May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville first saw the light of day back in 2011 on Nintendo DS, possibly as a bit of competition for the immensely popular Professor Layton games. For reasons unknown, a decade later, May’s mysterious adventure in Dragonville has received a console port. While you can never have too many puzzle games on the market, would it have fared better leaving this one in the past, or will it stand the test of time?
If you take May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville at face value, it would appear to be a puzzle fanatic’s dream as it boasts an adventure that contains over 270 mini-games. As someone who loves a good brain teaser, it seems like I’m the target audience and the prospect of putting my problem-solving skills to the test is an exciting one. In actuality though, May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville shows its age and has been ported to console with a number of issues.
At the core of May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville is a tale involving May and her brother Terry (or possibly Tery, according to subtitles), who decide to take a ride in a hot air balloon from their home of Balloonville. Everything goes awry however as the air balloon crashes in a rather comical fashion and May gets split up from her brother. Where has he ended up? Is he even alive? That’s the mystery as the search for him begins at the gates of Dragonville.
Story-wise, it relies mainly upon a sprinkling of silly humour and the introduction of bizarre characters like the anthropomorphic amnesiacs in the local zoo, instead of interesting dialogue. This means you’re most likely not going to care one jot about the events which are unfolding, nor the protagonist. It’s fine though, unlike the sporadic animated cutscenes that barely fill half the screen and frequently suffer screen tearing. The voiceovers are of below average audio quality and generally feel lacklustre here too. Sure, it’s old, but you’d still expect better and the text dialogue interactions prove a much more viable method of presenting the narrative.
Let’s be honest, the story is just a mere tool to tie together the mammoth amount of puzzles within; every character seemingly wants to bamboozle May or use her innate ability to find the solution to their own problematic conundrums. While there are over 270 mini-games in total, more than half of them are optional Bonus Puzzles and I’ll explain their usefulness in due course. The problems you must overcome to progress and acquire items to advance through the adventure are plentiful, with a decent amount of variety. Some are very good, some pretty bad, and others just make no sense.
Amongst the most entertaining mini-games are those in which you are measuring out exact volumes of liquid using different sized jars, working out number sequences, connecting pairs of items without overlapping any other pairs, splitting areas into equal portions, and creating pictures through a minesweeper style system. They definitely put multiple sections of your brain through their paces. The hidden object scenes can be good also, however the items needing to be found are sometimes in areas where lighting isn’t ideal and so it’s very easy to become frustrated with.
That’s nothing compared to the frustration caused by the rhythm-based activities. If you love Guitar Hero, Rocksmith or Dance Dance Revolution, and have musical bones, then you’re going to absolutely hate the nigh-on impossible rhythmic offerings here. Even after practicing via a tutorial over and over, the visual cues appear out of sync with the times in which you’re supposed to interact. Should you fluke a handful of correct button presses, it’s harsh docking of points for an incorrect one will mentally ruin you.
Other, more interactive natured, mini-games are just as bad and solutions require a simply unnecessary level of accuracy. There are moments where you must maneuver shapes, planks and matches into specific places. Firstly, it’s very finicky trying to carefully drop them into the position you wish to, but secondly, if you’re a tiny bit off in terms of what it wants, you’ll fail and have to start the puzzle again from scratch.
The only other lot of puzzles looking to ruffle your feathers are the riddles and most logic-focused affairs. Maybe I am at fault occasionally, for not carefully reading the puzzle instructions which often hold the clues, however there are times when the answer doesn’t make sense upon finding it out. Whether it’s a case of the question being poorly worded or merely overly complex, I’m not sure. What I am sure about though, is the stupid keyboard popping up constantly and covering a huge part of the screen while just trying to move the cursor around.
Truthfully, some mini-games are unbearable and would lead to many people giving up pretty swiftly. That’s why Bonus Puzzles are the saviour, because completing these earns points to use for either hints or to skip a mini-game entirely. You can choose any of the types you enjoy and not have to worry too much about the nightmarish ones aiming to halt your progress.
There’s no such fix for two of the more apparent technical faults however, with achievements currently broken and the save system experiencing a few hiccups. The latter is obviously the most concerning issue, which has led to me losing a chunk of progress after each play session. It supposedly auto-saves, but upon one reload in particular I had to redo eight puzzles and that’s a real pain.
All in all then, May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville puts every single egg in that puzzle basket and ultimately fails to deliver. The story is fine, the amount of mini-games is commendable and there’s joy to be had from certain types, but the positives are outweighed by the negatives. The cutscenes let it down, many mini-games lead to frustration, and the margin for error is unforgivable. And that’s before taking into account the fact that you can’t even trust the save system.
Do yourself a favour and save your money for another puzzler!
May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville is available right now via the Xbox Store