Platform: Nintendo DS
Developer: V5 Play
Publisher: Mastertronic Games
Puzzle compilations are ten a penny on the Nintendo DS - and it's undoubtedly a good thing. There's nothing wrong with giving our trigger fingers a well-earned rest and flexing our mental muscles every once in a while, and the best of the bunch attempt to thread their brainteasers together with an intriguing overarching storyline. May's Mysteries: The Secret Of Dragonville is one such title, but does it have the brains and brawn to mix it up with Layton and Wright?
May and her brother Tery find themselves marooned in unfamiliar surroundings after a freak balloon accident (I've heard worse premises) - ending up on the outskirts of Dragonville. The titular heroine soon has to search for her missing sibling throughout the creepy, bizarre city; discovering a bizarre conspiracy along the way. Just where are all the children? Who are the midnight patrols? Why is there a museum full of wax corpses? Many of the characters are instantly forgettable, but the storyline is well-written and exciting enough to keep players pushing forward. Plus, it's refreshingly weird in places.
Interesting though it is, the story is just the context for a collection of minigames. Practically every character and obstacle has a puzzle for you, which pleasingly span an enormous range of styles and genres. Traditional hidden object challenges rub shoulders with sudokus, logic puzzles, and rhythm-based challenges; made accessible by surprisingly capable handwriting recognition that lets players scribble out the appropriate answers. There are over 270 of these minigames to conquer, and it's difficult not to feel yourself getting slightly smarter with each one.
Considering the cutesy stylings and the youthful age of the protagonist, you might understandably assume that the gameplay offers a limp and patronising challenge to match. And you'd be dead wrong. May's Mysteries is more than willing to take the kid gloves off every once in a while; treating players to a selection of genuinely tricky maths problems and parallel logic puzzles that will lead to a fair few facepalm moments. The hidden object challenges are also fairly tough due to the fact that they only provide text descriptions of the target objects, though the simplistic rhythm sections are mainly busywork rather than being particularly difficult. Capable hints and the ability to skip mean that you'll never be truly stuck. If you buy it for your kids, make sure that you're on hand to help out!
The curve is a bit odd, though. Wicked puzzles occasionally come out of nowhere, blindsiding players after a few easier minigames lull them into a false sense of security. Gradually limbering up thoughout the game would have allowed us to get into the game designers' minds, much like doing the same crossword each week.
In terms of presentation, May's Mysteries certainly nails the charming, homely artistic quality that most puzzle compilations aspire to. Detailed backgrounds, animated character art and a selection of fully-voiced cutscenes make the action visually attractive without being cluttered, though the DS' age is admittedly betrayed by some grainy, low-resolution scenes from time to time. Most importantly, basic functionality hasn't been overlooked (a key problem in many puzzlers), since the DS' two screens mean that the objective, hints and tutorial all lie to hand during the gameplay.
May's Mysteries: The Secret Of Dragonville certainly has the value and competency to match the DS' big guns, but there are a couple of minor niggles to contend with. The handwriting recognition can only handle a single letter at a time (meaning that a virtual keyboard would have been a lot more convenient), and the rhythm puzzles seem a little out of place due to their simplistic nature, lack of challenge but lengthy completion time. You'll need to remember to pack headphones for your morning commute! Most damningly, the autosave feature is completely useless to the point of being nonexistent... so if you forget to manually save, you can kiss several minutes (or hours) of progress goodbye. This is a shocking oversight that should have been identified from day one - especially considering that most players will tend to snatch small periods of gameplay whenever they can.
- Huge selection of puzzles
- Some real brainteasers
- Attractive presentation and intriguing storyline
- Autosave woes
- Odd difficulty curve
- Pointless rhythm challenges
The Short Version: May's Mysteries: The Secret Of Dragonville punches well above its weight; offering a premium puzzler with some serious clout and impressive value for its budget price tag. A few annoyances aside, this could well be the perfect antidote to countless tedious commutes.