Midnight Mysteries 2:
Salem Witch Trials
It starts out with Nathaniel Hawthorne asking for your help; after what you did for Edgar Allen Poe, it seems you've gotten yourself a bit of a reputation, and the departed author thinks you might be able to help him unravel the strange circumstances surrounding his death. But before you can uncover the truth, you'll have to take a trip to one of the darker chapters in human history. Namely, a little place called Salem, Massachusetts, when it was a bad time to be a woman with an enemy. Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch Trials is a gorgeous and clever hidden-object/point-and-click hybrid that asks you to use your brain more than most games. Who killed Nathaniel Hawthorne? Was it simple human jealousy, or a curse that did him in? Of course it could be witches! Some evil witches!... Which is ridiculous 'cause witches they were persecuted and Wicca good and love the Earth and women power and I'll be over here...
Whatever your stance on witchcraft, Developers MumboJumbo have crafted a surprisingly grim little game that deals with human pettiness, jealousy, and greed. Using top-notch visuals and sound, they've managed to make a game heavy with atmosphere, and even a scare or two.
For a hidden-object title, typical object hunting actually takes up a surprisingly small amount of the gameplay. Most of your time is spent tracking down clues and items to appease restless spirits, and solving puzzles that stand in your way, occasionally achieved by combining objects in your inventory. (Apparently by magical glue that comes out of nowhere.) Puzzles can be skipped if you're stuck on them for long enough, but what's nice is that you probably won't be; Midnight Mysteries 2 has a nice variety of puzzles, and while some are more creative than others, none of them will hang you up for too long. Also keep an eye out for ravens; the hint system is very limited, and each bird you click on only gives you one hint to use, so use them sparingly or you could find yourself staring at a hidden-object scene for a long time.
Analysis: It's an unfortunate trend in casual adventure games where most of them tend to assume their players need to be taken by the hand and lead from place to place with lots of reassuring cuddles and not-so-gentle hints. Midnight Mysteries 2, by contrast, thinks you are a big kid now, and are perfectly capable of putting two-and-two together. The game is very good at dumping the tools you need into your lap, and then letting you move at your own pace and try to sort things out on your own. The downside, of course, is that unless you're in a hidden-object scene the hint system is exceptionally useless in helping direct you where to go next. This is compounded by the fact that click-detection isn't very sharp, and the interface can be a bit cumbersome, in particular manipulating your inventory or tracking down navigation hotspots on screen.
But where Midnight Mysteries 2 is strongest is actually its story. (Which feels like it takes more than a few cues from Robert R McCammon's book duo, "Speaks the Nightbird".) The game puts a lot of effort into making you feel like you're actually trying to solve a mystery; clues and portents are everywhere, including on your items list in hidden object scenes, which helps the entire game feel more cohesive. This front-and-center approach to storytelling is a welcome change from other titles in the genre, but Midnight Mysteries 2 is pretty close to the edge of becoming overcomplicated in its plot. Ultimately, however, I was surprised by how neatly the game manages to tie everything together. It isn't the stuff of legends, but it's a very satisfying mystery, and for once in a hidden-object title you get to feel as though you've solved it yourself.
Despite its flaws, Midnight Mysteries 2: Salem Witch Trials is an exceptional example of the genre, with just enough challenge to elevate itself above most other titles, and definitely the production values and atmosphere to be a serious contender. An average play time might look like three hours, more or less depending on your point-and-click prowess, making this latest installment in the Midnight Mysteries series just the right size to spend your time on rather than the newest Adam Sandler movie nobody really wanted to see anyway. It does sort of make you wonder which famous dearly-departed author they'll choose next... maybe you should be sending your requests for a Lovecraft installment now. In the meantime, give the demo a try. You'll be glad you did.