Mystery Case Files is a series of Casual Video Games from Big Fish Studios. Despite its title and slogan, no actual sleuthing occurs; it's actually a Hidden Object Game, a genre which became popular with this series.There are currently thirteen games in the series. Ten of them are for home computer (Huntsville, Prime Suspects, Ravenhearst, Madame Fate, Return To Ravenhearst, Dire Grove, 13th Skull, Escape From Ravenhearst, Shadow Lake, and Fate's Carnival) and can be downloaded at the "Official Fan Site" (isn't that an oxymoron?) or the Big Fish Games site. Millionheir is a DS release, Agent X is for mobile phones, and The Malgrave Incident is a Wii game.The next game in the series, Fate's Carnival, was released in the Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition in November 2013 and it is a joint project from Big Fish Games and Elephant Games.Big Fish has also announced a free-to-play spinoff game, Spirits of Blackpool. The initial release is for iOS, but there are rumors of an Android (and eventual home computer) version.The Ravenhearststory arc subseries is arguably the most famous line of titles to come from the Big Fish developers. Although not all of the plots in the arc are directly related to the events at Ravenhearst Manor, you play the same Master Detective in all of them and there is a tangential connection in each one.
In the original Ravenhearst, you are requested by the Queen of England to investigate the history of Ravenhearst Manor, situated in Blackpool. You must assemble the pages of a young woman's lost diary to find out about the terrible things which happened there.
In Madame Fate, the title character summons you to her carnival because she has had a vision of her own death, and she wants you to figure out who her murderer will be and stop them.
In Return to Ravenhearst, you return to the ruined manor when you realize that although you solved the mystery connected to Emma's diary, the house was the site of several other grisly events that need to be brought to light.
In Dire Grove, you leave the Ravenhearst incidents behind you and travel to a community built on top of an ancient Celtic settlement, where four graduate students have gone missing in an unseasonal blizzard.
In 13th Skull, you're asked to leave your native England and travel to the United States to aid a woman whose husband is missing, and whose young daughter insists he was abducted by a ghost.
In Escape From Ravenhearst, you must return to the remains of the manor one more time, to find out why people have been disappearing in the area.
In Shadow Lake, you investigate the haunted ruins of a small New England town that was destroyed by an earthquake, aided by a psychic and her spirit-guided drawings.
In Fate's Carnival, you return to Fate's Carnival and put a stop on its curse once and for all.
These games provide examples of:
Accidental Marriage: Solving one of the puzzle sets in Escape From Ravenhearst is interpreted by Charles as accepting his proposal of marriage. The Master Detective's reaction is "Oh, GOD no!"
Abandoned Hospital: Not exactly, but the Blackpool Temperance Hospital and the asylum - or at least, Charles's re-creations of them - in Escape From Ravenhearst have many of the aspects of this trope.
Adventure Game: Return to Ravenhearst changes the format to this, though there are still areas for item hunting.
Apocalyptic Log: Emma's diary in Ravenhearst, and the video tapes found scattered in Dire Grove.
Averted and lampshaded in Return to Ravenhearst, where one of the rules Charles posted that Rose had to obey forbade her from keeping a diary of any sort.
Cassandra's visions in Shadow Lake are a form of this, narrating the story of how the town became the ruined and haunted site of the game.
Fate's Carnival reveals that the log you find in the carnival belongs to Charles Dalimar's father, Alister.
Art Evolution: The games get progressively more detailed to the point that Big Fish hired Elephant Games, who were already known for their extremely detailed hidden object games, to design Fate's Carnival.
Ax-Crazy: A sketch in Emma's diary in Ravenhearst strongly suggests that Charles murdered her with a hatchet.
Back from the Dead: At the end of Escape From Ravenhearst, the efforts of the Master Detective have restored the murdered Emma, Rose, Gwendolyn and Charlotte to life. Charles had apparently already restored himself to full life, but dies again in the final explosion.
Madame Fate herself, but only temporarily in order to task Isis to accompany the detective in her journey to break the carnival's curse. The carnies themselves have been brought back from the dead to suffer another punishment before the detective frees them.
The Bartender: There's one in 13th Skull at the local dive bar, a young woman who is easily the friendliest person you meet in the course of the game.
Bat Scare: Leaning over the well in Escape will trigger one of these.
Child by Rape: A reference in Return to Ravenhearst has been interpreted by many fans (and The Other Wiki) as evidence that Charles forced himself on Emma's nursemaid Rose, resulting in his equally deranged son Victor. However, this interpretation has not been officially confirmed in any of the games to date.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Out of all the carnies to return in Fate's Carnival, the only ones not to return are Lucy the Bearded Lady, Twyla Tangle the Contortionist, and Armando the Ringleader.
Cliff Hanger: Madame Fate ends with a murderous spirit on the loose wanting revenge on you due to the events of Ravenhearst and the words "To Be Continued."
Closed Circle: The town of Dire Grove becomes a form of this every winter, according to the brochures the detective reads in that game. Because it's a remote settlement that experiences very harsh conditions, the residents shut everything down in the late fall and stay elsewhere until spring.
Clueless Mystery: Madame Fate, from the game of the same name, thinks one of her 15 employees will kill her at midnight. It turns out that none of them are the real killer — heck, almost all of them are dead when midnight comes — and the one who does off Fate turns out to be a character from an earlier game who was never mentioned at all in this one!
Condensation Clue: A possession-victim from Shadow Lake scrawls a clue in the fog of a car window, then dies and erases the clue as his hand slides down the glass. Fortunately, you can re-view the cinematic as many times as necessary to jot down what it says.
Content Warnings: Escape From Ravenhearst has a bold, underlined red warning on its download page to advise players that it is a "deep psychological thriller" that "may reveal deep-seated fears." This is the only game Big Fish has ever released for which they felt the need to make such a warning.
Contest Winner Cameo: Finding Felix the Fish (the mascot of Big Fish Games) in one of the hidden object scenes in Ravenhearst gave the player a chance to enter a contest. The winner had their picture included in a later MCF game.
Also, the sequels in the Ravenhearst arc will usually provide some sort of nod to the fact that they are part of the same arc, even if they focus on a totally different story. For instance, the events of Dire Grove have nothing to do with the events at the Ravenhearst estate, but the in-game diary opens with a mention of the events of Return to Ravenhearst. Similarly, the diary in 13th Skull references Dire Grove.
It is eventually revealed that all of the games in the Ravenhearst arc are in fact connected to that plot, even the ones that don't appear to have anything to do with it.
The collector's edition of Dire Grove shows that Victor Dalimar is hiding out in the basement of the grocery store in Dire Grove, plotting revenge against you.
Escape From Ravenhearst reveals that Charles Dalimar's mother, Abigail, was the daughter of Grace O'Malley and Phineas Crown, the Ghost Pirate from 13th Skulland that Charles used to be part of the Fate Carnival!
The collector's edition of Shadow Lake reveals that the Master Detective is headed back to Fate's Carnival.
Fate's Carnival reveals that Charles' father Alister has a deep-seated grudge against Madame Fate and cursed her carnival after failing to obtain her Ball of Fate for his own purposes.
Dead Person Conversation: Or rather Dead Person Beration, as Alister has an artifact called the Black Lantern that allows him to talk to the shadows of the dead. He uses it to berate Charles and Victor for their failures.
Death by Irony: The titular Madame Fate foresaw her death and called the Master Detective to help her. Turns out she would've been better off if she didn't call the Master Detective. See Self-Fulfilling Prophecy as to why.
Deep South: The setting for 13th Skull - Louisiana, specifically.
Huntsville's story sets it in Alabama.
Dem Bones: The skeleton of the prisoner in Shadow Lake seems to come alive and then collapses into a pile.
After the Detective returns the skulls of Captain Crown's crew in 13th Skull, they all come alive — and then gang up on the Captain.
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: If you doubt this applies, try running tokens from the Collector's Edition of Escape through the X-ray machine, both before and after they've been energized.
Dialogue Tree: In 13th Skull, when conversing with any of the other characters.
Alister Dalimar created a Dark Diary as the final embodiment of his powers before he disappeared.
Dig Your Own Grave: Literally in Escape From Ravenhearst, although the grave isn't quite what it appears.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: You may be the Master Detective, but almost nobody in 13th Skull is willing to give you any information (or the time of day) until you complete some sort of annoying Fetch Quest for them. The only exception is the librarian in the bar, who becomes very helpful once you beat him in checkers.
Element Number Five: Items representing the five elements are needed to defeat the Big Bad in Dire Grove. According to the context of the game, the fifth element is represented by mercury.
Everybody's Dead, Dave: Everybody — except you, of course — is dead and/or "doomed" in some way at midnight in Madame Fate, including Madame Fate herself!
Evil Sorcerer: Alister Dalimar. He's blatantly called a "dark sorcerer" in a magical news flyer. He had also been teaching Charles, but when Charles met Emma, he drops his lessons.
Excuse Plot: The plots in all the games are basically excuses to look for random objects in cluttered scenes.
Eye Scream: One of the lock-puzzles in Escape From Ravenhearst requires you to click a series of realistic, moving eyes. Each time you do so, there's an audible yelp of pain, as if you've genuinely poked someone in the eye.
Face-Heel Turn: The Tattooed Man, the acrobats, and Doctor Goodwell betrayed the carnival for Alister Dalimar.
A bobblehead of the Master Detective can be collected in Fate's Carnival, but her face and body are heavily cloaked by trenchcoat, hat and scarf.
Fictional Document: Emma's diary in Ravenhearst. Most if not all of the books in the library in Dire Grove.
Fish Out of Temporal Water: Implied for the end of Escape From Ravenhearst. Emma, Rose and her daughters have been dead for more than a hundred years, and now they've been brought back to life. It's unclear whether a future game will show how well they adapt to the 21st century.
Foreshadowing: The last line Madame Fate states before the game begins? "Find the soul that seeks to kill Madame Fate." The killer ends up being Charles Dalimar who's already dead at the point in the story.
Four Is Death: Four graduate students get themselves trapped in Dire Grove. All four are stuck in frozen stasis and brainwashed into performing an ancient ritual to free the banshee.
Full Motion Video: Escape From Ravenhearst, The 13th Skull, and Shadow Lake are the only games in the series that use live actors in the game settings. Dire Grove also use live actors, but any of the clips featuring the actors are simply videotapes that the Master Detective picks up as part of the story.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Huntsville had a case involving someone pulling fire alarms around town. It turns out to be a guy who wanted to slide down the firehouse pole. This would be harmless fun, except he's in a fur suit. This troper found himself guffawing out loud at work.
After the Cat Scare (or rather, Mannequin Scare) in Return To Ravenhearst, a caption in the same room reads, "No thanks, I just went." This line is stated when you click on the toilet, with obvious implications.
In Escape From Ravenhearst, the newspaper article beneath one about Blackpool's missing residents is about a horse running away with a farmer's wife, apparently not in the out-of-control-steed sense.
Ill Girl: Emma, in Ravenhearst, although it turns out she was actually being poisoned.
Infant Immortality: Averted three times, though we don't actually see the deaths in two of them.
Return To Ravenhearst, Charles kills Rose's two daughters and locks their souls into his unlife support machine. The girls are definitely pre-pubescent, and look to be younger than 10.
13th Skull, after the final puzzle, there's a cutscene in which the ghost of Captain Crown drowns the criminals who have been playing the Master Detective for a sucker throughout the game ... including their pre-pubescent daughter.
In Shadow Lake, Cassandra's visions show Billy falling from the school's bell tower to his death. The (unbloodied) body is actually shown striking the ground.
It's Personal: Why Madame Fate was killed; because the Master Detective freed Emma from Ravenhearst Manor and also because Charles wanted vengeance for being labeled a freak while he was in her carnival.
Retconned in the bonus play of the Fate's Carnival CE: Madame Fate had imprisoned Charles' father Alister, so he killed her and imprisoned her soul.
It Was with You All Along: In Fate's Carnival, you wanna know where that special black diary that was needed to stop Alister Dalimar was? Surprise, you've been holding it since the beginning of the game!
And also the means of destroying it: your Master Detective badge, which you've presumably been wearing since the series began.
Abigail Dalimar (or at least the mannequin representing her) can be seen lazing about in her bed upstairs, with discarded snacks and untouched leftovers all around her. And the way she gobbles down the dynamite pie is just not right.
Karmic Death: All the workers of Madame Fate are dead/doomed in different ways:
The Amazing Larry (magician): A hack magician who ends up hacking himself in half.
Lucy the Bearded Lady: Famed for her glorious beard, which ends up getting chopped off.
Marlena the Mermaid: Married to Dante the Tattooed Man, she's currently in a Love Triangle with Fabiano, the Strong Man. She gets caught in a net for her troubles.
Art the Carny: Madame Fate has been reducing his cigarette smoking, and so he dies stuffing his mouth with cigarettes.
Twila Tangle the Contortionist: Known for twisting her body and getting in and out of tight places, she gets trapped in a capsule underwater and can't escape.
Bianca the Daredevil Diva: Has tried to get a replacement daredevil due to getting migraines, when she performs, she gets blown up.
Fabiano the World's Strongest Man: Known for his incredible strength and then he is unable to lift a very heavy object and dies from suffocation.
Lance the Sword Swallower: Swallows fake swords as part of his act, then dies when he swallows a real one.
Armando the Ringmaster: Believes that he should be the one upstaging Madame Fate, and dies after someone poisoned his drink.
Tabitha the Lion Tamer: Wants revenge on Madame Fate who killed her favorite lion, and then she ends up under the jaws of her other lion.
Franco the Excessive: Madame Fate's son who is being pestered to find a wife and thus is making him lose appetite. He then becomes so hungry that he eats a horse.
Dr. Goodwell the Medicine Man: A snake-oil salesman who takes more of his fair share of funds from the carnival. He is then captured by his own snake and about to be devoured.
Puddles the Clown: A Sad Clown who believes that the circus is going cheap and wants it to be like the good old days. Gets killed when he accidentally shoots himself with a real gun instead of a Bang! flag gun.
Dante the Tattooed Man: Using his body to advertise different circuses, he dies by hanging himself by the only place without a tattoo—his tongue.
Mao and Amber Tan, the Acrobats: Brother and sister duo who are known to be pickpockets when not performing. When they do get to perform they fall to the ground without a net to save them.
Madame Fate: the fortune teller who finds out that she's dying and asks the Master Detective to help find her murderer...only to find out too late that she died because she brought the Master Detective to solve the case!
Killed Off for Real: In Fate's Carnival, Franco, Art and Tabitha have been killed off, as all that's left of them are their bones.
The acrobats are implied to have plummeted to their doom after the detective wakes up all the ravens in the tower.
In Dire Grove, this happens literally when supernatural forces cause your computer to spontaneously display the unlocking-code for a portal.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: While Charles Dalimar himself is clearly supernatural, it's unclear in Escape From Ravenhearst whether he was actually communing with his father's ghost at the insane asylum, or just imagined it while listening to a raven croaking.
Multiple Endings: In Prime Suspects, the main culprit will change with each new game you'll play.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: You have to literally smash through the bathroom floor in Dire Grove in order to reach the locked office.
The detective uses scissors to cut open a bag of garbage and several paintings in 13th Skull.
A non-literal example occurs in Escape From Ravenhearst, where your determination to keep poking around in the ruins gets Emma and the Somersets re-captured, at least for a while.
Because the Master Detective returned to the carnival, she inadvertently frees Alister Dalimar from the Ball of Fate and it's up to her to re-imprison him again.
Non-Human Sidekick: In Fate's Carnival, the detective is accompanied by a beautiful black cat named Isis. She's actually Madame Fate's cat and is there to provide help to the detective. One of the bonus features is being able to purchase toys and accessories for her.
Alister himself has Tanatos, a black raven he created as a display of his power.
Occult Detective: Ever since Ravenhearst, the Master Detective's investigations have pitted her against ghosts, curses, and dangerous mystical artifacts. Cassandra declares her intention to become one in the aftermath of Shadow Lake.
Oop North: The three main games in the Ravenhearst arc takes place in a fictional version of Blackpool, as well as the upcoming Spirits of Blackpool spin-off game. The timeline and use of Celtic mythology in Dire Grove also places it somewhere in northern England.
Pixel Hunt: Some of those items can be pretty teensy...
Revenge: Alister blames Madame Fate and the detective for destroying Ravenhearst. He somehow also blames Madame Fate for not stopping Charles from falling for Emma.
Room Full of Crazy: The convict's cell and train tunnel in Shadow Lake. Bonus points for the scrawls on the wall being in an obscure Native American script.
Samus Is a Girl: The detective you play as is revealed to be female at the end of Madame Fate. It makes the Accidental Marriage scene in Escape from Ravenhearst very unsettling.
Inverted as of Fate's Carnival. You can collect bobble-heads of most of the characters from Ravenhearst, Dire Grove, 13th Skull, and Fate's Carnival, including the Master Detective. The bobblehead's appearance and laugh are definitively masculine.
Scenery Gorn: Starting with the Ravenhearst arc, the abandoned settings of each game look increasingly unsettling. Elephant Games, who designed Fate's Carnival, are well known for this in their own spooky games.
Scenery Porn: But on the other hand, much of the abandoned settings and the zoomed-in scenes are so well made and colored that it looks beautiful with a sense enchanting and surreal. Even the fact that the emptiness of the settings can arguably make it a case of the Beautiful Void.
Sealed Evil in a Can: Alister Dalimar is trapped inside the Ball of Fate. His attempt to escape is what brought the Master Detective back to the carnival and when she touched the artifact, she freed him. Madame Fate's ghost tasks her to re-capture him.
Secret Diary: The entire plot of Ravenhearst depends on you recovering missing diary entries.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Madame Fate is about trying to prevent her murder and she asks the Master Detective to help out. She ends up dying because she asked the detective for help. Unknowingly, the detective was followed by the spirit of Charles Dalimar, who is not only angry at the detective for freeing Emma, but also has a grudge against the members of Fate's Carnival for how he was treated when he was one of them, as shown in Escape From Ravenhearst.
The bonus material in the collector's edition of Escape From Ravenhearst provides the detective with a 'souvenir' of the events in the form of two mysterious sketches of an unknown man. Their existence may suggest that the Ravenhearst arc has one more story to tell.
Fate's Carnival is revealed to be another story in the Ravenhearst arc, because its Big Bad is Alister Dalimar, Charles's father.
Fate herself drops some hints cryptic about the next game, and completing Carnival opens a bonus-content "Secret Room" suggesting it'll be another sequel, this time to Dire Grove.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The whole point of Madame Fate is for you to prevent her murder at midnight, and find out who her would-be killer is. Although you find out who did it, The Reveal occurs only after she dies!
Also, the missing man you search for in 13th Skull turns out to be a villain, whose equally-villainous family knew where he was all along. Finding him gets you threatened, then him and his family killed by a vengeful ghost.
Shout-Out: It seems the designers are huge fans of Rachael Ray, and include at least one reference to her in each game from Return to Ravenhearst onward.
Significant Anagram: In 13th Skull, a key to discovering the truth about the old mansion lies in the fact that the original owner's name, Ashwin Poncer, is an anagram of Phineas Crown, the pirate - they're the same person.
String Theory: The coroner in Shadow Lake used this method to try to puzzle out the chain of deaths.
Stupidity Is the Only Option: The Master Detective usually avoids this trope, but in 13th Skull, she runs into it headlong. The librarian looks up the names on the fake IDs she found while exploring the swamp and calls to tell her that the husband and wife she's supposed to be helping are really con artists and murderers. He urges her to get out of there before they kill her. Nope, she's off to the swamp to confront them...where she finds that they have a gun and she doesn't. Surprise.
It gets dumber; if you play through the whole Dialogue Tree for the "hermit in the swamp" (a.k.a. the disguised husband), he draws the gun when he tells you to leave him alone. There's no excuse for being held at gunpoint by the villains at that point.
Timed Mission: All of the levels, in the first four games. Fortunately, they usually take place between twenty and forty minutes, so you can still Take Your Time.
Averted in Return to Ravenhearst, where a clock is running but only for high-score purposes.
Also averted in Dire Grove and 13th Skull, though if you're playing the Collector's Editions you can earn an achievement for finishing within a time limit (6 hours for Dire Grove, 10 for 13th Skull).
Time Travel: Factors into Escape From Ravenhearst. When Victor escapes at the end of Return, he actually goes back in time and sets up just about everything that happens in Escape.
Too Dumb to Live: Arguably, the graduate students in Dire Grove, who persist in entering the closed-off titular community and breaking into the locked-up bed and breakfast (which has no electricity or heat) in order to solve their mystery. It's like they were begging for the plot to happen to them.
Smack talkin' ghosts of prisoners in the maximum security wing? Yeah, real smart there, Jack Talon.
Unexpected Gameplay Change: After you're done looking for stuff, you'll have to solve a puzzle that usually has nothing to do with looking for objects! These started out as simple tile-switching jigsaws, but became weirder and more abstract with each successive game... much like this series as a whole, come to think of it...
Unfinished Business: The ghosts of Charles' victims have a form of this; they're trapped in the house until the Master Detective steps in to make things right.
Charles himself has this throughout the series, since the end of Escape From Ravenhearst explicitly states that he will never stop hunting the Master Detective.
It also reveals that Charles' unexpected appearance in Madame Fate was also this trope.
Madame Fate:(to the detective) I was wrong! It wasn't them [the carnies]! It was you! This is all YOUR FAULT!!
What Happened to the Mouse?: The missing Blackpool folks in Escape From Ravenhearst are seen tethered to the final house, but you don't actually see if they got loose after it blows up and you meet the ex-ghosts in the garden.
If you open your casebook after that scene, they all died.
Where It All Began: The Master Detective returns not once, but twice, to Ravenhearst Manor.
Wrong Genre Savvy: At the end of 13th Skull, the young girl says mockingly, "Stupid detective, there's no such thing as ghosts." ...right before being killed by a ghost.
You Can't Fight Fate: Madame Fate calls in the Master Detective to prevent her murder. It turns out the killer is at Fate's Carnival because the Master Detective is there and because Madame Fate requested the Master Detective in the first place. Talk about irony.