Blue Toad Murder Files: The Mysteries of Little Riddle - Episodes 4-6 review
In the first three episodes of the Blue Toad Murder Files, a light but fun puzzler released exclusively for the PlayStation 3, each individual mystery was very short but had some genuinely charming moments and solid production values. Now the final three episodes of The Mysteries of Little Riddle have been released, and while the larger story arc is wrapped up nicely and the puzzling and presentation remain commendable throughout, the repetitive nature of the series makes the final chapters seem a little less fun than the first trio. It’s more of the same, but at times it feels too much like more of the exact same.
The story continues from where the previous chapters left off. Mysterious murders and other crimes have been plaguing the town of Little Riddle, and even though some of the criminals have been caught, it has become evident that a shadowy individual has been masterminding the capers behind the scenes. In the fourth episode, Death from Above, yet another murder is committed just after the funeral of the LAST murder committed in episode three. Episode five, The Riddles of the Past, has the investigators searching the town for the secret location of a maguffin, while also trying to solve the intense mystery of who tracked mud on the hotel carpets (I’m not kidding about this). The final chapter, Flight of the Felonious Fugitive, sees players trying to pin down the mastermind’s hiding place before he or she is able to flee Little Riddle. Many revelations occur in this second half of the series, and many characters encountered previously turn out to have hidden agendas or even secret identities.
With so many plot twists, it’s clear that the series was fully intended to be played through completely and in order, even though it’s possible to buy any installment individually. Each episode has its own self-contained mystery, but these mysteries generally tie into the larger story arc and don’t stand on their own very well. New chapters begin with a short recap of the plot, but this barely covers the basics of who got killed and by whom. Other character relations and events are left completely unexplained, and the game obviously expects you to be familiar with them already. And while I strongly recommended not picking and choosing selective episodes anyway, one other thing potential buyers should be aware of is that all three of these episodes, whether purchased bundled or alone, require you to own episode one as well (episodes two and three are optional). I don’t mean just in order to follow what’s going on; I mean that these episodes physically will not run without the first episode having been installed. But since the game really is best when the episodes are played in sequence, this isn’t as negative an aspect as it might have been otherwise.
Gameplay follows the same pattern as before, with players choosing a location to travel to and the story being told entirely through non-interactive cutscenes. Fans of the multiplayer function will be happy to hear it returns as well, allowing more than one player to enjoy each episode together, though at the expense of not being able to solve every puzzle for yourself, as they’re divided between each participant equally. Predictably, the production values hold to the same high standards as the earlier episodes. The graphics are cartoony and charming, and other than a somewhat limited degree of character expression, they perfectly match the game’s tone of lighthearted whodunit fun. The soundtrack continues to be equally appropriate, done in a style that’s much like an old-fashioned movie score. The often exaggerated voices are all provided once again by a single actor, who delivers another solid performance, though after six episodes of listening to the same voice for every character, the familiarity starts to lose its appeal.
Another thing that remains unchanged is the silence of the four detectives you can choose to play, which means the plot development is wholly reliant on the rest of the cast. Some of them, like the monotone vicar who drops subtle hints of worshipping Lovecraftian gods, are welcome returns. Others, like the angry butcher who continually yells the word “scum” like he has an odd form of Tourette’s syndrome, are not. But as funny as the vicar was at first, he’s a whole lot less amusing the fourth or fifth time you talk to him, further reinforcing the lack of fresh appeal that the beginning of the series offered. The butcher just continues to be annoying all the way through.
The inability to compensate for the missing novelty is the biggest weakness of the second half of these Blue Toad Murder Files. What was cute and charming in the first three hours of the series becomes slightly redundant after that. While we met all sorts of characters at the beginning of the series, these three episodes only introduce one or two new faces. And although there are several new puzzle types to solve, many of them are simply slight variations of ones we saw last time, and in some cases are virtually identical with only one small aspect changed. For example, a math puzzle for watering plants is exactly the same as an earlier iteration, except this version requires you to use percentages rather than straight numbers, making it a little bit harder. Indeed, to the game’s credit, there is a noticeable effort to gradually increase the difficulty of the puzzles in each chapter. It’s subtle, but it’s there. One challenge in an earlier episode involved carefully listening to a character’s testimony to figure out their route through a house. A very similar puzzle repeats in these chapters, but the testimony is a bit more garbled, with the character remembering things wrong and correcting himself along the way.
While these puzzles won’t be as original for returning players as they were the first time around, they’re still nicely presented, and the twelve challenges in each episode are fun to solve and add up to around an hour of gameplay. Where the puzzling element fell flat for me here was the solutions to the mysteries themselves. Whodunits really only work when they close in on one solid possibility in the end. The solutions to these episodes, unfortunately, are a little more sloppy and leave plenty of room for doubt. In the overly frivolous case of identifying the hotel mud tracker, I managed to guess the correct culprit, but it was more of an educated guess than anything else. While I THOUGHT I had seen a hole in his or her story, there was nothing to eliminate any of the other three suspects from committing the same “crime”.
The solution to another case revealed that a certain suspect wouldn’t have been able to commit the crime due to a physical ailment, but the only evidence ever presented about this ailment was the word of that suspect! And as any good detective knows, sometimes guilty suspects lie. There is logic behind the solutions to the cases, but they aren’t as airtight as they should be, and nothing is more irritating than solving all the puzzles of a case, then blowing the climax by fingering the wrong suspect simply because your logical deductions don’t match those of the game designers. I might have been more forgiving if the solutions were randomized each time you played, but like the puzzles, the guilty parties are the same every time, so there’s only one chance to get it right.
In the end, the final half of the Blue Toad Murder Files provides the same solid casual puzzling that the first half offered, but displays the same flaws as well. These become even more evident with each additional visit to the village of Little Riddle, though none of them are serious enough to diminish the game’s charm overall. For returning players, the puzzles may include the occasional repeat with only minor variations, but even these remain fun to solve. The characters are largely recycled, but the game still has some genuinely funny moments. And if you liked the unique multiplayer function of the earlier episodes, the same feature exists here too. Anyone who hasn’t played the first three episodes are strongly advised to play those first (especially since episode one is a requirement anyway), and if you enjoy what you see there, you will likely have fun solving the rest, if not feeling quite as engaged this time around. As for the flaws… well, the plot has a final twist indicating the Blue Toad Detectives may be needed again soon, and the episodes as a whole are a solid foundation for an even better puzzling experience to be built upon. If and when they return, I’ll be polishing my magnifying glass in preparation for their next cases.
If you loved the first half of the Blue Toad Murder Files, you should enjoy the second half as well, though the short new episodes start to feel a little like exactly the same game with the novelty worn off.
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