James Patterson is a best-selling author who, critics say, writes fairly crummy books. His Women’s Murder Clubs series of novels includes ten books and spawned a short-lived TV series. There have also been several video game adaptations. Windows Phone 7 gamers everywhere, surely, are clamoring for such a game, and thankfully developer Vivid Games and publisher I-Play have heard gamers’ desperate calls. Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet is an Xbox Live title you won’t want to miss!

The Women’s Murder Club isn’t actually a group of people who kill women for sport. Instead, “the series revolves around the lives of four women in San Francisco – a homicide detective, an assistant district attorney, a medical examiner and a newspaper reporter – who come together to use their expertise and talents in their respective fields to solve murder cases,” says Wikipedia. Compelling! Death in Scarlet takes that exciting premise and makes a pretty decent hidden-object game.

Flip past the break for our review’s thrilling conclusion!

Under the magnifying glass

Ever read a Where’s Waldo or I-Spy book? Like those books, hidden-object games present the player with a cluttered scene and a list of objects to find. Each location in Women’s Murder Club gives the player five minutes to find 12 or so objects. Dragging on the screen pans the view around, while pinching zooms in or out. Once an object has been located, tapping it will remove it from the scene. Tap the wrong object - or if a tap simply doesn’t register properly (which happens a bit too often) - and a red circle appears, subtracting a few seconds from the timer.

Death in Scarlet allots players five hints for every three scenes, which certainly helps when you can’t locate a pesky object. I actually found the names of the objects were usually at fault rather than my searching skills. Some names weren’t descriptive enough – band is pretty vague, for instance. The game’s Scotch tape looks more like masking tape to me. Still, things rarely got so tough that I ran out of time.

Detecting for dummies

Women’s Murder Club weaves simple puzzles into each scene as well. White sparkles designate actual interactive things. In the first scene, players have to first find a knife, use it to cut some rope, examine a dead woman’s legs, and then photograph a Chinese message written on her chest. All before breakfast! Other puzzles involve rotating the pieces of a puzzle until they form a picture, examining blood by dropping it into a Petri dish, and more. Completing puzzles is easier than hunting for tiny objects, but it adds a little variety and fits the game’s story well enough.

A tale best left untold

Speaking of which, the story alternates between mundane and nonsensical. A guy gets murdered and we find out whodunit, but I couldn’t tell you the why's even if you threatened to make me read a dozen James Patterson books.

Story scenes come in two forms. One consists of comic panels that scroll kind of fast and can’t be re-watched. It can be tough to figure out what’s happening in these due to their forced scrolling and generally crummy artwork. Even worse, an important mid-game cinema consistently crashed the game every time it played out. Eventually I had to just skip it in order to proceed with the game. The other, more common type of story scene shows one or more character’s heads in the center of the screen while the player scrolls through some text. It’s all too boring to care about and doesn’t do much to inspire one to try out the Women’s Murder Club books.

Death in Scarlet’s story scenes are also hampered by truly terrible art direction. I counted three different art styles: realistic, cartoonish, and one that could pass for bad Flash art. It’s like the developers farmed out the art and forgot to create a basic style for the artists to use. The actual hidden-object scenes maintain a far more consistent level of quality.

Short but sweet

Women’s Murder Club should take around two hours to complete. It does offer some replay value thanks to item randomization. Each time you visit a scene, you’re tasked with finding a different selection of objects, and they appear in different places. The number of objects per scene is finite, so there will be some repeats. I didn’t mind those too much as they allowed me to concentrate on the harder to find objects.

Easy Achievements

Women’s Murder Club commits the launch-game sin of requiring players to be online in order to earn Achievements. Boo! However, the game’s Achievements are easy and fun to earn. Completing a scene without zooming, finding a scene’s objects in their listed order, and finishing a scene without making any mistakes all fit this style of game very well. You can count on earning the full 200 GamerScore without too much trouble.

Overall Impression

Women’s Murder Club: Death in Scarlet may utilize a license that nobody cares about, but aside from the story it’s actually quite competent. There aren’t exactly a ton of hidden object games on Windows Phone 7, so the game offers a unique experience. Anyone who likes this style of game or easy Xbox Live Achievements should not hesitate to try it.

Women’s Murder Club costs $2.99 and there is a free trial. You can grab it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.