A rash of murders plaguing a small town brings an FBI agent back home for the first time in years. Haunted by memories of vague, unsettling nightmares that plagued her as a child, she doesn't suspect that she has a deeper connection to these disturbing incidents than she could ever imagine. Mystery Valley is a hidden-object adventure game with one of the moodiest, creepiest atmospheres you'll ever come across... and jump scares. A whole bushel of 'em. While it has its flaws, it's still a lot of fun. It also proves what I've always said; never trust a bathtub.
As Special Agent Yournamehere, you quickly discover the latest victim in these brutal slayings, a reclusive professor, had quite an interest in one place; Mystery Valley. As it happens, our Agent's hometown is none other than Mystery Valley, which is a bit less on charming tourist-trap bed-and-breakfasts, and a bit more on ancient, unspeakable evil. Much of the story plays out in cutscenes, so be sure not to skip them or you won't have any idea what's going on. Depending on your preferred level of difficulty, you'll have tutorials present throughout the game, and hint/skip buttons that recharge slower or faster. You'll still use your mouse to play, and the cursor changes to mark areas or items you can interact with. If you don't know where to go, click on the journal in the lower left corner; it keeps track of the things you find and usually points you in the right direction.
Analysis: I know I talk a lot about atmosphere. If I had to pay royalties every time I used the word, I'd probably be putting someone's kids through college. But friend, this is one creepy game. The areas are shabby and neglected, full of subtle ambient sound and environmental effects, and the soundtrack is lovely. It's actually because of this great moody pacing and quiet environments that the jump scares are all the more effective when they happen. Sure they're not the most elegant of methods, and not everyone enjoys them, but darned if they won't make you jump even when you see them coming.
The hidden-object scenes fare worse. Not only are they dull, they're out of place. They feel like they've been tacked on just to make the game longer, or maybe to appeal to a broader audience. It doesn't really negatively impact the game, but it does sort of make you long for the days when an adventure game could just be a good ol' fashioned "use key on door" adventure game and not make you pick up a crab, a bowtie, and six canaries before you could get the key in the first place. Thankfully, most of the game relies on standard point-and-click play and is better for it. The pacing is quick, there is typically very little backtracking, and the solutions for item-based puzzles are always logical and clear.
For a game to put the word "mystery" right there in the title, it better darn well intrigue, and happily, the story is creepy and interesting from the get-go. Don't get me wrong, we're not talking Steinbeck here; it's definitely a little cheesy and the stiff, almost terse writing sort of feels like it might be due to translation issues. The game definitely would have been stronger overall if the writing had been beefed up a little. Still, the way the bits of story and weird happenings are revealed in such a way that you want to find out more, and the different locations keep you from feeling bored or stuck.
Think back to your childhood. Were you the sort of kid who, during a scary movie, had to sit with a blanket over your head (everyone knows monsters can't get you through blankets), but were still having the time of your life? Then Mystery Valley might be right up your proverbial alley. While it doesn't break any molds and won't cause any gameplay epiphanies, it's a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable title that fans of BOOGEY-BOO scares and fanged doll heads will definitely find fun.