Junior Mystery Stories is a hidden object game for the Nintendo DS. Aimed at younger audiences, it tells the story of Rachel as she stumbles unto a huge curse. Along the way, expect to navigate room after room filled with random items, and prepare to find carefully hidden treasures. Junior Mystery Stories takes the familiar lost-relative/friend-in-a-huge-mansion mystery storyline route. Still, the vocalizations and artwork used to carry the story along are entertaining, and the story aspects aren’t overbearing.
The visuals in Junior Mystery Stories are a mixed bag. The story aspects feature vibrant looking characters with nice, clean lines and a coherent and interesting visual style. Unfortunately, the actual play field is dull, muddy, and lifeless, even when littered with tons of random objects. Hidden object games are supposed to look confusing, but here the environment looks both confusing and lifeless, making the object search more tedious than it has to be. I actually can’t tell if that’s a brown statue that’s blending in to the dull, brown carpeting of the mansion. More color, more variety in textures, and some small animations would’ve gone a long way in making the play area more fun to explore.
A lot of the more annoying aspects have more to do with the DS hardware itself. With a low resolution screen, developers have to account for how much detail gamers will actually be able to see. This is especially important in the hidden objects genre. The developers chose to spread most of the search areas across various screens, but that doesn’t help when they kept the items too small anyway. Most developers choose to allow players a certain level of zoom to compensate for the low resolution on the DS, but unfortunately Junior Mystery Stories does not. Combine the lack of zoom with the fact that you often have 3-4 screens to flip through to find items, and the process can quickly become frustrating.
One aid that the developer has provided is hints, where you hit the Y button and you get a big sparkle where the object is hidden. Use up a hint, and the meter (a crystal ball with some blue fluid inside) drains. You have to wait until the crystal fills up again before getting another hint. This hint method presents its own set of problems. For one, if you’re at the end and have just two items left which you can’t find because they’re muddled by the low resolution and the lack of zoom, you have to use up a hint, WAIT A WHILE, then be able to use another hint. I would’ve preferred the traditional method where you have a limited amount of hints to use up. The second problem is that the sparkle is just too quick and imprecise, and the item doesn’t light up and stand out like in other hidden object games. The result is that, even after using the hint system, you sometimes still can’t find what you are looking for. That’s inexcusable in this genre.
What’s surprising here is that, as you unlock more rooms, you also unlock some hidden mini-games. Not just a few, either, but 16 of them. And some of them are really good. There are the classics like snake, sliding tiles, jigsaw puzzles and memory games, but there are some newer types like one where you guide a butterfly to safety using your stylus. This added content, which is surprisingly beefy, in addition to the main hidden object campaign and the budget priced nature of this game, actually make for a decent value proposition.
Overall, Junior Mystery Stories is a competent hidden object game, albeit not a standout in a genre that could badly use something fresh. The story is carried out in interesting sequences with some good art and vocalizations. Yet the game fails to set itself apart in the actual hidden objects gameplay, and even takes a few steps backwards in some of the fundamentals, such as the hints system. It is aimed squarely at a younger audience, where the story and main character will certainly resonate. But in this journey there will be some frustration to go along with the mystery.