Video Game Review: I Spy Spooky Mansion

First posted in November, 2006

I've been playing quite a few "find the hidden objects" games as of late - games reminiscient of Scrutineyes, a rather elegant boardgame from the early nineties that featured the camouflage art of Mike Wilkes (a game, which, incidentally, was so good that it's now out of print and impossible to find, so if you want to play, invite me over for a game night at your house and I'll happily bring my copy). Big Fish Studios has been releasing a few of these lately. I should write reviews on these, because a few of them are quite good and well-worth checking out. In particular, I recommend the Mystery Case Files series (Huntsville and Prime Suspects, both great games - you can download free trials of them here). But tonight I finished my favorite thus far of the genre, and, surprisingly enough, it's a kid's game...

          I Spy Spooky Mansion

I Spy Spooky Mansion Deluxe is a ScholasticTM game based on the book I Spy Spooky Night by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick.

"ISQUIESQUE" is the name I entered at the first prompt,
which then appeared in various places throughout the game.

Attention to detail and personal touches like this are what
make I Spy one of the better games in the genre.

The game is set in a spooky mansion with a fairly simple premise: you enter this mansion on a dare, the door shuts behind you, and you need to find another way out. Not the most original plot, granted, but it's one that I definitely went for as a kid (my favorite Choose Your Own Adventure was always The Mystery of Chimney Rock by Edward Packard) and I'm sure the idea still raises the hair on the back of kids' necks in 2006.

You escape from the mansion by solving puzzles that have been scattered throughout the house by Skeleton, the unoriginally named (but obvious to child players) protagonist/narrator. Most of the games involve finding hidden objects or words in a certain location. The mansion has eleven rooms to explore, and each room contains a handful of puzzles (thirty-nine puzzles in all). All of the rooms are well illustrated, and some of the puzzles are made more difficult by the addition of darkness or the need for a magnifying glass (both provided automatically).

The clues are presented in short poems, which are written
at the bottom of the screen and read aloud by Skeleton.

When you find an item and click on it, there's a short animation (often very well done, and even adults can't help smiling at some of the clever touches found throughout). Skeleton then restates what you've found and that portion of the poem changes color so that you can easily keep track of what's left to find for that puzzle. On the one hand, the game is obviously aimed at teaching reading, vocabulary, rhyming, and listening skills, not to mention problem solving, observation, and memory, but some of the objects' names are rather difficult. You're expected to know what a "rebus" is, for instance, and while Sam and I both figured it out, neither one of us actually knew what "rebus" meant (surprisingly, perhaps).

Some of the objects are rather elegantly hidden,
such as this needle disguised as a moth antenna.

Objects range from the in-your-face obvious to some that even took Sam and I awhile to locate. It provided us each with a couple of evenings' worth of entertainment, but I think if you purchased this for a new reader they might get a lot more bang for your buck (I'd still suggest that a parent be nearby to prevent absolute frustration from time to time, as some of the puzzles could prove rather difficult for younger players).

Unlike other hidden-object games I've seen, the image composites found
in I Spy don't feel like a bunch of clip art thrown togeher willy-nilly.

Puzzles aren't timed, and you can leave a puzzle at any time, go play somewhere else, and return later with a fresh perspective. The only real problem I had with this game is that it does not save your overall progress unless you exit the game via the menu - there isn't even a save command that allows you save as you play. My laptop ran out of juice mid-game and I had to start from scratch. Granted, many graphic adventure games work like this, but quite a few of the newer games seem to save your progress as you go - a nice touch that I was surprised to see absent in a game of this caliber.

Illustrations and animations are often creepy, but it's generally done
in a subtle way that provides atmosphere but probably wouldn't
actually scare most children who are old enough to read.

And there's a moose, which only improves my review!

In addition to finding hidden items, there are games which force you to figure out which objects belong in a certain thematic set, and pairing games in which you have to determine how objects are paired up without being explicitly told. Good skills for youngsters to develop, and a couple of the puzzles become fun even for adults near the end of the game.

The ultimate end game is rather drawn out - in a good way. Most of the puzzles require you to find clues right on the screen as the clue is given, but by the end of the game they figure that you probably know your way around the house pretty well, so they send you wandering around the house for objects. The clues are fairly helpful, but you find things even quicker if you can remember where you saw them earlier in the game. This was very well-executed, I thought.

Perhaps best of all, the designers fully acknowledged the eerie
similarity between I Spy Spooky Mansion and The 7th Guest.

In short, I wish that games targeted to adults in the hidden-object genre had as much polish as I Spy Spooky Mansion Deluxe.

The game can be purchased from online retailers such as Amazon, or you can download it through Real Arcade.