of factors. For example, larger houses usually bring in more dough, as do houses that have been upgraded with extra amenities (represented by stars). You can even paint houses for a little extra cash, though painting is usually reserved for when you need to boost your neighborhood appeal.

Workers and materials go hand in hand, and both are necessary for doing pretty much everything in Build-a-Lot: Mysteries. Represented by little construction hats, you start with just a few workers and can increase their number by dropping a wad of cash. Every job requires a certain number of workers, so the more you have, the faster you can get things done. Workers need things to build with, of course, so be sure to keep a good supply of materials on hand so they don’t sit around idly.

Build-a-Lot: Mysteries

The story in Build-a-Lot: Mysteries puts you in charge of working with the Graves Family in the dreary town of Ashville. You work with some strange members of the clan, starting with Agnes, a woman who is totally not a wrinkled old witch. Nope, not her. Not with that nose. There are some family secrets waiting to be uncovered as you upgrade and flip houses, but overall you won’t really care what the Graves folk are up to. It’s all about the real estate, baby.

With those features in mind, you’ve got a good start for your Build-a-Lot experience. Mysteries keeps things pretty straightforward and doesn’t change much from previous games. The visuals are a little less inspired, but still functional. The events have been jazzed up here and there, introducing a few items that appear on the screen to bring a bit of intrigue into the otherwise straightforward time management gameplay. Beyond that, expect an average Build-a-Lot game with very few deviations.

Build-a-Lot: Mysteries

With well over a dozen official entries in the series, not to mention handfuls of spin-offs and knock-offs, Build-a-Lot is starting to look a little stale. The formula hasn’t been shifted around much since the original game premiered back in 2007. It’s one thing to stay true to your roots and keep something familiar for players to enjoy, but it’s another to let that creative spark die a slow death. Build-a-Lot: Mysteries is an example of the latter, as it doesn’t really do much with the series apart from sprinkling a light mystery theme on top and calling it a day. If you love Build-a-Lot, you really won’t have much to complain about, but if you’re tired of upgrading houses and managing workers, Build-a-Lot: Mysteries won’t reignite your real estate spark.