Cate West: The Vanishing Files Wii
Published by: Oxygen Games
Developed by: Magellan Interactive
The hidden-object genre has been booming over the last few years. We've had the Mystery P.I. games, Mystery Case Files titles, the Amazing Adventures series and even one on the Xbox Live Arcade entitled Interpol: The Trail of Dr. Chaos. One of the beauties of these games is that anyone can play them. All you need is a bit of patience and a good eye for spotting those sneakily placed objects and it's easy to spend a relaxing hour or two playing these games. In fact it's a very nice accompaniment to your favourite hot drink and choice of biscuits.
Cate West: The Vanishing Files is the latest hidden-object game for the Nintendo Wii. You're put in the shoes of Cate West, a mystery novelist. Cate isn't just a novelist however. She has psychic visions that allow her to see things most people would have no knowledge of. It's no surprise then that she is asked by the local police to assist them in solving a series of crimes, dubbed "The Vanishing Files," that have pretty much left them stumped. As Cate begins to solve the cases however, it becomes clear that they are related to the death of her father, which she blames herself for not preventing.
The single-player story consists of fifteen chapters and each one of them is made up of five different parts. To begin with you'll have to find the clues. This is exactly the same process that you'd find in every other hidden-object game. You have a certain number of items that need to be found from the various locations on offer. In each location there is a list of items to find. You don't have to find all of them and you're free to move from one location to another until you've found the required number of items. In the second phase you'll have two items (or pieces of evidence). Each item has been broken into pieces and scattered around a location. It's up to you to find the individual parts. Thirdly you'll need to confirm the criminal's hideout. To do this you'll play a game of spot the difference. You'll look at two similar images (one is supposed to be Cate's vision and the other an actual photo) which are placed side by side. After you've found the differences (which can be on either image) you'll get to choose which of the eight suspects should be arrested. You'll be able to look at each of their profiles and by looking at the evidence you'll gain some important clues. Once you've arrested the correct suspect you'll have to recreate the crime scene. To do this you'll be shown two similar images (the one being Cate's courtroom testimony and the other Cate's memory of the crime scene) and you'll have an assortment of items to place in order to make the pictures match up. Once you're done with this final step the criminal will be put behind bars and after some dialogue it's off to the next case.
You'll have no problems in getting to grips with the game if you're at all familiar with hidden-object games. You'll move the pointer around by moving the Wii remote and you'll press the A button to select or click on items. During the third and final phases of your investigation (where you're dealing with two pictures at a time) you'll see two pointers that move synchronously across the two pictures. You're punished with a time penalty if you click continuously in spaces where there is no item that you need to find. Should you have difficulty in locating the desired items you can request a hint to find out the general location of an item. Once you've used a hint the hint feature is disabled for certain amount of time to prevent it being overused. You shouldn't need to use the hint feature too many times however because you have access to a magnifying glass which allows you to zoom in to find those trickier objects. You'll also have access to a flashlight and when the need arises you can clear dust or flies from an image by shaking the remote.
As well as playing through the main story mode you can replay the various levels you've completed in the story mode. The Vanishing Files isn't just a single-player experience however. You can play through the story mode co-operatively if you wish or play through the levels you've completed in the story mode. You can also challenge a friend to see who can find the most items and earn the most points. This isn't a genre that's known for providing a multiplayer experience and it has to be said that it does a decent job of it.
Some aspects of The Vanishing Files could have been better. The text used for the list of clues that you have to find is far too small. We played the game on both an HDTV and a 32" widescreen standard TV and on both the text was uncomfortable to read. You can get around this annoying problem by placing the magnifying glass over the text which makes it easier to read but this isn't something you should have to do. You will be using the magnifying glass a lot however when it comes to phase two of your investigation. Having to find the individual pieces of an object is really tricky and on some pictures it's extremely difficult to make out the pieces you're looking for. Whilst I appreciate how the developers have setup each of the game's fifteen chapters, I do feel that it was a mistake not to vary the pattern of them from time to time to make things more interesting. It could also be argued that the story is rather lacklustre. In a game such as this the storyline isn't the most important thing but I think that more of an effort could have been made to make the storyline more compelling.
We've already covered the main problems with the game's presentation but aside from that there's really only the amount of loading screens you'll see to complain about. Actually I say loading screens but it's the same image you'll see several hundred times during the course of the game. The load times are actually very short. The game only uses still images, and not animated cutscenes, to tell the story so you would think that any load times could have been masked whilst you're reading the dialogue. The character artwork is fairly simplistic and could have been more detailed. All of the dialogue is shown in text. In fact the amount of speech in the game is minimalistic and only a fraction of the dialogue is voiced. You will be fully aware of the time limits you have thanks to a countdown being visually displayed. In fact there are no problems here for deaf gamers as all of the information is shown visually and you'll always be aware of what needs to be done in each of the puzzles.
Hidden-object games usually stick rigidly to the same formula and it's pleasing to see that Cate West: The Vanishing Files attempts to mix things up a little and throw in multiplayer support too. The game has aspects that could have been better. Sticking to the same pattern for every chapter definitely makes it feel very repetitive. Some problems which the game has should have been sorted out (such as making the text on the list of items you need to find readable without the use of the magnifying glass), but for the most part it's a good addition to the genre and a game that anyone with a soft spot for hidden-object games will appreciate.