Nightfall Mysteries: Haunted by the Past starts on a somber note. Your grandfather, Charles Crenshaw, has died in a fire. You rush to attend his funeral and quickly learn that the fire was no accident. Not only that, but dear old granddad had a few secrets he kept from your family. You follow the trail of letters and clues left by gramps, hoping to get to the bottom of the mystery before someone else becomes a victim.
Nightfall Mysteries follows a straightforward gameplay style that keeps you challenged without overwhelming you with things to do. Most hidden object games spread puzzles out over dozens of screens or force you to do a lot of backtracking. Here, you do a little a bit of both, but also neither! Gather items in just a couple of rooms, then put them to use right away. You rarely have to trek across the entire map to get things done, which allows you to focus on what’s in your inventory and how it can be put to good use.
Hidden object scenes come along once in a while in Haunted by the Past. Each one lays out a list or a set of silhouettes for about a dozen items and challenges you to click them as efficiently as you can. There’s not much in the way of interactivity or physical scene depth, but the focus on classic see-and-click scenes is remarkably refreshing. You’ll also need to replay scenes with new sets of items, which some players find frustrating.
Outside of its main puzzles and hidden object scenes, Nightfall Mysteries keeps you entertained with a meta item hunt where you have to locate masks scattered throughout the game. They’re never easy to find, and the hint button won’t point you in the right direction, so it’s a nice bit of challenge to an otherwise easy title. Mini-games also make a few appearances in Nightfall Mysteries, but they’re not all that exciting.
Nightfall Mysteries: Haunted by the Past gets one thing massively right: atmosphere. The intimate focus on character and relationships keeps you honestly engaged throughout the game. You want to see what happens next because it matters to someone, not because you’ll save the world or scare off a creepy mega-witch. This is enhanced through subtle sound effects, gentle music, and scenery that doesn’t go overboard with frightening imagery.
Outside of its plot and scenery, Nightfall Mysteries does stumble here and there, most notably in puzzle design. Hidden object fans are used to looking for arbitrary solutions to puzzles. Talismans unlock talisman-shaped things, coins can turn screws, etc. Nightfall Mysteries uses those types of puzzle solutions almost exclusively, which starts to feel frustrating after a few chapters. There’s very little originality in how you solve puzzles, turning much of the game into a fetch quest for objects you already know you’ll need.
Despite a bump here or there, Nightfall Mysteries: Haunted by the Past does manage to morph itself into an entertaining game. Follow the story and enjoy the scenery, just don’t get too hung up on the so-so puzzle and mini-game design.