After some poking around, I think I understand better what’s wrong with Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir. This article and its comments clued me in: it’s made, of course, by a PC games company that’s already released similar games for the PC. I should have expected that given its American origins. Of course.
The problem is, PC games of this type don’t, and probably never will, port well to consoles. I can think of two reasons: expectations and demographics.
On the expectations side, we get reactions like mine and those of the review I linked: the idea that DS games are generally more full and rich and varied than MillionHeir, which presents mostly one set of identical puzzles to wade through, a very scanty framework as an excuse for playing, and (insofar as there is a plot) no attempt at making anything endearing. This is fairly normal for PC puzzle games, the market that brought you Minesweeper, free MSN download games, the addictive but basically ugly Snood, and games where the goal is to swat flies and make them splat. Generally, when I think of pretty PC games, I think of MMORPGs, not puzzle games. Japanese puzzle games often have a nice aesthetic or at least simple cuteness, but American puzzle games often don’t try to be endearing; they’re more often humour-centric rather than focusing on genuine appeal. And the console gaming market is used to getting a full story replete with mini-games, serious variety in the challenges, and an emotionally satisfying conclusion even for the simplest of stories. Compared to the average console game, most PC puzzle games fall flat on their face for an audience that expects all of that to round out a decent game as a matter of course.
As a further barrier to sales of these games, as a commentor pointed out, the demographic for this type of game is basically your mom. I can think of no demographic less likely to own a console, unless they’ve been hooked by either curiosity or younger family members. While there are obviously plenty of exceptions, the demographic on the whole tends to think of computer games as an occasional way to pass time rather than a serious hobby, so not only are they less likely to own a console, they’re less likely to buy new games on a regular basis. I don’t think there are enough middle-aged-or-older women who buy console games to justify a port of this type of game, whereas many of them do own PCs and understand how to put in a game disc to start up a game. Even people who do take gaming seriously and know their stuff but gravitate towards this type of game are less likely to even think of looking for their type of game on a console, since they mostly find these games in the PC aisle.
As a result, most PC games aren’t going to get rave reviews from the console gaming audience, who are by and large used to routinely paying high prices for excellent games and tend to feel gypped on purchasing an inexpensive game that doesn’t have much to it. I have to wonder how PC gamers feel when faced with ports of especially complex console games, such as Final Fantasy VII. Do they react with delight at the smorgasbord of features, or is it too complex for their tastes?