Adventure Gamers Awards
One of the most popular premises for adventure games is the murder mystery. It makes sense. After all, adventure games are about puzzles, and whodunits offer up an easy way to make puzzling central to the plot. My favorite type of mystery has always been the over-the-top classic variety. You know, the ones where the detective calls everyone into the accusing parlor before dramatically pointing the finger at the guilty party (the butler did it!), somehow timing this perfectly with a flash of lightning from the inevitably present thunderstorm. Apparently I’m not the only one with a fondness for this style, as Relentless Software have released the first three (of six planned) episodes of the Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle for the PlayStation 3. While the accusing parlors and thunderstorms haven’t appeared as of yet, the story’s dramatic flair has a lot in common with those tales just the same. Better yet, the episodes are nicely presented and the puzzles fun to solve, though the surprisingly short length of each one may turn people off.
The story begins simply enough in Episode 1: Little Riddle's Deadly Dilemma. You are a member of the Blue Toad Detective Agency, sent to the quaint English village of Little Riddle on holiday by your superior, mysteriously named “Mother”. Mere minutes after your arrival, you are talking to the town’s mayor when he is gunned down in broad daylight! The town’s Chief Inspector wants none of your interference in this mystery, but what fun would that be? You waste no time in interviewing suspects and gathering clues to try piecing together who the killer is, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. After solving the original murder, there’s also a burglary to foil in The Mystery of Riddle Manor and an arsonist to catch in The Mystery of the Concealing Flame. Each mystery solved leads to its own culprit, but also leads to more questions and often another crime, with hints that there is a sinister figure masterminding all the crimes throughout the episodes.
At the beginning of each game, you select which of the four Blue Toad members you’d like as your avatar. You can choose between the boyish Dick Dickens, a teenaged Hannah Dakota, Lambert Vandenbosch and his impressive moustache, or the elderly (but still sharp) Marjorie Maple, though your choice is largely cosmetic, since after a brief introduction provided by the narrator, there really isn’t anything to differentiate the detectives besides their appearance. However, this series has the added feature of being able to play in a group, and up to four players can select their own character and join in on the puzzling. Once the action begins, it consists basically of a series of cutscenes punctuated with the occasional puzzle. The only real control you have over your character is the occasional choice of where to go next. If you have four suspects to interview, for example, you’ll get to select their residences or businesses from a bird’s-eye view of the town. But this choice has no real bearing on the story overall, as no matter what order you choose you’ll get to all the locations eventually. Once you select a place of interest, you get to sit back, watch the scene, and solve a puzzle loosely related to the situation at hand.
The multiplayer option is definitely the most novel feature, but don’t worry if you only have a single controller, as you can easily play together by passing it around between turns. Essentially the game splits up the puzzles and questions between all the players rather than giving them to just one, then ranks who performed the best overall. It’s a cute idea, but it doesn't impact the outcome and the story doesn’t really take into account which character is doing what. If one character received a letter from Mother in the previous scene, the next character may solve a puzzle involving that letter in the next, with no explanation at all as to how this letter ended up in their hands or why the other detective chose not to decode it herself. Plus, group play means each person ultimately gets to experience less of the game. Play by yourself and you’ll get to solve all of the puzzles on your own. Play with three friends and the game will divide them up evenly between players, and since they don’t change at all if you play the episode again, keep this in mind if you’re someone who values the pleasure of solving everything yourself.
These puzzles vary greatly in style, from math problems to logic puzzles to observational challenges. Each episode tries to offer a little bit of everything. One puzzle has you decoding a note the constable just slipped you, while another has you deducing where a dog buried an item based on clues from a testimonial, and you’ll do everything from counting ducks in a pond to putting together literal puzzle pieces. All of them try to connect to the plot in some way, though this is often very loosely done. Usually the person you’re trying to get answers from has some sort of problem and won’t be able to help you until you’ve solved their conundrum for them. While some of the puzzles are certainly better than others, they’re all genuinely fun. The only problem lies with just how little puzzling there is to be found. Many of them can be solved in less than thirty seconds, and in a game that gives you exactly twelve puzzles per episode, this doesn’t add up to many hours of entertainment. Some of the trickier ones take a few minutes (and one particular code-cracking puzzle actually took me fifteen) but the game even acknowledges its minimal challenge in the form of a “par time” goal for each puzzle. This par never goes above four minutes.Continued on the next page...