Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-01-09 Wii Puzzle E (Everyone) Paprikari / RealNetworks

Back in 2007, online gamers received their first taste of the Mortimer Beckett universe, a uniquely designed take on the seek-and-find subgenre of puzzle games. Since then, the Secrets of Spooky Manor has received a cult-like following and even a sequel, making it as good of a time as ever to release the original on the Nintendo Wii, to show console gamers just what the fuss is all about.

Released under the RealArcade line of puzzle games, Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor follows the game's title character on a trip through his uncle's obnoxiously cluttered mansion (where's the Clean House team when you need them?) in search of said uncle who has been trapped somewhere inside his abode by ghosts.

You begin your hunt in the basement of the mansion and work your way towards the attic, forever searching for pieces to your uncle's Ghost Machine that will enable you to put the home's unwelcome visitors to rest, and for clues as to your uncle's whereabouts.

Each level of the home is comprised of various rooms like a sitting room, office, drawing room and so on, with each containing a two-dimensional still photo of the location in all of its unbearably littered glory. In order to make your way to the next floor of the home, you must search your current floor's rooms for pieces of missing items ranging from commonplace items like doorknobs and light bulbs to more whimsical fare such as marbles or a ship in a bottle.

Each missing item has been broken into at least three pieces, which are scattered throughout the rooms of Spooky Manor, and must not only be reassembled, but also returned to their proper place on that floor of the house. That is, after finding the pieces to a broken paint brush, it must be placed back with the rest of the artist's kit; light bulbs must be returned to their lamps, knobs to their doors, plates to their drawers and so on.

While these "misplaced" items, like chess pieces, fine china, keys, shoes, stuffed animals and so on make up the majority of the items that you will be searching for within the game, there are also various "puzzle" items that can be used to unlock new areas, or to appease some of the ghosts that haunt the home.

For instance, there are numerous occasions where a ghost will require a certain item (like food, a lost broach, etc.) before they will move out of your way, exposing more of the room, and subsequently more of the lost pieces, to your prying eyes. In other instances, you may need to use a grinding wheel to sharpen a pair of dull sheers, which can then be used to cut a vine blocking your way to the next level of the home. It's these puzzles that add a bit of variety to the overall system which, without them, is pretty redundant in nature.

Another unique flare within the game is the addition of the ghosts themselves. While one might be perfectly happy with "clicking" on everything in sight in order to find the missing pieces, doing so annoys the home's ethereal guests, who will then be drawn into the room, where they temporarily hover, blocking your view and ability to click on any item in their general vicinity. Make too make quick clicks, and a ghost will even attach itself to your pointer, forcing you to rapidly swing your Wii-mote in a left and right motion to remove it.

Other than this swinging motion, the game utilizes nothing more than the A button to make your way through the majority of gameplay, making the title perfect for younger players that might not have as impressive a level of hand-eye coordination or reflexes as older gamers. The intuitive control scheme also harkens back to the simplistic controls found within the PC version of the game, which required little more than a click of the mouse to play.

However, graphically, the transition from the PC version of the game to the Wii can be classified as lackluster at best. While one could argue that displaying the game on a large television screen should equate to more easily identifiable objects, instead the opposite has occurred, with the transition resulting in blurred, even somewhat shrunken locations that cause undo frustration throughout, a problem with is only compacted by the home's overall darkness.

While the dim corridors found within Spooky Manor might help the homestead earn its name, they do little to help you in your quest, as locating microscopic pieces of black thread, patches of fabric and so on becomes an almost impossible task unless you turn your TV's brightness up to an unnatural level and sit no more than six inches from the screen, or unless you are satisfied by being trigger-happy and are content to fill your screen with ghosts as you hope to randomly fall into finding a missing piece.

And while the game tries to compensate for its far-too-cluttered graphics by allowing you to zoom in on each room's picture, in doing so, you lose your list view of the items you are searching for in the first place, causing you to enter a pattern of repeatedly zooming in and out, which accomplishes little more than adding more annoyance to the experience.

And while the game's sound effects do fare better, with a spooky soundtrack straight out of any B-quality horror movie (that is, a soundtrack that is more whimsical than serious in nature), the real thing that helps the game out of its graphical rut is the addition of several multiplayer modes.

While one can play the entirety of the game's story mode individually, Mortimer Beckett offers modes such as a co-op mode for up to four players that takes you through the basic story mode but also allows multiple pointers on screen at once; a Scavenger mode that pits you against other players to see who can find the most missing pieces in a set amount of time; and a unique Ghost World mode that tasks you and up to three friends to retrieve items stolen by the ghosts, before they are lost from the mansion forever.

When all is said and done, with these numerous multiplayer modes, Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor is one title that truly personifies the party game philosophy associated with the Wii, as playing the game in groups means more eyes trained on finding the lost items in each room, and as a result, less frustration when trying to find said items all by your lonesome.

However, if you do happen to find yourself without a partner to play with, it's not as if the title is entirely without merit, as there is a certain amount of satisfaction in finding that one missing piece that you've been scrounging for, for what seems like an eternity. Just don't expect that novelty to last, as the game lacks almost entirely in single-player replayability, making the game much more of a rental than a definite purchase.

Specal thanks to Tiffany Dunning and RealNetworks for providing a copy of this title.