I have been a huge fan of Mystery Case Files since I played Huntsville a couple of years ago. It was the first “hidden object” game that I ever tried, and the one that got me hooked. Over the years, I’ve played probably over 100 hidden object games, and none came close to my beloved Mystery Case Files. Every time Big Fish Games offered a new one, I was first in the virtual line to download it (well, maybe not first, I’m sure someone with way more time on their hands was up during the middle of the night waiting for it to release, but I was definitely there the first day). So when I saw the ad for 13th Skull, I excitedly downloaded it and started playing right away.

Mystery Case Files changed somewhere along the line from Huntsville to Ravenhearst, and although I really loved Huntsville and Prime Suspects, I was fairly impressed with the change. The game went from “click here, look for objects, click here, look again, click here for a mini-game, now go look for more objects” to a more involved storyline and a richer explorable environment. Each game became a whole town rather than just places to click on a flat map. Plus they drastically increased the creepiness factor, which was a nice touch and made the franchise stand out a little more. 13th Skull, like the three games before it, employed the explorable universe theme and creepy atmosphere.

The story goes like this- You, the detective, arrive at a decrepit mansion in the swamps of New Orleans to look into the disappearance of a man who vanished while reading a story to his daughter. You are led to believe that ghosts took him because he was looking for the treasure of a long-dead pirate, who once owned the mansion. I wont say much more because I don’t want to spoil the twist (don’t worry, you’ll guess it five minutes into the game), but in typically Mystery Case Files fashion, you’ll need to wander around looking for clues to find the missing man. The cast of characters includes a distraught wife, a traumatized daughter, a demanding housekeeper and her husband, a creepy couple consisting of a drunk man who sits on the porch with a shotgun and his possibly abused (or abusive) wife who collects extra-creepy dolls, plus a few others thrown in here and there to help you out along the way. Your mission is to wander this world and find clues, mostly through bribing the characters to help you by completing mundane tasks.

Sadly, 13th Skull did not impress me as much as former titles did. First, I finished it in about three  hours.  However, my main issue is the sheer lack of hidden object levels. This is Mystery Case Files, the game series that got me hooked! Yet the HO levels were so few and far between that I felt like I was playing a random point and click Myst-style game at times. I’ve read other, more positive reviews, and I seem to be one of the few who actually thought this was a problem, so maybe others are quite content with the variety offered throughout the game. The graphics were great (and occasionally gruesome), and the video segments featuring live actors was a very neat touch. However, it seems like more effort went into making this game look good rather than making it fun to play. Although I wasn’t impressed, I was still compelled enough to complete the game, so it wasn’t a complete loss. I still have enough faith that I’ll be first in the virtual line to download the next Mystery Case Files game., but I’ll do the hour-long free trial first to make sure it’s worth the money.