May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville

Comparisons between May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville and the DS’s beloved Professor Layton series are inevitable. Yes, they are very much the same game partly because they fit into that very niche genre of… well, what would you call it exactly? Puzzle/mystery/story? Mystery-story-based puzzle games? Both games have puzzle aficionados as their main characters, both games (well, the Layton series in general) have an overarching mystery to solve, both games feature fully animated sequences intertwined with puzzles… there are lots of other similarities too from the majority of the game’s format and its general look and feel.

The words ‘blatant rip-off’ may come up in conversation even with a cursory glance at the screenshots and box art. I want to stress that this is a very good game in its own right, just very much in the shadow of the mighty Professor Layton series. V5 Play Studio have clearly put a lot of effort into a visually attractive and thoughtful game. It’s enjoyable to play and is on a par with the Professor himself which is no mean feat.

So, to the game. May and her little brother Tery (no, that’s not a typo) are innocently travelling in a hot air balloon when they encounter a storm and the balloon crashes. May wakes up in the wreckage to find that her brother has decided to valiantly get some help in the nearby town, Dragonville. While the most logical thing to do, it’s probably not the smartest since the town has a diabolical mayor ruling with an iron fist and a troop of mysterious, child-hating policemen. The town has a dark secret that May is going to uncover as she tries to find her brother.

You navigate around surroundings in point-and-click style, touching arrows to move you to the next static scene or poking people to hear what they have to say. Puzzles pepper the storyline and a lot of them are in context which helps gameplay flow. At least until you get stuck solving a bastardly hard one. Almost all of the puzzles have some purpose, mostly ways of working out how to get to a new area. One early example is a puzzle that asks you to arrange wooden planks to cross a piranha-infested body of water. It’s nice because it has the effect of tying the puzzles more closely to the developing storyline, rather than seeming rather random. No, Luke, we don’t care if this situation reminds you of this puzzle you once heard…

Thankfully, May’s mysteries is quite forgiving. Puzzles are either ‘story’ puzzles or ‘bonus’ puzzles. Story puzzles advance the story obviously, but they also award you bonus puzzles, which crop up in a separate menu in neat little categories. Solving bonus puzzles gives you hint points which you can use to buy hints for the more fiendish brainteasers or use to skip the utter teeth-gnashers entirely. May is quite generous with hint points, so if you’re having a really hard time and find yourself running low on hint points, it’s not too hard to solve one or two bonus puzzles and get more hints.

The only things that really bothered me when playing the game is the lack of a note-taking feature on the game itself and the lack of explanation after solving puzzles. For some of the trickier puzzles it’s pretty much essential to have a pen and paper to hand. The ability to scribble all over a puzzle on the DS screen in the process of solving it would have been handy. After solving puzzles, Layton always gave a short explanation of the solution which was fun to read, especially after lucky guesses but with May, you don’t really get the same sort of closure. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a sentence or two of explanation from May herself but mostly it’s just a congratulatory clap. These are two minor things that are probably down to personal preference.

One of the best things about this game is the variety of puzzles and mini-games it has. Puzzles are split into categories such as ‘arrange’, ‘check answer’, ‘matches’ and to break up the brain-scratching, the mini-games give some light relief. We do love a bit of rhythm action! Some of the ‘find the object’ puzzles are really harsh and it’s not just my terrible eyesight, but there is overall a very good balance between the ‘rip your eyeballs out, it’s so frustrating’ puzzles and the ‘I just did this puzzle upside down and backwards and still got it right’ puzzles.

Finally, the game is incredibly attractive and charming, almost quaint in its style. The music is also quite sweet and very fitting with the mood of the game. The animation sequences are quite impressive too, although I personally muted it every time May spoke. The game is available for around £20 which makes it very good value for money, even if I have spent most of the time so far frowning at the screen.







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