- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 26, 2012

A legendary prestidigitator and his cohorts return from the grave to take control of Apple’s magical tablet and challenge casual gamers in the story-driven, hidden-object challenge Midnight Mysteries: Haunted Houdini (MumboJumbo, rated 9+, reviewed for iPad 2, $6.99).

Developers honor the master magician with reasonably complex action mixing gorgeous animation and backdrops that tap into an early-20th-century period and adding a variety of concealed-item quests, minigames, riddles and puzzles to flex the player’s ocular muscles and noggin.

The ghost of Houdini’s wife, Bess, first appears and asks the player help her find her dead husband (in spirit or body) while eventually touching on key moments of his life and career.

I’ll admit to being a sucker for anything tied to the Houdini (aka Eric Weisz) mythology, and this game never stops plucking history, artifacts (including great posters and photographs) and tricks from his rich past to keep the solving entertaining and slightly educational.

Progressing within the fictional plot first requires touching arrows to move throughout locations such as a spooky mansion or Grace Hospital (where he died) and, detailed down to a seance room, Houdini’s workshop and theater dressing room, then solving a conundrum or asking multiple-choice questions of a character to continue to new areas.

Puzzles can be as simple as touching the corner of a poster to collect a diagram (placed in a player’s inventory), finding two pieces of a bolt cutter (to open a chained gate) or opening a secret box by using your finger to trace a path that highlights every one of its squares.

More difficult, a player must open a safe by pressing the correct sequence of numbered buttons (discovered by more exploration) or helping Houdini pull off his famed Metamorphosis illusion using collected locks, keys and a curtain.

Occasional conversations and encounters with well-known friends of Harry’s such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, rival Howard Thurston and medium Mina Cranston add to the richness of the tale, with even historical characters such as Jack the Ripper suspect Carl Feigenbaum coming into play.

More familiar to fans of the genre will be the hidden-object scenes that require not only touching items to complete a scavenger-hunt-sized list, but also adding them to an inventory to help unlock more places.

Delightful nuances include collecting crows (that caw and shake their heads) hidden around to cash in for free hints, a colorful journal chronicling a player’s progress and being penalized by a hissing black cat for being too aggressive and random when tapping on the screen.

The game also sets the Halloween mood with a foreboding musical score and delivers an occasional jump-in-your-seat fright for the player, especially when he has earbuds in place.

For those truly smitten by the action, in-app purchases are available, ranging from exclusive chapters ($1.99 each) to a strategy guide ($1.99) or a Collector’s Edition add-on offering all of the extras ($2.99).

Even with the slightly exaggerated price point, Midnight Mysteries: Haunted Houdini is a small price to pay to appreciate such an excellently produced casual game package that highlights a mystical entertainment legend.

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