Nintendo’s DS console was home to some fantastic story-led games, such as the excellent and involving Hotel Dusk and its sequel, and Secret Mysteries in London looks from the packaging to be a similar style of game.
However, though the music and graphics are similar in style and quality to that game, the gameplay, what there is of it, is different. Where it matches is with the music, music that evokes well the 1920’s period that the game is set in. The plot is told through a series of flashbacks, and doesn’t get annoying as you progress through the sets, and the graphics look great on the 3DS with well rendered objects and a 3D effect that works well without being too showy.
The game is seen through of the eyes of a journalist in modern times working his way through a notebook written by a forensic scientist in the 1920’s who investigated the murder of a politician. The plot unfolds through these flashbacks, told in an initially cinematic style with opening credits and a general film-like style to the camera angles and developments. So far so good, but instead of the plot unfolding Hotel Dusk-style through navigating through rooms and speaking to people, it’s basically advanced by completing find-the-object puzzles.
After each brief bit of on-screen dialogue and plot progression, you are presented with a 360 degree room or location to explore, throughout which are scattered various objects and items, only eight of which are actually useful and the ones you have to find. Using the circle pad to navigate around the room, on rails, and the stylus to click on objects or do some actions, such as knock down a painting or open a filing cabinet drawer, you have to look around the location and touch on the objects you have to find, shown on a small pop up grid at the bottom of the upper screen. When you find the object it disappears from the ‘need list’ and once you find all eight the mission is completed and it’s onto the next bit of exposition and the next location to explore.
In each location you can also activate a flash light which allows you to move the stylus around the room and objects to be found glitter, useful if you struggle to find an item. The flash light time, though, is finite and runs out quickly. It does recharge over exploration of the room but you can use play coins, gathered as you walk with your 3DS, to buy some extra time.
Control-wise, the navigation takes some getting used to but is still fiddly. You are limited on where you can go and how far you can turn with the circle pad so often it’s difficult to get a good look around the areas. Some items are hidden by objects to make it trickier but sometimes they are also hidden by frustrating camera angles or the grid of items getting in the way, though this does disappear when you hover over it. The stylus control takes the most getting used to as it’s a relative control scheme not absolute, and there’s no way of changing it, meaning it’s not as precise when navigating the bottom screen as I’d like, but it’s something you do get used to, or at least learn to tolerate.
The difficulty of finding objects is about right I’d say, though the difficulty doesn’t necessarily come from clever ways of hiding objects but the mix of the tricky control scheme and the inability to properly zoom in on locations, or indeed get a close-up of the objects you’re trying to find. On one level I couldn’t tell if an item was a nutcracker or a pair of trousers, which will hopefully illustrate some of the difficulties you will have when playing the game. Half the time I would end up hopelessly pressing any item or what would look to be an item in the hope that it was what I was looking for. Failing that, out would come the flash-light to help.
Secret Mysteries in London is not helped by the fact that it’s very repetitive. Occasionally a different mini-game will come along, such as a challenge early on where you have to push sections of a block to ensure they are all pressed in, with different blocks pushing out others etc, like a physical version of that old Lights Out game, and a second being about revealing a code where you have to spray a piece of paper with liquid to reveal a hidden message then quickly trace it, something that refused to work properly and doesn’t really work logically – surely you can just remember the code? But mostly, it’s just another location and another eight obscure items to find and bits of exposition between it. It’s a world where random objects give random clues to progress the story along and a world where bottle openers, for instance, can be found stuck to the side of light fittings by some unknown force.
Secret Mysteries in London isn’t a horrendous game. The snippets of revealed plot keep you intrigued and the graphics are well put together and evocative of the time period it’s set in. The 3D effect is there and adds character to the location whilst never overpowering and the music fits the mood well.
However, the game does quickly get repetitive if played in one sitting so it’s definitely a game you’ll want to play in short bursts rather than as a sit down, grab a cup of tea and while a few hours away experience. It’s also interesting that it’s given a PEGI ‘3’ rating, as one early location feature a dead body stood up holding a set of scales in which his eyes and liver are proudly displayed, a murder style that is repeated in the game. Granted, there’s no blood or anything, but it’s still a tad gruesome for younger players I would imagine.
Secret Mysteries in London is an atmospheric game thanks to its settings, music and attention to detail and has a film noire cinematic feel to it. However, this perfect setting, bite-size plot revelations and occasional varied game can’t hide the fact it’s rather repetitive with the same challenge over and over again, with the difficulty coming from a lack of close-ups and occasionally frustrating controls.
Plus, they can’t even get the packaging right. The front cover proudly announces, ‘Expanded your investigation to Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam’. Even discounting the fact that your secret mysteries aren’t just in the English capital, the first non-UK place you visit courtesy of an Indiana Jones-style map sequence, is the US, which isn’t home to either Paris, Berlin or Amsterdam as far as I can remember. The secret mystery seems to be, who designed the packaging incorrectly?
It’s a game you’ll enjoy here and there in five minute bursts, but it’s not a game that you’re going to re-visit once completed, if in fact you can tolerate the same thing over and over game enough to reach the end. I think the game aims to mix the plotting and style of the Hotel Dusk games with the exploration of the Professor Layton series and though it mimics them both, is too shallow in both fields to really excel, lacking the more detailed character-driven elements of the former whilst the variety of the latter is mostly absent. A promising package in visuals, music and style let down by repetitive gameplay.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo 3DS code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.